Challenging times bring opportunities

WHEN people look back on difficult times, they often describe them as life- changing.

Facing challenges is when we prioritise and focus on what's really important.

At this point in Tasmania's history, there's an emphasis on our economic health. As the state struggles to manage with reduced Commonwealth and GST revenues, some dream of a return to "business as usual" based on industries that are familiar.

But things have changed around us - creating a situation that feels uncertain and uncomfortable and setting us on a search for new opportunities for growth.

Many of the problems we are facing can be traced back to the global financial crisis - and my hope is that when we look back at this period of time, we will recognise it as when we stopped believing the myth that the marketplace will save us.

Instead, we will write a new story for ourselves based on the belief in the importance of a fair and just society for all.

This will mean no longer being comfortable with the idea that the economic well-being of some comes at high cost to others.

It will mean rejecting the false promise of the "trickle-down effect" with the claim that when the rich get richer, the poor will automatically benefit. It will mean ensuring that values are at the heart of our decision-making processes; recognising that the "common good" is truly good for all.

A parliamentary select committee recently recommended against the introduction of a simple measure to reduce the harm being caused by poker machines. The committee had heard many stories of Tasmanians whose lives had been devastated by gambling problems. The committee also had evidence from the Productivity Commission that demonstrated the effectiveness of introducing a $1 bet limit - to slow down the amount of money a person playing the pokies could lose in an hour.

Sadly, the committee chose to ignore the rigorous research of the Productivity Commission and oppose the introduction of a $1 bet limit on the basis that a decrease in gaming expenditure would hurt state revenue. The committee's report said that the majority of costs arising from gambling problems were "personal and family impacts" and so were not coming directly from government coffers. These included relationship breakdowns, divorce, emotional distress and suicides.

There is a moral obligation to consider where state revenue is coming from. In Tasmania 92.45 per cent of people don't gamble regularly or at all. Very conservative estimates say that less than 1 per cent of Tasmanians have a problem with gambling. Yet 40 per cent of the gambling income that the government and industry receives is coming from people with a gambling problem.

We have established a system which has tragic consequences for so many - yet in the process we have become reliant on the money it generates to the point that we are prepared to reject effective harm-minimisation measures.

The committee's report does not reflect community concern about those being hurt by gambling addiction. Eighty-two per cent of Tasmanians view poker machines as a serious social problem. Three- quarters of Australians consider poker machines do "more harm than good".

My vision for Tasmania is that economic restructuring is done only in ways that show consideration for those facing disadvantage. This will include making sure that simple public health measures such as the $1 bet limit are put in place to reduce the harm being caused to the most vulnerable.

We must find a new way forward in which people are brave enough to take a stand against poverty and stigma, knowing on occasions that this will be counter-cultural as it flies in the face of self-interest and greed.

Challenging times offer the opportunity for real transformation. Tasmania's economic security must never be pursued at the cost of compassion, justice, respect or hope for the future. We can find a better way forward.


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