Growing inequality is changing the face of Tasmania - Op Ed, The Mercury




Over the past generation, Australia has become more unequal, and Tasmania has slipped further behind.

In the late 1970s, Tasmanian household incomes were 90 per cent of household incomes in NSW. Today, that figure is down to 78 per cent.

As novelist Richard Flanagan put it in a recent speech to the National Press Club: “Our society grows increasingly more unequal, more disenfranchised, angrier, more fearful. Even in my home town of Hobart, as snow settles on the mountain, there is the deeply shameful spectacle of a tent village of the homeless, the number of which increase daily.”

Fairness is fundamental to Australia’s national identity. Australians prefer saying “mate” to “sir”, and generally don’t have private areas on our beaches. Gated estates are rare, and many of us sit in the front seat of the taxi.

Traditionally, one of the ways Australia has given effect to these egalitarian ideals is through interstate transfers. Just as the social safety net helps individuals when they fall on hard times, so too the system of interstate grants recognises the nation must help out states that are hit with economic shocks, such as the declining share of people working in manufacturing.

There’s nothing undignified about receiving social support when you suffer the bad luck of job loss, disability or family breakdown. Likewise, interstate transfers aren’t a flaw in the system - they’re the process working as intended.

Yet under the Liberals, many of their cuts have hit Tasmania hardest.

Tasmanians are finding it harder to get the skills they need to get a job, with cuts to the TAFE and VET sector and 1,900 fewer apprentice positions across Tasmania. The 2018 Budget has locked in a further $270 million in new cuts to TAFE across Australia.

Cuts to childcare will make 3,000 Tasmanian families worse off, and Tasmanian children will suffer from more than $80 million in cuts to schools, with public schools hit the hardest.

Tasmania’s population is older on average than the other states and territories, and this means Tasmanians are hit harder by cuts to pensions, hospitals and aged care.

Changes to the pension which took effect last year saw the incomes of hundreds of thousands of pensioners cut, in some cases by up to $14,000.

Aged care cuts have left hundreds of Tasmanians on waiting lists for residential aged care and more than 2,000 waiting for Home Care packages. The Government’s Budget announcement of additional in-home aged care places will barely put a dent in the existing waiting list.

The freeze on Medicare rebates has led to massive increases in out-of-pocket expenses for primary health care. Since 2013 when the Liberals came to government, the average out-of-pocket cost for Tasmanians to see a GP has increased by 20 per cent and to see a specialist it has increased by 30 per cent.

Hospital cuts by both the state and federal Liberal governments have led to a crisis in Tasmania’s hospital system, with almost 6000 Tasmanians waiting for critical surgery. One in 10 of these patients have waited almost a year.

The Liberals’ infrastructure spending in Tasmania continues downward, from $174 million this financial year, to $62 million in 2020-21. The previous Labor government, over six years, contributed an average $316 million a year.

Until the recent Budget the Liberals had not committed to one new major infrastructure project in Tasmania.

There is no more stark demonstration of inequality in Tasmania than the tent city that has sprung up at the Hobart showgrounds, yet neither federal nor state Liberal Government have any plans to address the housing and homelessness crisis.

The Turnbull Government has got its priorities all wrong. Despite a desperate need for investment in schools, hospitals, housing, infrastructure and reducing the cost of living for struggling Tasmanian families, Malcolm Turnbull wants to give big business $80 billion in tax cuts.

Under Bill Shorten’s leadership, the Labor Party has a different vision.

Labor will invest $30 million to address Tasmania’s elective surgery backlog, which will result in almost 3,000 elective surgery procedures performed, equivalent to half the current waiting list.

Labor will reverse the Liberals’ cuts to schools.

Labor’s changes to negative gearing and capital gains tax will ensure more Tasmanians can own their own home. Our policy will still allow negative gearing on new properties to encourage the development of new housing.

Labor will restore the pay of the 40,000 Tasmanians impacted by cuts to penalty rates. For Tasmanian taxpayers earning $125,000 or less, Labor will provide a tax cut that is bigger, better and fairer than the Liberals’ cut.

Labor sees a proud future for Tasmania. By investing in schools and infrastructure, we can increase productivity and grow high-value jobs in tourism, agribusiness and professional services. It’s a vision of growth, equity, and fairness, not just for Tasmania, but for the nation.

Catryna Bilyk is Senator for Tasmania. Andrew Leigh is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer.

This opinion piece was published in The Mercury on 7 June 2018.

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.