I don’t deny that there are certain disadvantages that come from living in this wonderful state, but I think it is important that we don’t start getting too wrapped up in the unfairness of it all. There is a danger in letting our sense of entitlement get in the way of reality.
So while we pay more for certain commodities down here and most vocations earn comparatively lower than their mainland equivalents, we also have cheaper housing, beautiful surroundings and lifestyle opportunities that most people would kill for.
A recent article in the newspaper spoke about the need for Tasmania to claim its ‘fair share’ of election sweeteners to address developing problems such as our health system. I was a bit taken aback that the article wasn’t focusing on the fact that pork-barrel politics would be highly irresponsible given the level of national debt that successive governments of both major parties have failed to address. I’m in no way an admirer of our recent elected (and unelected) leaders but I feel like this expectation of the government to provide the services we ‘deserve’ regardless of the economic circumstances seems a little naïve to me. It is also the type of emotional response that politicians like to take advantage of with their scare campaigns, reducing a government’s ability and willingness to make major reforms- it is hard to make a major reform that doesn’t disadvantage someone.
What is it that is actually owed to us and why do we think it is owed? Yes many of us pay tax, but how far do we think that goes? At some point we have to realise that we don’t always get what we want or think we deserve, and we may have to work a little harder ourselves, or make a tough decision such as relocating, to access the services or employment we need.
No doubt both our public health and education systems are under stress. But on the other hand isn’t it great that we have publically funded healthcare and education? This isn’t to say both areas are not priorities for continued funding. They are, but we, the public, need to understand we get the system we can afford, not necessarily the one we deserve. We also have to realise as a state we cannot keep demanding more from Canberra and not making structural changes that make our systems more efficient. We have a pretty high number of hospitals and schools considering the size and population of this state, so it is no wonder we need a greater per capita share of GST revenue than any other state- and still we think we deserve more. I am not entirely comfortable with that argument and I’m also concerned that we are vulnerable every time the GST distribution is reviewed.
In its discussion of the hardships of living in Tasmania the article went on to list a number of other categories in health where Tasmanians are disadvantaged, including lower life expectancy and higher rates of smoking and obesity. Of course, when you look at the last two avoidable risk factors, the increased mortality is hardly a risk. It would be interesting to see what the findings were when you controlled for if you control for risk factors such as those. Considering the massive range of fantastic healthy experiences on our doorstep, it could be reversed entirely.
It is important not to be too glib about issues such as lifestyle factors that contribute to death, as they are rarely as simple as an easy choice. Education and employment opportunities; as well as poverty and access to healthy alternatives are all correlated to these behaviours, but ultimately they are still choices. No morbidly obese person or chain smoker is going to claim they didn’t know the behaviour was bad for them.
And in the end these are the choices Tasmanians have to make. Both as individuals and policy makers. The government can make preventative health policies a greater priority (I look forward to when cigarettes are banned entirely) through funding targeted community health programs and market strategies such as the Sugar Tax that the UK is currently implementing, but Tasmanians need to do their bit and make some healthy choices for themselves.
That is what those statistics show. Living in Tasmania is not an excuse to complain about inequality and how we deserve better. By many measures inequality runs in our favour and by the time this changes, we need to be ready.