Tasmanian Times

Bronwyn Williams

The Denison Debate – Another Night at the Burbury

Monday evening found us braving the chill of Hobart’s early winter to venture out and partake of The Denison Debate – ‘A new Tasmanian economy’ – at the UTas Stanley Burbury Theatre.

As expected, the ‘conversation’, moderated by an attractive woman with lovely grey hair, was both civilised and painstakingly highbrow. All five of the speakers – some academics, a politician, a community sector manager and a high ranking public servant – agreed that the Tasmanian economy faces unique challenges, thanks mostly to its tiny population and geographic isolation.

So far, so good. But, what do we do about it?

Mr Eslake paraded a series of now-familiar figures, letting us know, again, that Tasmania suffers the blight of an underperforming, overly costly public sector. He says we need a ‘forensic evaluation’ of the public sector to track down the root causes of low productivity – the answer does not lie in offering voluntary redundancies to public sector workers. But, who will conduct this evaluation, Saul? Yet another bunch of extravagantly paid public servants? And, how long will it take them? Can we measure it in years or decades?

And we can’t forget that the public sector is, either directly or indirectly, responsible for the wages of a big chunk of Tasmania’s working population. A successful rationalisation of its operations will inevitably involve job losses, and without a sturdy and varied private sector to take up the slack, all we’re left with is even higher unemployment and welfare dependency.

Everyone agreed wholeheartedly with Mr Eslake, and a number of explanations for the evolution of the giant, life-sucking public sector monster were offered. Ms Ruth Forrest, MLC, suggested that Tasmanian public servants were devoted to historically predicated paper shuffling, and Margaret Reynolds, State Manager, National Disability Services, agreed, referring to the public sector’s growing obsession with process, usually at the expense of the public they’re supposed to serve.

State Architect, Peter Poulet, claimed that Tasmania’s ‘silo mentality’ was ‘holding us back’. I always thought that silos were big, tower like things where grains and stuff like that were stored, and I wasn’t able to make any connection between them and anybody’s mental processes. How they related to the psyche of an entire public service, or government, completely escaped me. I had to look it up. According to Business Dictonary.com, ‘silo mentality’ is defined as –

‘A mind-set present in some companies when certain departments or sectors do not wish to share information with others in the same company. This type of mentality will reduce the efficiency of the overall operation, reduce morale, and may contribute to the demise of a productive company culture.’

Good call, Mr Poulet! I can see how even a passing consideration of the antics of the Tasmanian public service, and, indeed, the Tasmanian government could lead to such an astute observation. This state is run by experts in secrecy, with side specialities in morale annihilation and the rewarding of tragically poor performance.

Richard Eccleston, of the UTas School of Government, sees no problems with the underlying Tasmanian economy, but he did acknowledge that the government needs ‘to do fewer things, better’. Also a good idea – in theory. But what happens to the people doing the ‘surplus’ jobs – are they destined to join the dole queue along with those displaced by Mr Eslake’s forensic evaluation?

A ‘new’ Tasmanian economy should be one where more people are employed, and the larger proportion of the working population is engaged by a creative, entrepreneurial private sector. We wish. Which modern economy doesn’t publicly espouse such an ideal?

But, are any modern economies even coming close to achieving this glittering prize? Or are they all stumbling over the tyranny of short term political imperatives – what Mr Eccleston describes as a ‘spend now, deliver now’ political ethos, even if that spending is clearly at the expense of the economic well-being of future generations?

In addition to this widespread political malaise, Tasmania must address an unhealthy familiarity between government and the island’s few corporate players, a ‘deep-seated apathy toward higher education’ (Eslake), an ageing population (Poulet), and the disengagement of the community from politics (Eccleston).

As long ago as the 1970’s the prominent Canadian economist John Kenneth Galbraith recognised that rampant corporate growth, ever-increasing wages, and out-of-control consumerism would not ultimately benefit society. He expressed concern at the effects of mindless economic growth on man’s environment, and despaired of a society where people could afford a range of expensive consumer goods, but were provided with sub-standard education, health care, transport systems, and other public services. Nothing has changed.

The way towards a new Tasmanian economy will not be discovered by a bunch of well-educated individuals tossing trite ideas at an audience of equally well-educated persons, in a pleasantly stage-managed ‘conversation’. The moderator of the Denison Debate, Natasha Cica, expressed delight that imported mainland ‘stars’ participating in such talkfests are invariably astounded at the Tasmanian community’s ‘engagement with the political process’. This is complete bollocks. Mr Eccleston observed that most Tasmanians are, in fact, totally disengaged from politics, and he’s right.

We noted that almost everyone who asked a question from the audience was addressed by their first name in reply. Tasmania is a society of cliques, and those pontificating from their ivory tower on matters economic are every bit as insular as the residents of small, rural communities. We seriously need to work on education, although I fear the government has a vested interest in maintaining a largely semi-literate voting populace – people who think an election is some sort of team game, and blindly vote for the team they’ve always supported.

