Tasmania's Green Disease

By Barnett, David | Review - Institute of Public Affairs, March 1999 | Go to article overview

Tasmania's Green Disease


Barnett, David, Review - Institute of Public Affairs


Going Green is a great way to end up in the red. A look at the decay of the island State.

TASMANIA is chronically ill from the Green virus, and wasting away. According to the Australian Statistician, Tasmania is the only State or Territory whose population will decline-regardless of which of the ABS's three sets of assumptions are used about immigration, fertility and interstate population flows. By the year 2051, Tasmania's population will be down from its present level of 473,000 to either (depending on which set you adopt) 462,100, 445, 700 or 418,500 people.

Perhaps Tasmanians are fortunate that their fertile and pleasant island has become an economic backwater, and a place for mainlanders to escape the hustle and bustle which goes along with economic activity, the roar of urban traffic which is the consequence of two cars in every garage.

If that is so, Tasmanians, providing they can find jobs, should be gratified, because Tasmania's fate is mostly, if not completely, all their own work. Tasmanians vote consistently for the Green and ALP politicians who have made their State so quaint.

They have just done it again, tipping out a State Liberal government and dismissing the last two Liberals among their five members of the House of Representatives.

The consequence, as Peter Nixon reported early last year in his joint Commonwealth-State Inquiry into the Tasmanian economy, is that Tasmania has an unfriendly business environment.

Nixon told the Prime Minister, John Howard, who commissioned the report in October 1996, and the State Premier, Tony Rundle, who lost office in September 1998, that this unfriendly business environment made it difficult to develop manufacturing industries which would be viable and competitive on world markets.

`This factor has been associated with the high levels of sovereign risk associated with the Tasmanian forestry industry,' said Nixon in his report.

`Sovereign risk', in the context of Tasmania's forests, is comprised of Senator Bob Brown and of Christine Milne-who used the Wesley Vale project to launch herself as a national figure, and to win a seat in the Tasmanian Legislative Assembly.

It is also Bob Hawke, who was Prime Minister when the Wesley Vale project was proposed, and Graham Richardson, Hawke's environment minister. You should also include Tasmanian Senator Shayne Murphy, although he made his contribution as an official of the Construction, Forestry and Mining Union (CFMEU).

Tasmania's unemployment rate is 10.6 per cent, against a national average of 7.5 per cent; despite a decline in population as a result of interstate immigration during the year to March of 4,650, or one per cent.

There hasn't been a worthwhile development project in Tasmania for decades. Incat, one of the world's leading boatbuilders, is Tasmanian, but that just happened as the result of the enterprise of one man, Robert Clifford, whose success surprised everybody.

The rot began 25 years ago, with the flooding of Lake Pedder, in the central Tasmanian highlands, to generate electricity. The ALP Premier, Eric Reece-aka `Electric Eric'-who was strongly committed to development driven by hydro-electric power, was cheered in the Tasmanian Assembly when he announced that, Green opposition notwithstanding, the Pedder project would go ahead.

Less than a decade later, a proposal by the then Hydro-Electric Commission to dam the Franklin River, in south-west Tasmania, as the last major project of the State's hydro-electric development programme, was defeated by Green agitation.

The issue became symbolic. Greens around Australia took up the cudgels on behalf of a river they had never seen. The Coalition government of Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, sensing the electoral tide and the strength of conservationist sentiment, offered Tasmania's Liberal Premier Robin Gray a thermal power station and a lump of money to abandon the Franklin project. …

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