Having been away camping for the weekend in Ulverstone on the north coast of Tasmania, I arrived back to find David Leyonhjelm’s post on Tasmania. Having the privilege of living here, apparently subsidised by the ever-generous Australian Taxpayer, I thought it best I respond.
First of all, it must be understood that Tasmania’s primary export, for which we receive conservatively some $700M per year, is a marvellous product called ‘Warm Fuzzies’. These have the incredible property of allowing people who have never engaged with the environment in any manner beyond the minimal —at best a bush walk, at worst, pictures in a magazine — to feel ‘warm and fuzzy’ inside, knowing that a place like Tasmania exists out there, somewhere. We have been forced under point of law to export these to the federal government since around 1983, because apparently they are quite valuable for winning votes in marginal seats that suffer from environmental deprivation. The first batch was of course minted from the shrivelled remains of the Franklin-Grodon dam. Since then we have been called on every couple of electoral cycles to top up the depleted remnants of the federal governments supply, with tithes from our fishing, forestry and mining industries. We have also been called upon to accept the elderly and ‘environmentally sensitive’ members of mainland society in increasing numbers, at significant cost respectively to our health system and political stability.
Now David suggests in quite an forthright manner that he does not believe that the Federal Government is getting value for their money, and in the non-political economy, he is quite right. In the political economy, all that can be said is that our customers keep coming back for more.
What I would like to point out is that we have, by far, received the worst of the deal. Not only has half the land area of Tasmania been locked away from productive use — two thirds of that under international jurisdiction — but large portions of our forestry and fishing industries have been extorted and regulated out of existence.
The majority of Tasmanian’s still agree that this trade is caustic and has to stop.
In that, it is clearly understood that the first three points of the Senator-Elect’s post are a necessary part of the changes required. However, these changes are conditional on the cessation of the forced trade in ‘Warm Fuzzies’. It means Tasmania gets back the capacity to manage our own forestry and fishing, we get back the capacity to manage our own land. The changes that have brought Tasmania to the condition it is in today were wrought by the Federal Government, and these acts of vandalism can only be repudiated by the Federal Government.
The key to this is in the revitalisation of the Australian Senate itself. The suggestion that Tasmania receive lesser representation in the States House is akin to a stand over man saying that the rules have changed; now we still get to take your product, but we aren’t paying anymore. It is exactly the opposite of what needs to occur.
Democracy is like a powerful acid; at all times it erodes the culture and values of its host society, but it can be contained and resisted to some degree. One of the mechanisms we have to resist the corrosion of democracy is the concept of the Upper House. Calls for Upper Houses to be disbanded are misguided or mischievous, trading adherence to founding principles for political ease.
How is this to be done? The purpose of the Senate is enshrined in the differences between it and the lower house; only in its distinctions is value found. Thus to effectively serve the purpose of protecting sparsely populated regional areas, voting in the Upper House must be biased to those areas in the Upper House. The issue is not that Tasmania has too many votes, it is that regional areas elsewhere around the country have too few. The simplest and most effective route to improving the effectiveness of the Senate — while at the same time restoring the lack of balance between Tasmania and other regional areas — is to carve out new city-states for each of the capital cities in the existing states. These relatively small areas could be provided with a total of six senators each, leaving their regional areas with the original six, and the Senate with the same number of members it currently has.
Tasmania’s situation stands as a warning and an opportunity, illustrating the costs of abusing the nature of Australia as a Federation of States, and opening an opportunity to discuss means of fixing not just the immediate problem but addressing the root cause. A demand from the Federal Government that Tasmania carry its share of the economic burden is not sustainable when that very same Federal Government has brought about the very situation Tasmania finds itself in, yet remains necessary in order that Tasmania return itself to a productive state fully engaged with its environment. First cut the chains that bind, then let Tasmania find its own path back to prosperity. Take the chance to properly enshrine the intent of the Australian Federation in the Federal Senate, and help see our nation survive its own democracy for a little longer yet.