More than once, I have heard this year is: The Year of the North.
The Northern economy is improving, however, to avoid this aspiration becoming a cliche, we must deliver a series of interconnected projects that build upon the growth and economic prosperity currently experienced across greater Hobart.
Firstly, and even though uncomfortable, we must talk about football. Regional competitions are declining due to a lack of player numbers with once mighty clubs sadly in, or headed for, recess.
Therefore, in the North, it is time to calmly debate: Do we want an AFL team of our own? Hawthorn has added in spades to the Northern economy, and although an expensive sponsorship model for the state, the ongoing benefits of jobs, tourism, hospitality, and effectively promoting the benefits of sport is acknowledged.
This tricky conversation will take leadership by the state government and a willingness for discussion, but we must begin today before the next round of negotiations conclude.
Secondly, we must become a region of job creation. The North cannot rely on the prevalence of public sector jobs like the South; therefore, job creation through motivating and incentivising private enterprise to work with state and local government remains crucial.
Launceston has always been the gateway to the mainland, and although technology has streamlined accessibility, we must ensure people and produce can make the journey in a timely and cost-effective manner.
Governments can also provide leadership through commissioning infrastructure projects that create a pipeline of jobs into the future. We must receive our fair share of funding to insulate against any downturn in the Northern economy.
Thirdly, we must reach consensus regarding education; the most important investment the North can make.
The University of Tasmania is moving to Inveresk because it is the underpinning catalyst project of the City Deal. No matter the colour of the government following the federal election, it will be delivered.
Therefore, we must bring people together to understand the importance of a world class education and its impact on financial security, together with the role that a captivating campus can play to provide impetus and aspiration.
The rationale: jobs are not becoming less sophisticated and only 16.2 per cent of Tasmania’s population hold a Bachelor Degree or above compared to 22 per cent nationwide (2016 Census).
It is imperative that every dollar delivered to education is spent precisely. The North has higher social disadvantage and dislocation than other parts of the state, and as a result, we must spend limited funds through targeting need.
A primary school is proposed for Legana, which has grown significantly, with houses replacing orchards.
An investment in educational infrastructure is prudent, yet the impact on Exeter must be discussed, particularly when catchment zones can create resentment as families often head towards the CBD for employment and schooling.
Fourthly, a City Deal can not be heralded a success unless it is an economic plan; funding infrastructure projects that leverage and increase private investment.
A case study for another bridge across the Tamar River has been announced. With population growing and traffic flows increasing both east and west, the development of an alternative route should be considered. But we must not let the project become the Bridgewater Bridge saga; promised for decades and then stapled to a recently announced City Deal.
Water and sewerage investment remains the key infrastructure requirement. It is incongruent to deliver a university city, with increased student numbers, without considering how to improve the quality of the most basic service. There is a federal election approaching and we should demand rivers of cash to address historic underfunding.
Finally, we must streamline processes required to increase housing supply before it becomes a more significant issue. Rental shortage, housing stress, a lack of diversity in the market and a handbrake on supply is becoming conspicuous in the North, like it has bitten in the South. We can’t afford to wait, we must act with haste and build.
The state government must urgently ramp up the Affordable Housing Strategy, in partnership with private providers, to cater for those facing dire circumstances before they require tents at the showgrounds for shelter.
There is a vibe in Northern Tasmania, making it a proud time to call our region home. But to avoid a cliche, strategic planning, strong advocacy, quality projects and courageous leadership is required to guarantee The Year of the North.
- Brian Wightman is a former state Attorney-General and school principal