A federal election will be held by May 2019.
By then, many constituents will be experiencing fatigue after a Tasmanian state election in March 2018, followed by Legislative Council voting for the Divisions of Hobart and Prosser, and local government’s turn during October and November.
But even if our current mood is apathetic, we must recharge as a community and view the upcoming federal election as an opportunity for Tasmania.
On the face of it, we have a government desperate to retain power, and an opposition hungry for the treasury benches.
The winner could be our state.
In the lead-up, population and infrastructure will be centre stage in political debates and community conversations.
The eastern seaboard, particularly NSW, is where a discussion regarding immigration will be prominent, with capping or reducing a perceived community winner.
However, in a cautionary tale, as the recent Victorian State Election emphatically highlighted, running a scare campaign on growth is not always the electoral poison that leaders anticipate.
Punters like jobs, people create jobs, and being able to run cut through lines like: Victoria – the progressive state, is much easier and realistic off a strong economic base where, simplistically, population grows in one week at the same rate as Tasmania annually.
Obviously, population underpins infrastructure spending. Tasmania has grown by 1 per cent year on year to March 2018, not enough, but positive.
For Tasmania to be successful during the election campaign, we must be united in our advocacy.
Concerns remain that with 29 local council areas and 29 mini campaigns, we dilute the message.
With amalgamations basically off the table, the way around parochialism is for mayors to unite and deliver a coherent message. This occurred in southern Tasmania during 2017 when 11 community leaders joined to support STEM at the University of Tasmania – it worked.
Likewise, a once in a generation opportunity presents for the greater Launceston area to finally draw the hundreds of millions required to provide a long-term solution for water and sewerage.
The Launceston City Deal aides our leverage and argument.
TasWater and the state government, albeit with new arrangements, do not have the capacity to fix the problems on their own. They require the support of a federal government and opposition who will be listening due to their desperation to win.
Although, the only poo machine a politician wants to open is at MONA, not Mowbray.
But not this time.
If the councils representing the region can combine and place water and sewerage infrastructure at the top of their wishlist, it will be delivered.
Launceston, one of the oldest cities in Australia, was the first to use hydroelectricity to light the streets and also the first to have an underground sewerage system. Yet, we now rank seventh out of eight, with only Western Australia coming off a resources boom trailing us in infrastructure funding levels ranked by share of budget expenditure, as outlined in the Australian Infrastructure Budget Monitor 2018-19.
Top of the states is NSW attributing 17.65 per cent of the budget, equating to $65.71 billion compared to Tasmania’s 9.89 per cent, an increase delivering an additional $518 million, totalling $2.56 billion.
Plainly, we must close the percentage gap, delivering job creating infrastructure and improved environmental and social outcomes as a result.
Tasmania once had far more than 29 council municipalities, littering sewage treatment plants across the state, some work well, others in disrepair, but now all managed by TasWater – an unenviable, yet crucial task.
A combined sewer system, new residential developments, floods, and the resultant catch and release of human and commercial waste, when capacity is exceeded, is not exemplary service provision.
But blame we must not, as the responsibility for solutions should be borne by all.
We need our community leaders to be on the same page of our infrastructure story. The state government’s 10-year Infrastructure Pipeline and soon to be released 30-year Infrastructure Strategy are good places to start the discussion.
Again, we must strongly urge political leaders in our state, principally our mayors, to collectively lobby for funds that service a region rather than an individual municipality.
Tasmanians need to find and reignite their political mojo, because the federal election is fast approaching, and it is an opportunity too good to waste.
- Brian Wightman is a former state Attorney-General and school principal