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Tasmania is facing a crisis.  Not just one of the financial variety; rather a watershed where we need to face up to what our future should be, or could become if we don’t act now.  But I suspect most people don’t really care.

Around the same time some 35 journalists were locked up in the Government’s Executive Suite trying to decipher some 3,500 pages of Budget documents, ordinary people were reading of failed Premier Robin Gray urging the Upper House to block supply; and in another regional daily, problems faced by Sandy Bay residents accessing mobile phone services.  I suppose we all have different priorities - Tasmania’s Budget is possibly less interesting than revelations the new Yellow Wiggle will have breasts.  Such is the fickle nature of both the public, and the priorities of media editors.

Despite Tasmania’s 2012/13 Budget Papers being available online from 3pm, the newspapers’ online blogs later in the afternoon were dominated by comments about cyclists riding 2 abreast (north) and the lack of mobile coverage in Sandy Bay’s Woolworths’ store (south).  Unusually, the only daily newspaper with any robust debate was the North West Coast’s Advocate, where Liberal Adam Brooks doesn’t seem to be getting his own way in declaring the Tarkine as a National Mining Reserve.

Perhaps in some rational, alternate universe, journalists would be ripping apart the Budget, and wondering where Tasmania is really heading.

That doesn’t seem to be the case; in fact early reports simply confirm that Tasmanian news editors are more concerned with whether Springfield Primary School will enjoy a new bouncing castle next year than whether we can pay for nurses and police.

Actually, we can’t pay for either.

This time last year, I copped a bit of flack for claiming Tasmanian would lock in a $500 million deficit for 2011/12: (  Not the GFC: 12 years of Labor neglect, Stupid: 2010/11 will see Tasmania book a fiscal deficit of $500 million.  The position in the coming year looks more optimistic, according to the Budget at least.  I have my doubts. )

Yet I was close.  And given Treasury seem to get it wrong by around $350 million each year,  I believe the forecast deficit for next year, predicted to be $429 billion, will exceed $1 billion.  There’s plenty of evidence for why I’m on track here, but perhaps the media should also ask Robin Gray - after all, the budget position when he was booted out of office was worse than the current situation.

It will get nastier.  Not Greek nasty, but still what economists describe as a truly fuck-awful position for an economy to be in.  Consider the implications of a credit downgrade from ratings agencies should Tasmania face years of deficits, and growing debt.  As far as I can read, that’s the outlook, unless some GST fairy suddenly appears and gives Tasmania an extra $1 billion every year.  Still, if the fluff distributed to the media today is a guide, then all we need do is trust our Government.  I wish we could.

Tasmania is in the grip of some sort of political intellectual vacuum.  Most economists understand that the private sector creates, sustains and grows economies. .  But having read the Budget papers in their entirety, it seems the concept of industry development has shrunk to a sycophantic, incestuous cycle between Government, the public service and a handful of favored business mates.  The only businesses in Tasmania to get help from the Government are the few Giddings groupies ready for a photo shoot at the drop of a hat.

The alternative?  Well there’s the Liberal Party, who will release their alternative Budget next Tuesday, but leaked on Tasmania Times here:  ``We’ll put up the open for business sign.  Cut red tape.  Boost our forestry and mining sectors.  Let Adam Brooks loose on the Country Club’s $19 buffet.’  Yawn.

That should help bring Tasmania out of recession, particularly if Brooks invites Brenton Best to the smorgasbord.

The Premier seems reluctant to discuss the concept of recession.  Perhaps it can be easily denied in string of media releases on http://www.media.tas.gov.au, but a recession is defined quite simply; a shrinking economy. 

But we are in in recession.  As the Liberals keep pointing out, the CBD of Launceston is full of empty shops.  Hobart less so, but there’s still a bloody big hole in Liverpool Street where Myer once lived.

Who to blame?  Well as we all know, Tasmania is the most bureaucrat-heavy State in the Commonwealth.  Start slashing at public sector numbers, and the results are inevitable.  Redundant public servants often find it hard to pick up a new gig.  After all, the private sector isn’t accustomed to paying $100,000 per annum to semi-retired 50 year olds with limited skills.  Not without a $120,000 subsidy, anyway.

The Treasurer has been quick to reject suggestions of a recession, instead claiming private sector investment continues at record levels.  The numbers backing those claims are dodgy, and I’ll pull them apart at a later date.  Let’s just say, telling the sales staff you’ll update their cars in a couple of years doesn’t equate to immediate economic stimulus.  Unless said staff members use their union card to hire hookers.

That said, I’m not a great fan of lagging economic indicators, but I am greatly concerned about Tasmania’s growth prospects, and despite having intended to write about the Budget, I’ve become distracted by the dismal economic outlook; worrying about the future rather than a simple analysis of the numbers. 

Within a year, we’re facing a billion dollar deficit.  An economy wrecked by years of dismal economic management A $5 billion superannuation liability that has been swept under the carpet.  A complete lack of political leadership, vision or hope.

