This blog looks past partisan politics to find solutions and provide insights into public policy. It is the companion blog to the author's on-line training course in democracy and civic action: www.3ptraining.com.au
It covers a wide spectrum of issues from local to international concerns.
It was previously the support blog for the author's biography "Finding Home, An Autobiographical Account of a Child Migrant Growing on the Edge of the Tasmanian Wilderness” available from Amazon.
Erik is a public policy professional and owner of the online training course in democracy and civic action: www.3ptraining.com.au
…explores ways to create a sustainable and just community. Explores how that community can be best protected at all levels including social policy/economics/ military.
Erik’s autobiography is a humorous read about serious things. It concerns living in the bush, wilderness, home education, spirituality, and activism. Finding Home is available from Amazon, Barnes&Noble and all good e-book sellers.
Tasmanian State Election - Building Resilience through Public Policy
How Tasmania can Prosper – the Conversations we Have to Have
Well its election time again in the
great State of Tasmania. I
initially set out to write a political commentary to help local readers better
exercise their civic duty (voting is compulsory in Australia)
but changed my mind. Instead I have tried to answer the question: “what would
have to change for Tasmania to
become economically self supporting?” It is a question with wider implications
because Tasmania is a
marginalised peripheral economy. There are lots of them in the world and we can
learn from what works elsewhere.
So rather than talking about who to
vote for, let’s talk about what we need….I don’t have all the answers but I
would like to start a conversation, so here goes….
Evidence Based Policy....
is stuck in a hole. It is a welfare dependent State in which forty per cent of
the adult population are on some form of welfare/pension, youth unemployment is around
20 per cent, a handful of large foreign based businesses call the shots, the
population is ageing and unwell, and the political class spend their time on
wedge social issues and slagging the other team instead of figuring out how to
The thing that most needs fixing is
the fact that almost everything that is spent on retail, insurance, chattel and
home mortgages, business finance, gambling, much of our hospitality, and
increasingly food, leaves the State to line the pockets of people who live
somewhere else. Vast amounts of money have been made from mining but Tasmania
is littered with dead, dying or just plain poor mining towns. The money is not
here. Mining the Tarkine will help some folk for a time but it will not fix our
economy. In my opinion things will only improve if we find an economic model that
keeps our wealth circulating at home.
Here is an imaginary story based on
real world examples that have worked elsewhere. Not all of these initiatives
are necessary and not all are possible, but all are worth talking about.
“Once upon a time Tasmania
established a State Bank which could issue its own credit. The bank was given
the same charter initially given to the Commonwealth Bank of Australia
and for the same reasons. In addition the Bank provided small business finance
at below market rates to foster and encourage small business. In addition the
Government offered State based insurance for basic insurances on a
not-for-profit basis. In this way a huge amount of money was kept in the State
that would otherwise have left. Shares in both the State bank and the insurer
were issued to all long term residents thus circulating money within the local economy.
In addition to issuing dollars the State bank issues each long term resident
with a ‘Taz’ which was time limited currency only recognised in the State. This
had an immediate stimulatory effect on business by encouraging spending and
preventing hoarding. The government also sponsored an Island
wide ‘Community Exchange System’ or ‘tally system’ which allowed the exchange
of goods and services without money. This system enabled persons with low
incomes but with skills, to participate more fully in the economy and
community. It increased business activity and strengthened the social fabric.
Being untaxed it could also be considered an indirect form of economic assistance.
The Government appointed a Small
Business Minister who soon learnt that the chief concern of small business was
the cost of electricity, and that small business and consumers heavily
subsidised a handful of bulk industrial power users. The Minister also found
that small business was the single greatest employer outside the public
service. The Government therefore mandated a single electricity price for all
users in the State. This led to a dramatic increase in small business
confidence and consequent uplift in employment. Bulk power users were concerned
about how this might impact their viability but a ‘supply and demand’ study
found that there was abundant electricity if it were not exported to Australia
via Bass Link. From that time on only surplus electricity was exported and
importation of electricity was banned. However the State continued to invest in
wind power as a natural compliment to base load hydro electricity increasing
security of supply and exporting the surplus. Income from exports was then used
to drive down the domestic price or re-invested in further production.