More importantly, however, Tasmanians need to learn to value different ideas – to move away from what Galbraith refers to as the ‘intellectual torpor’ binding individuals and government alike. Ms Forrest proclaimed that Tasmania ‘should not be run like a corner store’, but I respectfully disagree. A well run, successful corner store has hardworking, innovative owners, and provides good, reliable customer service. To survive, and compete against larger stores they offer their customers something special. Tasmania can do this! I know the analogy is a bit twee, but it is truly disappointing for a ‘mainlander’ who has chosen to live in this state to observe the mind-numbing disinterest of native Tasmanians – in their spectacular environment, in their government, and ultimately, in their own welfare.

And, next time someone puts on one of these wanky debates, perhaps they could go beyond the usual suspects for panel members. How about including a teenage parent, or an unemployed person, or a farmer, or, god forbid, a forestry worker. It was nice to hear from the floor that Madeleine Ogilvie has to watch every cent in her legal practice, but how relevant is that, really? The Tasmanian economy should serve all Tasmanians, not just those with the benefit of education and employment who can afford to get together and bleat about the mess we’re in.

Ideas, anyone?

Author Credits: [show_post_categories parent="no" parentcategory="writers" show = "category" hyperlink="yes"]


  1. Darren Southwood

    June 12, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    George, I don’t get your comment about selfish bludging forestry haters. I’m a fourth generation timber worker and can assure you the industry is just as selfish and bludging as it ever was. Anybody is just an amateur.

  2. George Harris aka woodworker

    June 12, 2011 at 3:43 am

    Re #26, Oooops! Sorry, Natasha. I have re-read my contribution #22, and I can see why you may have interpreted it as a criticism more harsh than I was intending. In fact, I was not intending a criticism at all, rather a suggestion. Maybe I have become so ground down by all the selfish bludging forestry haters that I have over-reacted! I am very grateful for your efforts, and I did actually enjoy the evening, and really, it was a nice change that the anti-forestry grizzlers didn’t bring the subject up, even though I recognised a few amongst the audience….

  3. Robin Halton

    June 11, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    #26, Natasha, next time U Tas hosts a public debate, please consider ” The future of Greater Hobart Region”! I am sick and tired of the self serving cultural and intellectual “green” snobbery attachment to Denison in isolation from the real world around the Greater Hobart area!
    Educational opportunity should be available to all and not be controlled by the UTas authority as the one and only way to enter todays world to be an academic highly skilled in IT above natural initiative and technical know how.
    Make people from Brighton, Sorell, Rokeby and Margate welcome too. Cheers for now.

  4. Michael Swanton

    June 10, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    #26.Half of twenty six is #13. I rest my case.
    Oh! Thank you for putting your real name to your comment. Michael Swanton.

  5. Natasha Cica

    June 10, 2011 at 9:36 am

    Responding to George Harris:

    As we discussed on the night, your idea for some online forum is a good one – making that happen would require resources (ie staff and money) that I currently don’t have. I’ll certainly pass your suggestion up the UTAS line.

    On the question of the timber industry – as with questions about population and immigration, I was very surprised that it didn’t pop up. I have a strong interest in discussions about the future role of that industry, including because my mother was from Scottsdale and her family originally settled in the Huon. I also have a strong interest in the immigration question, including because my father is from Serbia, but also because I left Tasmania after high school and lived in a fair few other places (including outside Australia) with much higher population density, a much broader range of ethnic groups and a very different approach to urban, suburban, peri-urban and rural development and design.

    Responding more widely:

    On the question of who might have spoken – ask ten people, and they’d each pick a different (and in their eyes much improved) panel. Someone had to make a call and that person was me. I considered it an appropriately balanced panel for the purpose, and still do. The full life experience of its participants, including across sectors, isn’t the sum of our current job descriptions and the postcodes of our current payrollers.

    On the question of preferred format – this one’s working pretty well for most people so far; again, ask ten people, and they’d each pick a different preference. There is always room for improvement, however, and I do welcome constructive suggestions. A lot of commentary and critique in Tasmania has kneejerked towards the destructive, for some long time – including the counterproductive parochialism fuelling the North/South (and beyond) divide – and it would be good if more of us could move beyond that.

    Natasha Cica

  6. Bronwyn Williams

    June 10, 2011 at 3:02 am

    Steve, ‘it’s not just coming to Tasmania and seeing how badly the place is being run’, it’s seeing the enormous potential of the island being squandered by those who are running it so badly, and wondering why EVERYONE isn’t angry about it.

    And, thank you for making this point. It’s easy to ignore poor political management, and even corruption, in a place like Sydney, when a good part of your day is spent just surviving the rat-race. In Tasmania, the exact opposite is true.

