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Editorial: Economy based on our diversity
THE MERCURY   |  May 24, 2011 10.57am

FORMER Labor premier Jim Bacon swept to power in 1998 brandishing a new confidence in Tasmania.

Our state’s economy suffered through the mid-1990s. A walk through deserted central business districts of Hobart, Launceston or Devonport told a miserable story. Shopfront windows covered in cardboard and newspaper revealed the local economy was dying.

Mr Bacon brought a rare sense of optimism to these dismal days. Tasmania, he said, was still the best place to live and our future was bright. We dared to believe.

Mr Bacon’s advisers spread the word that the new Labor government was not going to fall prey to the “one big project to save Tasmania” mantra that so many before it had espoused. Mr Bacon saw that the state’s economy had stalled more than once while all eyes were on the panacea project of the day. His government vowed not to chase the elusive pot-of-gold project that promised our island’s salvation.

Instead, Mr Bacon testified that this island’s most valuable resource was its people. He supported ideas that came from the people. From little things big things grow. His government encouraged and facilitated ideas – everything from arts and crafts to fine furniture, sport, wine, aquaculture, education and farming.

This approach would be the catalyst for a robust, diversified economy based on the Tasmanian brand and focused largely on quality and niche markets.

A few years into office, Mr Bacon enjoyed the first signs of a housing boom that was sweeping the Western world and the windfalls of the new GST.

Tasmania’s coffers were brimming with stamp duty and taxes. It seemed every few months there was an announcement the government had found an extra $130 million or so it had not expected.
Times have changed.

Now we face a billion-dollar Budget black hole, mass public service sackings, cuts to essential services and a depressing dark cloud over the economy.

Putting aside the merits or otherwise of the proposal to build a pulp mill in the Tamar Valley, Tasmania has been fixated on this one project for seven years.

How much time, money and energy has the bureaucracy and community devoted to this project?

While our focus is glued to the Gunns Ltd proposal, how many other ideas languish?

It is, as many letter writers have suggested, a no-brainer that bringing AFL football to Hobart will benefit the depressed winter economy in the South. This is precisely the stimulus the economy needs.

We can no longer afford to ignore good ideas. We must broaden our focus and start to think laterally. The talents of Tasmanians are as diverse as our island’s geography – our governments must reflect that.