The Small Business Minister also
learnt that there was no effective civil enforcement mechanism for non-payment
of debts. The law was modified to allow persons to obtain a ‘debtors judgement’
in the Courts and have that judgement enforced on a fee for service basis by
the Monetary Penalties Enforcement Service. Assurance of debt recovery boosted
This success in stimulating small
business led to some serious debate about taxation policy. The new Government put
a proposal to the Commonwealth to make Tasmania a ‘special economic zone’ in
which all taxes were abolished except for GST, company tax, resource royalties,
personal income tax; and taxes on alcohol, sugary drinks, and imported tobacco.
Abolished taxes included FID, stamp duty on cars and homes, motor vehicle
registration, land tax, capital gains tax, air port taxes, and taxes on
employment. In addition council rates were found to be a poll tax where rates
were based on the nominal value of a property rather than a fee for a service.
Councils were obliged to radically restructure their rates. Those that were
found to be unviable were merged. Motor vehicle owners were obliged to pay into
an insurance fund – either the State insurer or a private equivalent, for
medical care. These changes in themselves saved a great deal of bureaucracy and
encouraged investment and employment. Removing a tax on motor vehicle
registration was particularly beneficial to farmers and other businesses.
However all of this tax cutting led
to something of a funding crisis for the public service which had already been
asked to ‘do more with less’. The Government addressed this firstly by making a
law allowing Departments to reduce staff hours as an alternative to redundancy.
This copied the approach adopted by Germany
during the GFC. It enabled cost cutting during hard times but kept critical
skills, corporate memory and social capital within the public service, avoided
a crisis of confidence, and kept money circulating. It also avoided the former
‘boom and bust’ approach where the public service grew during the good times
then faced harsh redundancies during the harsh times.
The first Department to be tackled
was Health and Human Services. The Government knew that it would never be able
to provide a comprehensive public health system in Tasmania.
This has been understood by academics and health professionals for over 20
years and reflects the situation in the rest of rural Australia.
The Government also realised that Australia
failed to tackle the emerging national health crises in part because the health
system is run by and for the benefit of doctors and medical specialists.
Further, legal liability increased the cost of medicine because medical
practitioners feel safer referring patients to specialists. This has led to a
dumbing down of general practise. In tackling these issues the Government set
out the following policy road map:
·Limit liability and the amount of liability
claims by law, and provide a State sponsored not-for-profit professional
indemnity scheme for medical professionals.
·Allow appropriately trained nurses to perform
most of the treatment and diagnosis currently performed by GPs, both privately
and in the public system, under remote supervision by a doctor.
·Protect the practise of midwifery in private
·Trial delivery models for treatment in patient’s
homes thereby freeing up hospital beds.
·Trial delivery models for outsourcing medical
treatment to developing countries.
·Trial delivery models for web based analysis of
medical data from specialists outside Australia
where this is more cost effective.
·Remove restrictions on intake numbers to surgery
and medical specialist courses.
·Properly fund medical student placements so that
medical graduates are not obliged to pay ‘up-front’ and do not graduate with a
·Restrict sugar, salt and fat content in drinks
and processed foods.
·Tax sugary drinks in the same way that
cigarettes and tobacco are taxed.
·Enact plain packaging for cigarettes.
While taxing imported tobacco the
Government legalised the domestic production of tobacco for sale and personal
use. As a result many people stopped inhaling tobacco laced with herbicides and
pesticides in favour of less addictive organic leaf. These reforms over time
delivered significantly better health outcomes and led to savings in the
The next major area of reform was
in education. Noting that previous State by State comparisons were unfair
because Tasmania is part of
the Government compared educational outcomes against rural Victoria.
While these results were more encouraging they were still found to be poor
compared to OECD averages. The Government discovered that a decade of chaos
with constantly changing curricula, constantly changing structures, and school
closures had led to teacher burn out, loss of experienced staff, and lower
educational outcomes. The Education Minister also learnt that in Tasmania
a person can qualify as a teacher based on a university ‘pass’ of 49 per cent.
This was lifted to 60 per cent overall, and 90 per cent in spelling, grammar and
maths. The Minister also learnt that, while the requirements to qualify as a
teacher in Tasmania are among the
lowest in the developed world, the requirements to maintain registration are
amongst the most onerous. This created a brain deficit at one end and a brain
drain at the other. The Government moved to reverse that situation.
