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Dimity Hirst (Comments, Warning to the ANZ, HERE)  scolds me for a minor typographical error, then launches into one of her grammatically flawed rants promoting the fun and enjoyment to be had in a 19th Century industrial economy.

In another forum (a Facebook page called Support Tassie’s Industry Like They’ve Supported Tassie for Years, HERE - suggested logo; an upturned hand), Dimity claims the untruths promoted on Tasmania Times deserve to be brought to account. 

Dimity has taken her pro-logging sermon to the great unwashed via the highly respective medium of the John Laws show, so I thought I’d share the thoughts of a couple of `mainlanders’ with her on Tasmanian Times.

A couple of close friends of mine (whom I’ll call Jennie and Bill) are currently touring Tasmania.  I’m not sure whether they listen to John Laws, but they both have a pretty good knowledge of Tasmanian politics, as both were born here.  In fact my limited understanding of the John Laws show is that the primary target demographic is more interested in sculling Jim Beam and rooting chicks than Tasmanian politics.  Anyway, I’ll continue.

Like many young Tasmanians, Jennie and Bill moved to the mainland in their youth.  Not because the Greens have destroyed all the jobs in Tasmania, actually far from it.  The real truth is that because of our relatively uneducated population, there aren’t many opportunities for skilled, talented professionals here.  Jennie is a medical practitioner; Bill works in IT.  Post graduate opportunities for doctors in Tasmania don’t exist; neither do we have an IT industry, if we disregard the people who sell iPads to the great unwashed at Harvey Norman.  So anybody hoping to grow in their chosen vocation, unless at a very basic level, is virtually forced to leave Tasmania.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Many of those who return to Tasmania later in life bring with them wealth, children, experience, along with social and intellectual values often in short supply in their home state.  They enrich all of us; and not just in material terms.  Yet we only need to scratch the surface of many Tasmanian communities to find an attitude dismissive of `mainland imports.’  Look no further than failed political hopeful Sam McQuestin’s disgraceful personal attacks on a successful media identity who chose to bring her family to Tasmania.

Anyway, most of those who frequent the `Support Tassie’s Timber Industry…’ page would quickly dismiss Jennie and Bill as latte sippers who have no right to comment on Tasmania’s timber industry.  After spending a week here, they have plenty to say, but like many people, have been conditioned into believing Tasmania has a vibrant, sustainable timber industry.  If Dimity spent five minutes with them, she’d probably assume they were just `greenies.’  I will add that neither have dreadlocks or drive a 1962 Kombi.

Dimity makes the assumption that primary industries are the basis of wealth and job creation.  Reading her words, I can envisage massive industrial factories, belching smoke and employing thousands of peasants on subsistence wages.  In some creepy parallel universe, some might find that scenario aspirational.  I don’t, any more than I’d wish my kids to grow up in a regional Tasmanian village, where the only job opportunity would be as part of a casual labour pool for the local farmer.  Or sawmiller.  Yet that is the world many in the logging community wish to preserve.

Jennie and Bill live in Brisbane, although I understand they’ve spent time in Hong Kong.  Neither Brisbane nor Hong Kong have a thriving timber industry, but haven’t suffered as a result.  Living standards in both far exceed the Tasmanian average, and even the more unpleasant suburbs in the Queensland capital are more affluent than most Tasmanian regional centres.  The biggest employers in both are service industries. 

Here in Tasmania, shackled by our convict heritage perhaps, we resent the concept of service.  We belittle Baristas as `coffee makers’.  God help anybody trying to find an experienced sommelier outside central Hobart or Launceston.  And let’s not forget healthcare, financial services, and retail are all service industries.  Together, they employ the bulk of Australia’s workforce.  Sure, they don’t dig stuff up or cut down rainforests, but as an economist, I’m fairly certain that wealth is created when something is moved from a lower value to a higher value use.  Like turning $0.75 of coffee beans into a $4.50 latte. 

