Tasmania, a state of transition (The Mercury Talking Point, 16/05/19)

People don’t cope well with change, which is why next week’s state budget is so important, writes Kym Goodes.

WHEN challenges, change and disruption are everywhere, how do you respond?

Human beings don’t cope well with change. Whether positive or negative, change causes uncertainty; it challenges us and brings our values and goals into sharp focus.

This may be why the moments that challenge us most are also the moments that define us, that often bring out our best — as individuals, as communities, as leaders.

In many important ways Tasmania is experiencing “good times”. This has brought about fundamental change to the way our state is perceived by outsiders as well as by those who live and work here. It has brought change to our daily lives with increased traffic, increased development in some areas and challenges to how things have long been done. We are quite literally in a state of transition and that transition is challenging us. Gone are the days when Tasmanians expected to have the beach to themselves for an evening stroll. Or the days when a young family who viewed a rental property was all but guaranteed to be successful and pay some of the lowest rent in the country.

How do we respond to this change? And how do our parliamentary, business, community and academic representatives — the leaders of this changing Tasmania — respond?

There is no denying this is a defining moment for the future of Tasmania. If we pause to wonder if we even want change, it charges on past us. And we all have the power to shape what is happening and the ability to decide what we want our changed Tasmania to look like.

This is where leadership makes the difference. Steering change towards a vision for our state requires leadership. It requires us to be bold, to push out of our comfort zones, to be opportunistic and creative and honest.

It requires us to reflect on what has held us back and what can take us forward.

Deciding what kind of change we want asks us to acknowledge and hold close what is important to us, to name up our values, to build a future that respects our love for our island home, its beautiful environment and unique lifestyle.

This time of change opens up opportunities to transform — to right the wrongs of the past, to apply what we’ve learned from previous failures, to ensure we don’t forget that our state is an ever-evolving mix of people, communities, industries, skills and ideas and that all of us deserve to be respected and included in it.

So what is the answer to the question “What do we want Tasmania to be both now and for the next generation?” The answer to this will have an immediate and long-term impact. This impact will be life changing for those locked out of the economic growth, and will also be the legacy we leave for the next generation of Tasmanians.

In his recent State of the State Address, Premier Hodgman alluded to the answers to this question. He talked about strategic growth. He talked about inclusive growth. He talked about investing in Tasmanians and unlocking the potential in our regions, our people and our communities.

That Tasmania — one that is strategic in its decision-making and inclusive of all its people and their needs would look a bit like this:

In our regional areas

A strategic approach to growth would take the unique nature of our regional towns and communities into account, establishing community-led supports and solutions to make the most of existing strengths and opportunities while working to unlock the barriers to improved access to essential service.

Health

A strategic approach to health would work to focus the attention and resources onto our wellbeing long before Tasmanians end up at the emergency room door. All people in our communities need ready access to GPs, oral health and mental health services. We all need the ability to connect with healthcare and with other people who share our experiences.

Housing

That all Tasmanians have access to secure and affordable housing where they choose to live, work, feel connected and belong. Working with regional areas to ensure access to and supply of warm, safe and affordable housing builds strong communities.

Participation

Perhaps most importantly a strategic approach to growth and change would provide opportunities for people in our regions to connect with training, education, jobs and healthcare, and with each other. The OECD defines inclusive growth as “economic growth that is distributed fairly across society and creates opportunities for all”.

Change that reflects Tasmanians’ values and aspirations is entirely possible. And it is possible now. If our leaders can get the balance right. There can be a focus on the opportunities sitting within the Tasmanian people. We can get the balance right and support our growing economy with a strategic and long-term investment in our regions and our people. While the election campaign has been the dominant narrative, it is next Thursday’s State Budget that all eyes should be on. Budgets highlight for the public the sorts of choices governments have made on our behalf. Whether to fund this program over that one, whether to invest more in this region than that one, whether to tackle change at a systems level or offer up a band-aid solution for the short term.

Budgets are an expression of these choices. This is when governments put their money where their mouth is, as we will see when the Treasurer hands down the 2019-20 State Budget.

Kym Goodes is chief executive of the Tasmanian Council of Social Service (TasCOSS).