The potato is as Tasmanian as "blockies". The working-class staple. Surely, we would not consider importing them from mainland Australia.
There is something about potatoes that ensures contentment. They are always available, always adaptable, and when there is nothing left in the fridge, we turn to "spuds".
Nonetheless, it is difficult for me to recall an evening meal where potatoes were not a key ingredient. Baked, boiled, mashed, fried, chipped, scalloped, in salads or in their jackets - spuds often covered one-third of our dinner plates.
In fact, it was not until my teens when my parents splashed out and purchased a new electric frypan that our first taste of the Orient, Chow Mein, diversified the menu.
Coincidentally, my late father called my brother, Spud - a pet name as a child.
And then there were the insults: "Spudsville" or "you're such a spud" or the nickname "Spud Murphy", which were never far from our lips at home, on the sporting field, or at school.
Spuds are held in high regard by my family and they find a special place in our bellies and our hearts. Grown and/or devoured in many households, potatoes are as synonymous with Tasmania as they are with Ireland. And like with apples, many Tasmanians parochially articulate their love of potatoes through naming varieties.
Dutch Creams for mashing, the extremely popular Tasmanian Pink Eyes for boiling, and Kenebec for baking - or variations of the aforementioned depending on availability and family tradition.
"Dutchies" obviously originated in Holland, and Kennebec from the US.
However, they are all grown very successfully and safely in Tasmania.
The IGA Tasmania website makes that point clearly: "Around 80 per cent of potatoes produced from Tasmania flow into the processing market. Due to potential pest and disease risk, fresh potatoes are not permitted entry into Tasmania, and therefore all fresh potatoes consumed in Tasmania need to be grown there," it states.
Therefore, it came as a complete surprise to learn that the state government had decided that importing potatoes from South Australia was a good idea.
Do not worry about the "pub-test", I have heard punters complaining about this decision in some of the most well-healed restaurants, eateries, and cafés on George Street and the Salamanca Strip.
Can you even begin to imagine what they are saying on the North-West Coast or at Scottsdale or south of Hobart in potato heartland?
Importing potatoes from South Australia is utter madness. It puts at risk the livelihoods of our hardworking farmers and their families, our homegrown jobs, our communities who require relatively cheap and nutritious produce, and our disease-free status.
This is nothing at all against Redback primary producers, but it is their Shiraz we crave, not their spuds.
The Tasmanian potato industry is worth up to $400 million.
Consequently, it appears utterly ludicrous that we would want to give some of that away or put it at risk through importing spuds to our state which is the second largest manufacturer of potato chips in the country.
The campaign slogans roll as quickly as melted butter off freshly boiled pink eyes: Save our Spuds; As Tassie as Spuds; Support our Spud Farmers; For Spuds' Sake; Potatoes before Politics; Proud as Potatoes; Give Stink eyes over Pink Eyes.
Further, it is flabbergasting that this decision has been made considering the investment in irrigation across our state to create "the food bowl of the nation".
The first tranche produced 10 schemes, the second five schemes, and the third at a cost of $170 million producing 10 new schemes, delivering 78,000 megalitres of water, and returning about $114 million annually to the agriculture industry across the state.
Just consider the follow-up $150 million capital outlay by primary producers with centre-pivot irrigators now circling the state. How would they be feeling about this decision?
The result of this significant investment is that we can grow potatoes anywhere we like, and we do not need anyone else to grow them for us.
As a state, we continually reflect upon the need to ensure that our procurement strategies and policies favour Tasmanian-based companies, industries, and individual businesses. It should be no different for potatoes.
The recent release of an independent review to consult with potato growers appears a political reaction to a decision that should never have been made in the first place.
My descendants were impacted by the great potato famine of 1845 -1852 when one million Irish died from starvation and malnutrition after potato blight (Phytophthora infestans) ravaged the crop.
Another one million Irish left their homeland immigrating to countries like America and Great Britain and Australia to escape the famine.
The English colonised Ireland in the 1801 like they had Australia and many other fertile lands across the world.
And even though the Irish were starving, a decision was made that local produce should be exported back to the "mother-country" to feed the land of gentry.
At a time of great economic and social worry, we plead of our state government - don't be a spud.
- Brian Wightman is a former Tasmanian Attorney-General and school principal.
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