I have been looking at environmental performance indicators, state by state, and (surprise, surprise!) in nearly all categories Tasmania is bottom ranking in its performance compared to all other states.
Look at almost any area: On the public transport front, Hobart is the worst performing capital city. Then take a look at energy efficiency of housing, Tasmania has always successfully argued a case to lag behind the rest of Australia in star rating requirements. And so we do. Look at incentives to improve energy efficiency, every other state and territory has an attractive incentives scheme in place. Tasmania has nothing comparable. Look at recycling initiatives, or anything else that matters, and we see the same story repeated.
This story would get very long if I went through the whole gamut of indicators, but you get the gist. We are generally the dunce of the class. D minus. We don’t deserve statehood.
Tasmania does perform well in two fronts: 1) area of land dedicated as national park and 2) renewable energy - both of which are largely attributed to our fortunate geography, not progressive politics. And these have given an illusion of this as a clean green paradise and a false sense of pride.
I return to the issue of failure. Although it is good for morale to focus on optimism and success, we have to face the music: the progressive movement in Tasmania - despite its fame, its size, its history, its brilliant leaders - has delivered arguably not only the worst government in Australia on environmental performances, but the worst in terms of governance and accountability. Why?
We would be in serious denial if we decline to face up to these facts so we have to ask ourselves why this is so. This paradox demands a movement-wide debate.
Previously I have alluded to the small size of Tasmania, where (like so many third world nation states) large corporate interests have more power and financial clout than does the government itself. Small governments are prone to being bought off, corrupted, out manoevred, infiltrated by corporate interests that can easily overpower the government. I believe this is part of the answer in Tasmania, but only part.
More saliently I think our failure comes, ironically, from our success. If the big party duopoly had embraced Tasmania’s natural assets and a green economic direction themselves they would be competing with each other to outperform each other in environmental performance.
Instead, their history is a history of being dragged, kicking and screaming every inch of the way. Virtually every environmental gain that has been made has been against their will. So they both naturally collude, time and again, to outperform each other in the opposite direction.
For Labor in particular, its 30 year history of battling with its most potent political foe, the environmental movement, has been subliminally translated into a disdain for the environment itself. Whenever the E word arises their hackles and suspicions are immediately raise. They have become habituated to reacting negatively. Green is nasty. Environment has become their arch enemy.
Then we get to the mechanics of government. So long as we had a reasonably vibrant parliamentary system in place these above dysfunctions could be partly held in check. Shrinking the size of the parliament is now widely accepted as being regressive because it makes the delivery of strong government impossible. But it has had a far worse effect. We now have a virtual one party state locked in place. Few people yet understand the diabolical significance of this change. And this goes well beyond environmental concerns, it strikes at the heart of democracy itself.
Over the years and out of perceived self interest, the ALP, the Liberals, the Chamber of Commerce and the Union movement collectively persuaded the Tasmanian populace that minority government is tantamount to contracting a horrible, incurable disease like leprosy. And this, against all logic, has become a statement of fact, imbedded in concrete, a meme. The only people arguing the opposite are the Greens and the odd academic brave enough to withstand the heat.
Now…. having persuaded the populace that the only government worth having is majority government, at the end of the day there is but one possible government. This is where Labor has utterly trounced the Liberals. Once committed to abolishing the upper house, Labor has very astutely managed to convert this institution to its decided political advantage instead. With its combined upper and lower house seats only Labor has the numbers to form a reasonable sized government in its own right. The best the Liberals could do in an election is get a bare minimum to create a cabinet, with no reserves.
Now it can be argued that the Libs could do the same, aggressively contest upper house seats and so gain similar viability. But if you look at the slow turnover (3 per annum) of upper house seats, they are looking at least 15 years away from achieving anything like the status of numbers that Labor has. (And Liberals would also have to ditch the long-held acceptance that the upper house should comprise independent members.)
I have no allegiance whatsoever to Liberal politics, but this distorted evolution is disastrous for Tasmanian democracy. Every Tasmanian should be alarmed that our once ultra democratic Hare Clark system has been so warped as to preferentially lock into power one party. In its present form, we would be far better to move to a normal preferential style of government and ditch the perverted excuse for democracy that we now have.
And lastly, I think our big failure partly stems from the fact that we campaigned long and hard for a different economy, a green and resilient economy that took advantage of Tasmania’s natural assets. And we were successful. This is the most perplexing paradox of the lot. The success of budding enterprises all over the state has been brilliant, boosting Tasmania’s historically lanquid economy. Why did this success not change the face of Tasmania then?
I think the problem here lies in a perception in politics that we could have our cake and eat it too. We could bulldoze our forests and attract tourists. We could promote ourselves as organic whilst poisoning our waterways. Clean-green was seen as a add-on to the existing, not an alternative. Our failure was that we stopped promoting clean green around 2000, when we should have shifted into another gear.
A second failure in this area was the inability of hundreds of small manufacturing and agricultural business enterprises to form a collective business lobby that could compete with the lobbying power of the traditional ‘smokestack’ business interests. Like the small sawmillers before them, most small business proprietors are too busy doing business to engage in lobbying and, being small and vulnerable, tend to be intimidated if they do on their own bat, with loss of favours from government.
In this post I have been surmising the main causes of our collective failure. I am sowing seeds that’s all. There may be more important factors than those mentioned. The most important thing is that we understand why.
What I am concerned about is that every now and then it is good to stop and take a breath and take a distant perspective. To do so could mean we take up necessary new challenges and strategies that fit this critical time in our history.
JOHN, all this should lead us on the a discussion about an extraordinary and fascinating paradox. Our collective failure. Whilst we have such a notoriously large and powerful progressive movement why are we failing so abysmally in Tasmania?