Time to get over our us-tooism and grow

SO WEST Australian premier Colin Barnett reckons he could "fix" Tasmania, does he?

I'm not so sure.

I don't know how Mr Barnett would fare without his Royalties for Regions program to prop up infrastructure projects in outlying electorates and I don't think his willingness to sweep aside environmental or cultural concerns in the name of development would be so palatable in a state where the people who work for the development also live nearby.

No, governing Tasmania as if it were Western Australia won't work.

But there are a few lessons Tasmania could learn from WA.

When I moved to Western Australia to work after finishing university in 2009, my boss told me of the welcome passengers used to get from the pilot when they touched down at Perth airport.

"Welcome to Western Australia. Please set your watches back two hours and your mind back 30 years."

The west did feel backward.

But unlike Tasmania, it never looked backward.

When a mineral sands exporter wanted a mining exploration lease on property in south-west Western Australia in 2010, their concession to the importance of its 1920s farmstead was to take a picture before knocking it down and then put that picture on a sign at the gate to the property.

I can't see that happening in Tasmania.

Both states have an ingrained us- and-them mentality.

In Tasmania it's the "mainland" and in Western Australia it's "over- east".

But in Western Australia that mentality is used to unite and motivate.

All the energy that Tasmania focuses on regional parochialism is harnessed in Western Australia into a potent mix of resentment and envy for everything east of Esperance.

The West Australian Government has effectively sold the idea that everything would be just fine if the rest of the country stopped hanging on to its coat-tails and Tasmania is the heaviest weight of all.

It allows them to take the blame for nothing and the credit for everything, which is the reverse of how state politics seems to play out in Tasmania.

No investment can be made in Tasmania without the other two corners of the triangle complaining that it ought to have been made there.

Economic growth in any region benefits the state as a whole.

Us-tooism just leads to duplication and there's enough of that already.

But duplication is not the same as pluralism and this is where Western Australia gets mucked-up.

The west is carried by construction and mining, which trip along happily in a sort of economic feedback-loop.

Almost every family income is directly tied to either of these industries.

There's no back-up plan for when the gold runs out.

Tasmania had diary, tourism, wine and working for the government to be getting on with when the forestry industry began to retract.

It left a big hole, but at least now all sides of politics in Tasmania are championing a range of different industries.

Provided the interests of those industries are not cast aside the moment the next big shiny job creator arrives - I'm looking at you, mining in the Tarkine - Tasmania might have a shot at a resilient economy.

That is provided it stops paying industries or private companies to come here.

In WA, private companies pay for public infrastructure.

They buy their social licence.

The government acts as a facilitator, not an advocate.

And if a company fails, it is pushed aside to make way for the next one.


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