Image for Letter to Will Hodgman: Is democracy dead in Tasmania ... ?

Att: Premier Hodgman

Dear Premier Hodgman,

I am wondering if you have any concerns about the health of democracy in Tasmania.

I ran in the recent election for Prosser, spending around $10,000 on the campaign.

I was able to send a postcard to every home in Prosser with Australia Post.

The postcard, included above, featured an invitation to six community meetings organised around the electorate.

I thought that this would be the best way to connect with the voters in Prosser, and give every citizen an opportunity to meet the candidate.

Four solid points were included on the postcard ~

Addressing the housing crisis, by ending homelessness, with a view to the Finnish model.

An alternative approach to tourism in Tasmania, with walking and cycle paths connecting country towns, which would lead to the evolution of a mini coach service, which would also serve the residents of country towns, and help to decentralise the Tasmanian population, creating work and many new enterprise opportunities.

Connecting Tasmania to the global space industry, again creating work, launching careers, and inspiring new enterprise.

Working on a climate change plan for Tasmania, which I believe will be vital, as many mainland migrants will look to a cool change in Tasmania, as Australia gets hotter.

In addition, my flier included a proposal to establish a vet school in Tasmania, seeking the engagement of a mainland or a New Zealand university with a vet school.

There are no vets in the central Midlands or on the East Coast, which is surprising, considering there are so many farms.

Should Tasmanian engagement with the new Aussie Space Agency be a whole community debate, rather than left to academics to determine, and politicians to decide?

Again, could we solve more problems and gain more benefits, by putting our democracy to work?

I have written many researched articles on all matters raised, which I could share links to, for anyone interested.

The first hint of a problem with my community meetings came after the postcards had been sent out.

There were only a handful of replies to the invitations, with a couple of Emails and a couple of phone calls.

Then came the community meetings.

Ross ~ one person
Sorell ~ none
Bagdad ~ one person
Oatlands ~ none
Eaglehawk Neck ~ none
Swansea ~ four people
Total ~ six people
Average ~ one person per meeting

You can judge for yourself if the message that I presented was up to scratch.

I am 66, but can age be a factor when Malaysia elects a 92 year old Prime Minister?

Let’s not talk about the beauty contest.

If you share my concerns, I wonder if more should be done to promote civic engagement, to improve the health of democracy in Tasmania.

I have organised many community meetings in Tasmania over the years, and I am really shocked at the response to my six invitations in Prosser.

It is as if democracy has been frozen in Tasmania, like a glacier.

The Mercury stopped publishing any letters sent to the editor from before the Prosser campaign.

None of the media outlets in Tasmania covered any of my media releases.

Even ABC radio, which held a live broadcast with the candidates in Oatlands, was mainly focused on the likely winners, not the quality of their ideas.

If the political environment in Tasmania is favouring power and money, how will there be any alternative voice in the community, let alone proposals aired to solve problems, such as the housing crisis.

I have written a number of articles on fixing the housing crisis and ending homelessness in Tasmania since the State election, but where is the discussion?

When your Housing Summit was called, I sought to participate, but participation was limited.

My first document on the problem, Fixing the Housing Crisis, was included as a briefing paper, but I hear no more.

I did call for wider community discussion on solving the housing crisis, but this was not entertained.

I had hoped my six community meetings could serve as a lightning rod for the issue.

There was no thunderstorm, for a whole month.

So is there a trend away from civic engagement in Tasmania?

What has made the community so numb to democracy?

In the Northern Midlands I have seen a problem emerging, which may account for the lack of interest in my Ross meeting.

I write of the town committees, the Special Committees of Council, managed by Council officers to advise the Council.

The special committees are not elected, and do not consult with the community, but the Council uses them as a form of community consultation.

I have found elected Councillors taking a hands-off approach to local issues, and directing people to the Special Committee.

This is a really bad way to run development, and I have had a negative experience over Crown land with the committee.

I have been concerned that the Special Committees are not good for democracy at the grass roots, though they may be convenient for the Council, and especially Council officers, who select Special Committee members.

In that vote-free zone, the focus of the Special Committee members appears to be more with Council officers, than with the community.

I have offered to serve on the Special Committee for Ross, a couple of times, if the Council runs an election for the position.

I would then serve with a mandate from the community, if elected.

This offer has been declined, repeatedly.

The degrading of grass-roots democracy in the Northern Midlands may explain the miniscule engagement with the Ross meeting, but what about the rest of Prosser?

Is there a problem with the health of democracy at the grass roots in Tasmania?

If you spent $10,000 on a survey with a few solid questions, would you expect a bang for your buck, with media coverage and community engagement?

If it is going to be too tough for any candidate to have a democratic chance in an election in Tasmania, will people be turned off running?

If the political and media focus is going to be on power and money, is this really very healthy for our democracy?

Like the demonstration by the frustrated homeless on Parliament House lawns, which ended in a dawn Police confrontation, and arrests, where are we going?

My experience in Prosser tells me that democracy is failing in Tasmania.

If all we get now is power politics, where selected winners take all, will elections mean anything?

Over to you, Mr Hodgman, if you consider that Tasmania should have a vibrant civic democracy.

If you find that civic culture is dead, and all we are left with is politics, should democracy be buried?

There could be a funeral service, and a graveside reflection on how democracy died in Tasmania.

Then we can hold a wake, and wonder if we will be the next to be arrested.

Is Tasmania drifting into a State of fear?

Yours sincerely,

Kim Peart