Let’s move on to coffee.  For a start, don’t buy one in Geeveston.  Actually, anybody who fancies a well-made coffee will be serially disappointed in Tasmania.  But by dismissing tourists as `latte sipping mainlanders’, we ignore the fact it is one of the most profitable, and most labour intensive service industries in the world.  But the industry at the pointy end of the woodchippers’ criticism is the tourism industry.  If we ignore that we’re all tourists if we travel more than 10km away from our regular routines and assume tourists are those strange mainlanders and Asians, then they remain pretty important.  In the `nicer’ parts of Tasmania, they are everywhere.  Those creepy mainlanders and Asians that is.  Travel further afield, and they become more scarce.  Probably as we’ve scared them away.

That’s hardly surprising.  Jennie and Bill, perhaps hoping to recall fond memories of holidays in Tasmania’s far south, took the photograph attached to this story.  They weren’t impressed.  In just 20 years, the flora of the Huon Valley and south appear to have been turned into toilet paper.  In the local timber town (which didn’t have premium unleaded), the local drunk urinated on the wheel of their hire car.  At 2.30pm.  The most popular form of transportation appeared to the the 1992 Commodore.  Clearly, if conversion of a heavily-timbered region to a centre where popular culture centres around a mediocre and obsolete family sedan, then basic economics have failed.  Or the profit from converting a product to a higher-value use has disappeared into another parallel universe.

Trying to overcome their delight in seeing Tasmania’s far south turned into an Alabama theme park, Jennie and Bill retired to Coles Bay, where I caught up with them for a couple of days.  On route they bought some wine (Radenti 2001, and some rather pleasant Peter Althaus creations).  I was ashamed after looking in the fridge, so I hid my takeaways in the boot of my car. 

In most eastern states, Coles Bay would be regarded as a handful of shacks.  But it’s one of Tasmania’s wealthiest holiday centres and also one of the most picturesque, although the intrusion of Federal Group’s loss-making enclave across the bay does little to enhance the place.  Freycinet once hosted two kinds of mining; whales and granite.  Neither persist; other value-adding industries have taken over.

Coles Bay doesn’t create the immediate impression of a valuable tourism asset.  To many, a tourism destination should consist of wall-to-wall high rise buildings, fast food restaurants and shops selling fluffy, stuffed animals replicating the local wildlife.  Coles Bay has none of these.  Yet each year, hundreds of thousands of visitors travel here.  They don’t come here to look at the granite mine, or look for relics of the whaling factory.  They travel here because the place is uniquely Tasmanian.  People come to Tasmania to just look at it.  Then they go home, and tell their friends. 

My time was limited, so I thought I’d treat Jennie and Bill to a tour of north eastern Tassie.  Royal George is always a treat - a historic mining and timber town, with millions of dollars worth of subsidised logging gear parked behind hillbilly shacks.  But the real eye-opener is the drive from Fingal to Launceston via Roses Tier.  Arguably the most intensively logged region of Tasmania, there’s nothing left except garbage, diseased gum plantations and thousands of hectares of scarred clearfelled native forest.  Jennie and Bill have now returned to Hobart.

One day, probably in the next decade, they’ll return to Tasmania to live.  They will bring with them knowledge, education, skills that aren’t available in Tasmania, and capital.  They have siblings that will do the same.  I’m writing this; not them.  But Dimity, do not doubt me - there are many, many educated people out there who hate what the logging industry has done to Tasmania, and one day, perhaps soon, they will speak their minds.

So Dimity, my message is simple:

1.  Tasmanians need education.  Not facile argument about funding schools at Glenora, but a commitment to bringing education standards up to at least the national average.
2.  Many,  many wealthy economies survive, and indeed thrive without relying on the rape of natural resources.
3.  Any money spend on industry development in Tasmania should be directed to service industries, or those with a sustainable future.
4.  Tourism is Tasmania’s only hope for survival in the near term. 
5.  I’m really sorry for spelling your name wrong.

Love,  Jarvis xx