Let’s be honest, the 2019 Federal Election did not go to plan.
Despite strong policies and ideas, the fact is, we lost. This loss was felt nationally, but especially in Tasmania where the key marginal seats of Bass and Braddon fell to the Liberal Party.
For us in Tasmania, this loss has led us to refocus on our priorities. As a party, we need to invest in the small things, in our local communities. This is most important above all else. Regional investment must be a national priority for the Labor Party if we are to regain our key marginal seats and beat the Tories to form government in 2022.
Tasmania is the most decentralised state in Australia where nearly 60% of its population lives outside of Hobart. We are a small state, yet incredibly separated between towns. This means that our population consists predominantly of small country communities. In these country communities, “community” means “family”. Our Tasmanian country communities are strong and resilient, close-knit and accommodating.
These communities understand more than anyone else the need for investment in regional Tasmania. Investment in the community, in local health and mental health services, and employment. It is for that reason that Labor in Tasmania needs to be, and strongly is, focused on rural and regional communities.
Pressures on health services, and particularly mental health services, are at an all-time high in Tasmania. After a Global Financial Crisis, followed by 6 years of Liberal cuts to health, our health system is operating off the smell of an oily rag. Since 2014, $1.6 billion has been slashed from the Tasmanian health sector by the Liberal Government. Tasmania’s health system is beyond dire straits, it is broken. At risk Tasmanians, who are feeling the brunt of this broken system the most, are often those living in rural and regional Tasmania.
In Tasmania, it is increasingly prevalent to hear of regional medical centres being closed, meaning that people have to travel for hours to obtain medical services. Sometimes such travel is not possible and so people live with poor health and live with the symptoms until it is too late. It is also too common for an ambulance operating in parts of Northern Tasmania to be called to the south of the state for a medical emergency. In these cases, the person needing help has to wait for hours before help arrives, those in the north left vulnerable, with no paramedics on call in their area. The failure to provide local services and funding for regional towns means many Tasmanians fall through the cracks and miss out on the healthcare that they need and deserve. Health care and primary health services are a fundamental human right.
Unemployment is another significant issue in Tasmania, not been helped by our state and federal Liberal Governments and has been made even worse by the economic impact of COVID-19. Unemployment has skyrocketed in the electorates of Bass and Braddon and their regional towns and cities, such as Burnie. Whilst Hobart thrives off public service jobs and industry, the rest of Tasmania suffers from the government’s lack of willingness to invest in the public service sector outside of Hobart. By encouraging and moving the establishment of call centres, industries, and big business out of the state capital, local economies and towns in the whole state can be strengthened.
Industries have always been a key part of the Tasmanian economy, particularly the renewable energy industry. As Australia and the rest of the world slowly aims to phase out fossil fuels, it is important that a “just transition” is not just used as a buzzword. Here, Tasmania can pave the way. We have always been the epicentre of renewable energy in Australia. As a hydroelectric state, we are living proof that renewables are the job-creating, clean energy future we all need in this climate crisis. In 2020 and into the future, Tasmania must continue its strong history of being a renewable energy powerhouse. One such way we must aim to do this is through hydrogen energy. The Liberal Government is currently squandering this important development with their internal disputes about climate change. Labor nationally must seize this opportunity to lead the way on hydrogen power and other renewable energy solutions, thus also leading the way in a just transition to renewable energy that leaves no worker behind.
In essence, investment in our regions is crucial because it is our regions who bear the brunt of Australia’s harsh environment. Our farmers endure droughts, floods, bushfires, and more. Yet, they work the land that they love and tirelessly provide for our nation’s food bowl. When our regional communities prosper our country as a whole prospers.
It is simple. If we aren’t investing in our regions, we aren’t investing in Australia.
Ben Dudman is the Tasmanian Young Labor President. Twitter