The Minister also found that:
·Immigration, family breakdown and autism, have a
negative impact on academic outcomes. It is simply not possible for a class
room teacher to cater to high and complex needs, whatever their origin.
·The state education system does not invest in
bright students. There is no gifted education program in TasmanianState schools, although gifted
children both need more support than average, and provide a greater return on
·Many classes are chaotic and stressful because
teachers have no effective tools of discipline and many parents do not
discipline their children.
In light of the above the following
approach was adopted:
·rejecting the doctrine of ‘mainstreaming’
children in favour of special classes, and potentially special schools, where
children with high and complex needs had some chance of getting their needs
·advancing children according to their ability
not according to their age;
·abolishing teacher registration by shifting the
onus of hiring competent staff to school principles;
·shifting funding away from buildings and
technology towards supporting class room teachers;
·keeping focus on core competencies in maths,
spelling, grammar and science;
·increasing the age of compulsory schooling from
five to six for girls and seven for boys in line with research on neurological
development, particularly in boys; and
·allowing appropriate disciplinary options for
classroom teachers (following discussion with parent bodies).
The next area tackled was the
criminal justice system....but the State Service Act prevents me from writing about it....
In tackling these issues the
Government adopted the following policies. First they developed a realistic
housing policy which is discussed later. Then they ...did another bunch of stuff I am not allowed to write about...
Tasmania had unfortunately
decade long housing crisis. The self evident failure of the market mechanism to
house families was identified as an exacerbating factor in almost every other
social ill including crime and family breakdown. The Government conducted an
audit of all vacant Crown land to which services could reasonably be connected
then put low cost dwellings on that land. Initially these were pre-fabricated
shipping containers that were fitted out at the prison as part of a ‘pay for
incarceration for work’ scheme and as a trades training program. As modular
units these could be configured to house anywhere from one person to a family
of five as they are in Holland.
Closed school buildings were re-modelled to hostel style accommodation. Various
public/private partnership models were explored. In addition building and
council regulations were changed to emphasise shelter over middle class ideals
of housing. While the regulatory issues were initially complex, living in huts,
sheds, shipping containers, and vehicles became a legal and viable alternative
to housing insecurity and homelessness.
Having addressed health, education,
justice and housing, the Government turned its attention to supporting
agriculture. Unlike the Australian Government, the new Tasmania
realised that not all investment is good, and that the buy-up of productive
land by ChineseState
companies did not reflect the operation of the free market, but rather
reflected the foreign policy of the Communist Government of China. Sale
of agricultural land to persons not resident in Tasmania
was banned but Tasmanian farmers were allowed to lease land to foreign
interests subject to a national interest test and limited to a 30 year lease.
Tasmanian retained its market niche
by banning GM crops on the Island but actively encouraged establishment of an
industrial hemp industry for the production various products including
clothing, paper, food, oils, ethanol, and building materials. In time this came
to be a major crop alongside poppies and essential oils. The Government did not
invest money in irrigation although the State Bank was prepared to lend on
favourable terms. However a comprehensive environmental impact statement
examining salinity water table issues was always required. Similarly any person
who wished to undertake coal seam fracking was required to prove that there
would be no impact on the water table, and to conduct small monitored trials.
This had the effect of banning fracking from most parts of the State. In
recognition of the rights of farmers, the Government allowed farmers rights to
all of their land to the centre of the earth and the right to deny access to
The new Government continued to
respect the Forest agreement, recognising that industry
had initiated negotiations, all parties had made compromises, and that the
agreement was key to gaining recognition and international markets. The
Government also commissioned a study into potential commercial uses of
plantation timbers including composite structural timbers, log cabins, firewood,
and combustion for electricity generation.
Those pushing for a TasmanianRepublic suggested that it could
avoid buying expensive military toys and protect its territorial integrity by
maintaining a citizen army. Military service would be compulsory after high
school and would double as health and fitness training. Each person who was assessed
as ‘fit to bear arms’ would be issued one and this weapon was kept under lock
and key at local police stations to be issued in the event of war or
insurrection, and for training. The police would became part of the new
military structure thus creating greater linkages between the police and young
people. Genuine conscientious objectors would not be obliged to participate. It
was suggested that the Republic of Tasmania
should be able to put around 80,000 people under arms – the same number as the