Build a Tasmanian Budget for a Lasting Legacy

By Kym Goodes, CEO, TasCOSS (as published in The Mercury 19 June 2018)
Have you heard the good news? Tasmania’s public hospitals are closing beds. Imagine if this was our good news story, the story of our state, the story of a government that took a bold step, made a choice to invest differently and changed the health outcomes of the next generation.

History has shown us that one of the most common threads of humanity is that we want to ensure the next generation will live a better life, that the problems that may have besieged one generation will be eased for our children and our grandchildren.

In the days after a state budget is handed down there is always much discussion about a surplus, about a record spend on infrastructure, questions asked about whether hospital bed numbers are enough and which roads are most important.

A budget needs to support the current needs of the current population.

But what if a budget was also measured on whether it was leaving a legacy that changed the life of the next generation and generations to come, a legacy that changes the story of who Tasmania has been and writes the next chapter of who we can become?

This is a good budget for Tasmania based on our current measures of a good budget.

There is record money for health, a reinstatement of teacher numbers, and funds for the most vulnerable Tasmanians in child protection, affordable housing and family violence strategies.

But humanity is messy.

And there is human need in Tasmania that we want to tackle so it doesn’t become the legacy for the next generation.

While the economy may be strong, low educational attainment, poor health outcomes, low household income levels, housing affordability and the essentials of life such as energy, healthy food and transport continue to be major issues.

This year in Tasmania 5000 households will go without meals and 7000 can’t afford to heat their homes this winter.

More than 21,000 struggle to pay their bills on time.

More than 3000 people are on the public housing waiting list and don’t have a place to call home.

And 1242 children in the child protection system are living in out-of-home care, a number that is increasing, not decreasing.

And there are many initiatives in this budget that will help to support people impacted right now, and this is to be applauded.

We don’t want this to be the story of our future.

The people of Tasmania know that things can change, and as a progressive population we want things to change.

But the change needs to be structural, at a deep systems level.

Funding the same systems to address the current problems will not deliver for the next generation.

These systems are designed to give you the results you’ve always got. We want and need a different result for our people, this will take different systems.

So what might a legacy budget look like — what would be different?

To achieve this change, we need to look at our traditional approaches to budget allocations differently.

We need to start from our desire to invest in communities and people in the same way we invest in industries and in hard infrastructure.

We want to invest not just in built infrastructure but in social, human and natural capital.

Imagine a government brave enough to stand up on budget day and announce the progress towards fewer hospital beds.

Or to downsize the prison, not build a new one.

To do this, a government, in the current economy needs to make strategic choices that set up the next generation for success, because the priorities create the choices and the choices create a legacy.

It will require leadership to set the vision and achieve what we know Tasmania can be for the next generation.

How do we break the cycle for our politicians?

How do we empower them to celebrate big funding decisions into universal and preventive services with the same level of celebration as the big infrastructure spends or acute health bed increases?

How can we imagine the day when we don’t “welcome the announcement of more money for child protection”, because our families have the right level of support before things go wrong, not after.

The economy is strong, and can handle a dual investment while we rebalance and reset for the future.

We will need to fund the acute and the preventive together until we turn the corner and the new Tasmania, the legacy version emerges.

Then our story becomes about all of us, not just some of us.

It doesn’t rely on the assumption that if the economy is doing well, and business is doing well, and tourism is doing well then our future is secure and is guaranteed to be better for the next generation.

When government strives for truly “balanced books” it is not just measuring that balance economically, but also through the outcomes of the people and the progress towards the legacy of a better life for the next generation.

This should be the surplus we celebrate.