The only promise missing from this election campaign is the one we most desperately need. A State Optometrist. Someone to check the vision of those responsible for the daily deluge of pledges from all parties with little connection to any clearly articulated vision or long term plan.
The majority Government of the last four years has wasted its grand opportunity to lay down a long term plan and is still relying on a hotchpotch of promises to shore up votes.
The government is still blaming the last government for problems and taking credit for positive outcomes in areas they really have had little direct impact on.
The government also blames the Legislative Council for erecting roadblocks by blocking its legislative program but that has only occurred in cases of inadequate community or key stakeholder consultation or poorly drafted legislation reflecting poor policy decisions.
We see constant promises to ‘fix problems’ or spend money on politically popular projects simply to buy votes - all with the caveat of the imperative of majority government. Does this mean that after the election if no clear winner is selected by the people of Tasmania, a highly likely outcome, all promises will be null and void? In any event, policy will need to be negotiated if the governing party has a minority of both votes and seats in the House of Assembly and will need to work constructively with the Legislative Council.
Knowing where each party sees Tasmania in 5, 10 and 20 years and how their policy statements are going to get there will become crucial if a minority government eventuates and a consensus vision for Tasmania is to be fashioned to enable us to move ahead.
We hear at every election the battle cries 'we will "fix" health' with no long term plan to address structural problems beyond throwing money at the problem. Promising more beds and nurses is always at the forefront. This no-brainer is wearing thin. Of course we need more resources as demand increases - constantly playing catch up reeks of short-termism and is not the solution. A long term plan, clearly articulated, encompassing all areas of government where improvements to our health and wellbeing can be made is essential. As our population and rates of chronic and preventable disease increase, as we age faster than the national average and continue to underinvestment in preventative health, a whole of government approach encompassing a long term vision and plan for education, health, the arts, justice, planning and infrastructure, is essential .
Some years ago the Greens promoted tourism as the next biggest industry in Tasmania as we evolved and reset after many changes in some of our traditional industries. At this time they were ridiculed and the entire notion dismissed by many. Now other major parties are claiming the benefits of significant growth in tourism in almost all areas of our State. The fundamental challenge being largely ignored is the lack of a clear plan for essential infrastructure, both physical and human, necessary to support the current growth let alone future growth. We simply cannot afford to trash what we have to get the tourist dollar for short term gain or short term political benefit.
We need a clearly articulated vision - a vision must encompass what it means for Tasmania to be a great State to live and work. This needs to be backed by a robust and clear plan to achieve the vision. We need each policy or funding announcement to be linked to and reflected in the vision and plan.
How does any education or health policy fit in the plan to ensure delivery of a world-class public education system and quality, accessible and safe health services? We don’t just want an empty promise to ‘fix the system’. What long term plans and commitments – not election promises with caveats - are there for intergenerational infrastructure to meet the current challenges and future opportunities.
There have been examples of long term thinking that has endured beyond governments but these tend to occur in isolation rather than part of a broad vision and plan. Tasmanian Irrigation is one such example. This is providing enormous benefit to the State and will do so for generations to come. However, an agreed long term rolling infrastructure plan to maximise benefits and create further opportunities is needed to provide certainly to communities desperate for infrastructure upgrades to roads, buildings, etc. The absence of a plan that endures beyond election cycles results in exactly what we are seeing during this (and past) election campaigns as parties seek to buy votes with promises subject to many caveats including majority government which seems increasingly less likely.
The community forums and commentary around the State tell the same story, particularly in regional areas - 'our roads are dangerous and experiencing increased use', 'our community/region drives economic growth through agriculture, mining, tourism, forestry, etc., we need investment in ....' Each area is making the same claims and getting the same piecemeal response and approach. We can and must do better.
This election campaign has seen the government further undermine the three tax bases that it relies upon for its own source revenue. Stamp duties, land tax and payroll tax have all been subjected to more exemptions. The use of populist measures to buy votes hinders rather than helps any possible reform to making State taxes more equitable and sustainable.
A multi-party agreed long term education policy, that is clearly in the best interests of children and the educational outcomes of all Tasmanians needs to be our goal and clear ambition as has been achieved in counties where educational outcomes far exceed ours.
Why can't parties seeking our vote ditch the short-termism that has defined this campaign? Policy announcements and funding promises, both large and small, should all be framed within a clearly articulated, long term vision, backed by a robust plan. The endemic myopia that envelops us particularly at election time needs to be treated before it reaches the critical clinical stage.
12 February 2018
Hon Ruth Forrest MLC
Independent Member for Murchison