They waited through the Golden Age budget — and they got this (The Mercury Talking Point, 24/05/19)

Government fails Tasmanians despite Premier’s pledge to share prosperity, says Kym Goodes.

BUDGETS are a message from governments to the community about what it sees as most important, most worthy of investment. And the State Government’s budget message to Tasmanians this year could not be clearer.

This government values investing in infrastructure over investing in people. For five years now this government has seen infrastructure spending as the panacea. They keep telling us that building things will create jobs and help deliver better essential services. If that is so then why are so many Tasmanians increasingly being left behind? Why are so many Tasmanians missing out on the opportunity to get a job and have a good life?

Minister for Building and Construction Sarah Courtney this week celebrated Tasmania recording “the strongest growth in the construction and building sector in the year to March 2019”. If that is so then why is Tasmania’s unemployment rate still disproportionately high? Local people are not getting local jobs because the Government is not investing enough in the supports that people need.

The Government’s own numbers tell the story of the past five years for many Tasmanians. There are decreasing numbers of Tasmanians enrolling in TasTAFE and VET training (63,400 in 2015 vs 54,100 in 2017). More Tasmanian children are in out-of-home care (1,054 in 2013-14 vs 1,310 in 2018-19). There are now 3,233 Tasmanians waiting on the housing register (vs 2,054 in 2013-14) and the wait time for priority applicants (including those fleeing domestic violence) has increased from 19 weeks in 2013-14 to 56 weeks in 2018-19.

Focusing investment in infrastructure is not solving these complex, entrenched social challenges in our community. A long-term, strategic investment is needed. And the Premier promised this in his State of the State Address in March. He committed to a “plan for strategic growth” including:

“INVESTING so more Tasmanians, across every region, can share in our state’s prosperity.”

“BREAK[ING] down the barriers to the greatest enabler of social inclusion — education, training and the opportunity of a good job.”

“FIND those ways to ensure all Tasmanians are feeling the benefits of a strong economy, and that no one is left behind.”

In the Treasurer’s Budget we see more of the same. The Government keeps throwing money in the same direction, hoping that something will change. But the truth is, if we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we’ve always got. Tasmanians doing it tough have been patient. The 17,000 job-seekers have waited.

They’ve waited through tourism budgets and infrastructure budgets. They’ve waited through the “golden age” budget that has not yet improved their lives. And this year they are being asked to wait yet again.

Tasmanians have waited and waited for a budget that invests directly in them. A budget that prioritises supporting the ability of every Tasmanian to participate in work, education and the Tasmanian way of life, not just a crisis investment for those needing acute care or intensive support. They have been waiting for a direct investment to help 120,000 men, women and children in Tasmania who live in poverty, be able to live a good life.

We can and should invest in the hard infrastructure but if we don’t also support local people to take up the jobs that creates then we’re not ensuring the prosperity can be shared. We need strategic investment to address the barriers that get in the way of getting a job and having a good life. Strategic investment to address inflexible and unaffordable public transport that can’t get people where they need to go and when they need to be there.

We need investment to ensure all Tasmanians have a place to call home and don’t have to resort to living in shipping containers or cars.

We need better support for people who struggle to read and write so they can have the basic skills they need to be able to get a job and keep it.

Over the past five years the quality of life has got worse for many Tasmanians. This should not happen in times of economic growth. We need to invest strategically now to unlock the potential that is dormant in our communities and make sure no one is left behind.

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