    We’re still trying to work out what makes this place tick – we’ve travelled all over the state, we’ve talked at length to all sorts of Tasmanians, we’ve devoured Tasmanian histories and Tasmanian novels, and it’s still a work in progress.

    And, mincing words is a skill I never mastered, unfortunately.

  7. Steve

    June 9, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    20; When I read your article I agreed with the “mind numbing disinterest” comment but since it’s been challenged I’ve found myself considering the point more deeply.
    I thought back to the various other States I have worked in, and in all honesty I’d have to say that the level of disinterest is probably greater outside Tasmania. I think of the population here as disinterested, but I realised that is only in comparison to my increased interest/disgust in matters political.
    I suspect the reason “recent arrivals” and “mainlanders” are more politically aware is not that they were always that way. It’s coming to Tasmania and seeing just how badly the place is being run!
    If you think about it, at least 4% of Tasmania’s population would have taken part in a anti pulp mill protest. There was a carefully counted 1.3% at a anti mill rally a few weeks back. Is there any other State where you could get 1.3% of the population out on to the streets to protest?

  8. Saul Eslake

    June 9, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    I certainly agree with Ms Williams’ point in the penultimate paragraph of #20.

    When you look back it’s notable how many of the prominent figures in Tasmanian politics had been “mainlanders” who have come to Tasmania and for one reason or another chosen to get actively involved – names like Brian Harradine, Norm Sanders, Bob Brown, Robin Gray, Jim Bacon, and David Crean come readily to mind. Not all of these have enriched Tasmania’s political life (the fourth of those I mentioned being a particular case in point), but many of them have.

    I agree that one of the regrettable features of Tasmanian political discourse is the tendency to regard anyone who hasn’t been born (or lived much of their life) in Tasmania as an ‘interfering mainlander’.

    It’s fair enough, I think, to expect that ‘mainlanders’ and ‘recent arrivals’ who want to advocate change in Tasmania make the effort to understand why things are as they are here, and to avoid the impression of (or actually) being arrogant or condescending (and I’m not suggesting Ms Williams has been).

    But provided they do, I for one welcome and encourage the participation of diverse viewpoints, whether I personally agree with them or not.

  9. George Harris aka woodworker

    June 9, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    I attended this debate, and I, as many of you know, am a participant in, and a passionate supporter of the timber industry.
    I am a bit bemused by the references to single mothers, forestry workers and people of truncated attainment of pieces of paper with the embossed logos of educational institutions.
    Some with such pieces of paper do so little with them, while some without achieve wide acclaim and significant achievement. I cite Bob Clfford as one of the latter.
    I have found people at the grass roots level of the timber industry to ingenious and creative, and fantastic problem solvers in difficult situations, but we also have a scientific community focussing on the timber industry that has an international reputation, and many scientists from around the planet visit here. A short walk across Churchill Avenue from the venue of the debate would have delivered you to the Co-operative Research Centre for Forestry. Perhaps many of you would benefit from visiting them, talking with them, and exploring what it is they are doing. You might get some surprises.
    My own experiences included turning my back on the direction I initially took in the early ’80’s, even with a Bachelor of Arts, and establishing from scratch a manufacturing business based around Tasmania’s Special Timbers. I did this as an alternative to leaving the state, even as there was a downturn in the economy and the area I had initially chosen. I don’t regret it.
    I found the debate a little dull, and the speakers having insufficient time to properly explore the topic. Could I suggest the topics for debate a circulated weeks in advance, and the selected speakers be advertised, and they each publish a short paper online ahead of the debate, and the circumstance then be used to get into the topics properly? In this modern age, with the communications technology we now have, surely this would lead to a greater level of intensity a debating opportunity like this could generate. The audience would also not be coming in cold, and would be able to engage at a higher level. What do you think? Would quality participants be able to put in to the level this would require?

  10. Bronwyn Williams

    June 9, 2011 at 3:36 am

    #16 Kate. I take it from your spirited responses that you are Tasmanian born. I am not. And, since this exchange seems to be getting personal, I am in my late fifties, I have four grown sons, I am a qualified accountant and lawyer, and I have worked in both professions. I have a degree in psychology, and worked with disadvantaged families, as a volunteer and in a paid capacity for many years before moving to Tasmania. I continue to do volunteer work with disadvantaged young people here in Hobart.

    I did not sneeringly dismiss ALL Tasmanian born persons as having a ‘mind-numbing disinterest’. Disappointment is not ‘sneering dismissal’. You may have friends and associates who are actively engaged with political and environmental issues, but I have observed, with more than a little despair, that many native Tasmanians are quite disinterested in such matters. I do not resile from that observation – if it doesn’t ‘endear me to many’ then so be it.