Even the Labor values of the last decade are gone - Tasmania will go into debt to pay for our past failures.  The absurdity of paying Forestry Tasmania to transfer funds offshore is worthy of a Royal Commission in itself.  One day, we might understand the hold the logging industry has on our political representatives.  The Hydro - perhaps the last bastion of Labor capitalism, will need to be flogged off by 2014 to meet the growing gap between income and expenditure.  The rhetoric of Bacon, Lennon, Aird, Bartlett, and now Giddings has now been exposed as naked posturing.

But perhaps the most depressing thought is the alternative; an economy run by a rag-tag bunch of Liberal underachievers with no political experience, but a very real prospect of being handed the keys to the Treasury in 24 months’ time.

Jarvis Cocker is an independent, finance, media and communications consultant specialising in the Australian financial sector.  He has previously worked as a senior manager with one of the country’s largest stockbroking firms and as a policy advisor to a Federal Government department.  Now living in Tasmania, he tries to temper his sometimes rabid capitalist views with infrequent visits to the Tasmanian wilderness. 

• Download, the CPSU Members’ Budget Update:
CPSU_Members_-_Budget_Update_2012-13.pdf

• GREENS HISTORIC DOUBLE WIN FOR ANIMAL WELFARE AFTER LONG CAMPAIGN
First State to Ban Battery Hens & Sow Stalls

Nick McKim MP
Greens Leader
Thursday, 17 May 2012

Tasmania will become the first state free of caged hens and sow-stall pigs following the Greens’ historic achievement in yesterday’s State Budget, the Tasmanian Greens said today.
Greens Leader Nick McKim MP said it was a historic double win for animal welfare, as well as the industry, which supports the move along with the vast majority of consumers. 

“We are proud that battery hen farming and imprisoning of pigs in sow stalls is now to be phased out, thanks to the Greens’ constructive role in power-sharing government in Tasmania,” Mr McKim said.

“Tasmania has at last recognised these horrific industrial farming practices from the past have no place in a caring and compassionate world, and will be phased out by law.”

“Tasmania’s ‘clean and green’ credentials just got an instant boost, but first and foremost this is a win for pigs and chickens.”

“It is also an investment in growing our free range and barn egg industry, which is where the markets are clearly saying they want to be.”

“A growing number of primary producers realise that consumers and retail outlets, especially supermarkets, increasingly want ethical produce which is free from cruelty, abuse and exploitation.”

“Soon all Australian consumers will understand that when they buy Tasmanian eggs and pork they are safe in the knowledge they don’t involve cruelty. This is a critical marketing advantage for our primary producers.”

“No other states make this guarantee, and Tasmanians should be proud that are once again taking the lead. 

“Tasmania was already leading the way on sow stalls, with a commitment to have them phased out by 2017.  What the Greens have secured in this State Budget is to bring this end date forward to mid next year.”

“This Budget animal welfare package will also see an immediate ban on any new battery farms and cages, as well as a cap on the current battery hen stock.”

“Two million dollars will be invested in developing a transition package including a marketing program to boost our free range and non-cage producers.”

“These are great steps forward on animal welfare, and the Greens will continue to stand up for the voiceless animals who fall victim to cruelty, abuse and exploitation.”


• Dr Eric Woehler, Australian Coastal Society, Jess Feehely,  Environmental Defenders Office: Coastal Alliance Commends Funding for Coastal Protection Framework

The Tasmanian Coastal Alliance has commended the Tasmanian government for providing additional funding towards the development of a comprehensive coastal protection and planning framework in yesterday’s Budget.

TasCA spokesperson, Dr Eric Woehler, said:

“Tasmania’s coast is subject to increasing pressure from development and coastal processes, such as sea-level rise and erosion.  In May 2011, the Premier committed to delivering comprehensive coastal management reforms to address these issues.  Good work is being done within government, particularly in relation to climate changes responses and natural hazards, however further work is needed to ensure Tasmania is able to adequately respond to current and emerging coastal management issues.”

TasCA also commended the establishment of a joint steering committee to manage the funding, recognising the cross-sectoral nature of the use of the coast and related decision-making.  The group urged the government to engage with the community about the best way forward for coastal management.

TasCA will continue to advocate for dedicated coastal management legislation to be developed.  For now, the group hopes the new funding will encourage the government to consider innovative approaches, drawing on experiences from interstate and overseas to develop a best practice system. 

Dr Woehler said:

“It is critical to get Tasmania’s coastal management framework right in order to secure more sustainable development outcomes, to streamline assessment resources and provide greater certainty to local governments and coastal land managers.  A clear, prescriptive and enforceable framework providing a coordinated approach to coastal management and planning will have benefits for all Tasmanians.”

For more information, the TasCA position paper is available at:  http://www.ourtasmaniancoast.org/documents/TasCA_discussion_paper_02122011_A3-email.pdf

The Tasmanian Coastal Alliance (TasCA) is an alliance of NGOs and professionals with relevant expertise in coastal matters, working towards protection and sustainable management of Tasmania’s coastal zone. Our goal is to secure a clear, enforceable and evidence-based integrated coastal planning and management system for Tasmania.