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September 12th 2016 print

John Reid

The Tragedy of Tasmania

Here we go again, with yet another attempt to animate the island state's moribund economy via vast sums of public money poured into the tertiary sector. Alas, until 'development', 'innovation' and the profit motive stop being regarded as dirty words, it will be good money after bad

tassieTasmania has long been an object of derision from the mainland states. The Convict State, the Mendicant State and so on. The myth of Tasmania as a gothic horror hell-hole began with For the Term of his Natural Life and continues to the present day with The Kettering Incident, the more than somewhat incoherent melange of UFOs and evil timber-products entrepreneurs that has recently baffled viewers of the Showcase Channel on Foxtel. Now, or so we have been assured, Australia’s very own Deliverance country is now about to be transformed into Silicon Valley.

According to the University of Tasmania’s vice-chancellor, Peter Rathjen, the $800 million dollars to be spent on his institution will change everything. Greater participation in tertiary education will lead to greater innovation which will, in turn, lead to economic transformation. That was the message of Julie Hare’s recent Australian piece, “How to educate underperforming Tasmania”.

Apart from the patronising tone, there is something of a cargo cult mentality about this line of thought. While increased investment in education may be welcome — allowing, of course, the money does not produce fresh drafts of graduates versed in gender fluidity, eco feminism and environmental catastrophism — it is only part of the story.

Innovation does not necessarily follow solely from better educational opportunities. One Tasmanian industrial success story, International Catamarans, was the brainchild of one man, Bob Clifford, whose drive to build and innovate suffered not all for his lack of tertiarty qualifications.  I doubt if a university qualification would have made much difference to Bob. He has since been awarded an honorary DEng, an Order of Australia and was Tasmanian of the Year in 1988.

Every state in the First World is competing to attract new industry. For Tasmania to compete, new industries need to be linked to the state’s existing advantages — its topography, climate and soils, its forests, mines, low population density, even its geographic isolation. Fish-farming, alkaloids, wine, market gardening and tourism are industries which are already here because of such advantages.

The sleeper is the timber industry and its potential for new, cutting-edge technology. Skyscrapers are now being built out of new, wood-based structural materials include cross-laminated timber or “CLT”  and “glulam”. In other parts of the world the opportunities presented by genetic modification of timber have often been foregone because of fears that the new genes could readily spread into wild populations, with unpredictable results. This is not an issue in Tasmania, where a timber species such as Pinus Radiata is literally half a world away from its nearest wild cousins. GM timber possibilities include breeding resistance to certain pests, diseases, environmental conditions, and herbicide tolerance, or the alteration of lignin levels in order to reduce pulping costs. There is also the possibility of downstream processing of eucalypt woodchips to produce high quality charcoal for use in rare-earth metal smelting, activated charcoal for chemical filtering, and even the production of diesel fuel via the Fischer-Tropsch process.

However, it seems that we Tasmanians are too backward to concern ourselves with such high-falutin’ ideas. Hare’s article quotes academic Jonathon West:

The underlying problem is simple but intractable: Tasmania has developed a way of life, a mode of doing things, a demographic, a culture and associated economy, that reproduces underachievement, generation after generation.

This is complete nonsense. This ivory-tower fatalism is a grotesque misrepresentation of the reality.

Consider a recent proposal to develop a barge trans-shipment operation on the Huon estuary as a way of reducing road transport costs to Bell Bay, the only currently available export port. The opposition to this low-cost, low-impact proposal has been little short of hysterical. The Huon Valley Council was bombarded with hundreds of letters in opposition to the project in a well-orchestrated campaign. Meetings had been held in various towns in the Huon, where the environmentally concerned were whipped into a frenzy by green zealots.  Some, more reasonable, objections came from nearby residents on a NIMBY basis. Neither the the Greens nor the Nimbies can be regarded as “locals”. The former are largely tertiary-educated activists and the Nimbies are often Mainland retirees attracted by the tranquility and beauty of the place. It is likely that a majority of genuine locals would have supported this project. It is not the “Tasmanian way of doing things” that has stymied this operation, it is a bloody-minded anti-development lobby.

Apart from its supposed unpopularity, the project was also delayed by jurisdictional issues concerning the construction of new jetties. There has been the usual plethora of red tape and buck-passing between different authorities.

The barge trans-shipment project is a test case for future development in Tasmania. Antipathy to innovation is clearly not a local cultural issue, as Hare and West claim. It has more to do with a vociferous environmentalist lobby and Byzantine bureaucracy.  If the Tasmania is to prosper, it is imperative that these issues are dealt with by government as a matter of urgency. While desirable for its own sake, revamping the tertiary education system is not the answer to Tasmania’s economic problems. Rather, the state government must create a commercial environment in which it is possible to get a new project up and running with a minimum of unnecessary compliance costs and delays.

John Reid PhD is a physicist, inventor and blogger living in Cygnet, Tasmania

 

Comments [14]

  1. Meniscus says:

    When it comes to everything that is wrong with Tasmania, this masterpiece regarding its hydro energy debacle ties things together brilliantly. Trust me when I say that you want to read this:

    https://themarcusreview.com/2016/03/16/tasmanias-energy-scandal/

    • ianl says:

      The really significant result, I fear to say, from both Tasmania’s idiotic mendacity and South Australia’s idiotic ideology, is that the loss of grid power, uncertain repair times and cost and real damage done to both individuals and operating businesses, have *not* stirred the public nearly as much as I had naively hoped over the last twenty years.

      The waste hit the fan twice this year, yet gollops of spinmeister B/S aided by a truly despicable MSM, were sufficient to assuage public anxiety. This was my last bastion of defensive hope – all gone. Madness stalks the lands … and the country deserves it.

  2. Tasmania needs to find out who is funding all the efforts to undermine any industry that is based on Tasmania’s economic advantages. Even more importantly is why?
    Tasmania is blamed by accusations of mendicant state when dams have been stopped against the states wishes, when the forestry industry is shut down against the wishes of the majority and now fish farming is under attack. All this imposed by outside interests.

    Martin Luther

  3. Steve Spencer says:

    Tasmania should be renamed. Unfortunately, the most appropriate name is already taken by a large island in the north Atlantic: Greenland.

  4. Prosperity cannot be legislated for, nor can it planned for, by any government whether democratic or totalitarian. Not in Tasmania, nor on the mainland. Nowhere. If it was possible to legislate for, or even enforce prosperity at the point of a gun, the USSR would be have a very successful and prosperous experiment in human governance. It wasn’t, it was one of the most tragic events in history and countless millions died as a result. Prosperity cannot be obtained by ‘education’ either. At its height the USSR had many more PhD’s than did the US.

    History incessantly demonstrates that prosperity is only created and comes only when there is freedom, i.e. free markets. Adam Smith nailed it with his aphorisms – “Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice: all the rest being brought about by the natural course of things.” “By pursuing his/her own rational self interest, a person frequently promotes that of the society more effectively than when he/she really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected [pretended] to trade for the public good.”

    Why do generations of reality phobic academics and media people ignore the wisdom of Adam Smith and the lessons of history and imagine that they can create prosperity by any other method? Tony Blair and many others [such as Chavez and even Malcolm Turnbull now] have tried/are trying different variations of socialism/totalitarianism to try to escape the reality that freedom/capitalism alone can create prosperity.

    • ianl says:

      > “Why do generations of reality phobic academics and media people ignore the wisdom of Adam Smith and the lessons of history and imagine that they can create prosperity by any other method?”

      The answer stares right back at you, I’m afraid. It’s called VANITY, or if you prefer, MORAL VANITY. The Achilles Heel of homo sapiens.

      Those politicians and bureaucrats who lack this attribute to any large degree fall over. Journalists are particularly prone to this because they do not have to face the unpleasant, risky business of elections every 3-4 years, so they can be players without any real accountability. Academics, likewise, strive for tenure so they too can be players of “intellectual depth” without the hoi-polloi interfering.

      Tasmania is a prime example of this devil’s play. It’s Greenieland preserved in aspic.

  5. Bill Martin says:

    Ironically, politicians of all persuasions regularly claim that they entered politics “to make a difference”. Given that all-but-mandatory attitude, it is hardly surprising that they incessantly endeavour to “do something” about most everything that ever arises. Not for them the benign, hands-off attitude recommended by Adam Smith. Oh no, they absolutely must “do something” about everything. That is why they are in politics, you see.

    Has anyone ever heard or read about some spirited parliamentary debate where one side mounted a passionate case for leaving something alone?

  6. Doubting Thomas says:

    Given the lumpen Left’s insatiable appetite for “reform”, one would expect to be readily able to identify and create a long list of unequivocally beneficial significant reforms introduced by them or following their initiatives. I was tempted to put no fault divorce at the head of the list, but then I realised that the undoubted benefit of removing the old Matrimonial Causes legislation really solved nothing much. I cannot think of anything else to add to the list. In many if not most cases, eg Aboriginal Affairs, child welfare, education, health and welfare, the cure aggravated the disease, and created new problems without solving any new ones. The only unequivocal benegfits have accrued to politicians, lawyers and, most of all, to bureaucrats. A pox on all of them.

  7. mags of Queensland says:

    The tragedy of Tasmania is that most of the population have been mesmerized by empty headed rhetoric from those who never have the responsibility of making the State viable.Having someone else continually picking up the tab does not make for a community that could be self sufficient. All the education in the world won’t amount to a hill of beans if it isn’t applied to wealth making activities. They will just end up with better education unemployed.

  8. Geoffrey Luck says:

    Seems that “The Tasmanian way of doing things” is the result of the population comfortably succumbing to the campaigning of the bloody-minded anti-development lobby.

  9. Mike_O28 says:

    All these excesses by the Tasmanian people is paid for by the rest of us for instance the relativity for the GST is a bit under 1.8 for Tasmania. This sort of thing allows them to be parasites. I would advocate the federal government not to subsidise anything in Tasmania in a disparate way from the rest of Australia. This applies to all other states and territories we should all get equal shares.

  10. Philby says:

    “The underlying problem is simple but intractable: Tasmania has developed a way of life, a mode of doing things, a demographic, a culture and associated economy, that reproduces underachievement, generation after generation.”

    Truer words were never spoken in regards possibly 60% of the workforce, one has to be amongst or be attuned to the Tasmanian way of life and then the truth of this quote is crystal clear. Go visit and observe or talk to those who have to deal with born and bred Tasmanians either in their employ or observing the unemployable.