    During last Monday’s Denison Debate, Mr Eslake, I think, noted that those who leave Tasmania to work, or study, and then return, seem to have a keener appreciation of what the state has to offer. So it is with us dreaded ‘mainlanders’ who choose to live in this beautiful place.

    I thank you for your suggestions, and your good wishes – you might be pleased to know that I’m planning to join a crochet class at Adult Ed. Maybe I’ll find the nurturing I need there.

  11. Saul Eslake

    June 8, 2011 at 11:51 pm

    Ms Williams, I’ve previously suggested – including directly to the Premier and her Economic Advisor – that the Productivity Commission be invited to conduct a ‘forensic’ examination of the reasons why it seems to cost so much more, per head of population, to provide below-average quality public services in Tasmania than in other States and Territories while paying those who provide them less, on average, than in other States and Territories. (‘Forensic’, incidentally, was Margaret Reynolds’ word; I simply endorsed it).

    The Productivity Commission regularly collects and and publishes annually a lot of data on the cost and outcomes of a wide range of State and Territory Government activities and I can’t think of anyone who’d be better placed than them to conduct such an exercise in quick time and at reasonable cost. They could do it in weeks or months, not “years or decades” (as I think Ms Williams probably knows). Perhaps I should have said that on Monday night (but then, that would have been another thing I’d said before).

    In response to Ms Williams’ more general comments about the composition of the panel and the audience, I note that I said at the outset of my opening remarks that I accepted without demur that my perspective as an economist is not the only one that should be brought to bear upon any consideration of how to address Tasmania’s economic problems (perhaps Ms Williams didn’t hear that, or thought not to mention it). I sincerely wish that there were more economists who devoted some time to thinking, writing and talking about Tasmania’s economy: perhaps if there were, I wouldn’t be asked to participate in such events as often as I seem to be.

    But surely Ms Williams can hardly blame me for saying much the same things about essentially the same topic as I said in exactly the same place at the GetUp/Our Common Ground forum a few weeks earlier. Like Maynard Keynes famously said, “when the facts change, I change my mind”; but the facts in question here haven’t changed in that short space of time.

    I don’t have any problem talking about the economic issues facing Tasmania to, or with, ‘teenage mothers and forestry workers’ or anyone else who has thought about them and has something to say about them – and in listening to what they have to say. If someone wants to invite me to such an event, I’ll do my best to participate.

    I don’t think (and I have never said) that any of them (or anyone else) are ‘failures’ just because (or if they have) left school at Year 10. But I don’t resile from my long-held view that ‘the system’, the broader Tasmanian community, call it what you like, has let them down by encouraging them to believe that having only 10 years of formal education is enough in today’s world.

  12. Bronwyn Williams

    June 8, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    #14 Steve, I make no generalisations about teenage mothers, or forestry workers, except to recognise that they are all members of a diverse society, no more, or less, entitled to a voice than anyone else.

    As you have observed – ‘they are just working people…some are smart, some are stupid, just like any group, including those whose background leads them into academics careers’.

    I would, however, take issue with the use of the word ‘stupid’. Given the opportunity, most people can speak quite eloquently of their needs and emotions – regardless of their level of education or their apparent grasp of common sense.

  13. Candida Doyle

    June 8, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    This is satire, right? We have a sluggish Tasmanian economy, weighed down by an inefficient public sector which is terrified of change.
    So we get together a handful of career public servants (part of the problem) to chat about possible solutions (one of which is blindingly obvious.)
    This sort of debate reminds me of the late Douglas Adams, who once wrote of a society who got rid of all their `hairdressers, advertising account executives, middle managers and telephone sanitisers’ by shipping them to Earth in a spaceship. I suspect they landed in Sandy Bay.

  14. Kate Mooney

    June 8, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    Dear Bronwyn (#8. I don’t think I’m in a “clique”. I’m just part of a community that spans all types of people. My community out at Richmond comprises (gasp!) teenage mothers, doctors, tradies, lawyers, artists, retail workers, vineyard workers, kids, farmers, nurses, stay at home parents, scientists, retired people. All you have to do, if you are having trouble breaking into “cliques”, is get on local committees, join the local choir/reading group/sustainable living group/historical society, volunteer at the local retirees home, join the local church, volunteer at the local school. Shop locally. Volunteer for the management committees for your local Amnesty, the Wilderness Society, the Environmental Defender’s Office, the Community Legal Service, the Youth Orchestra, etc. Volunteer to teach english to new migrants. You’ll find all sorts of people talking about the issues of the day. Many pople (like me) don’t have time to engage much as we are juggling young children with employment, which means no evening meetings for us. I’ve also worked for 15 years with the state’s most disadvantaged so I know it’s out there. But I digress. I note you ignore my protest that you sneeringly dismissed all “natives” as having a “mind-numbing disinterest.” That attitude won’t endear you to many. It certainly got my back up. I hope you find a rich community that nurtures you because it will increase your enjoyment of living in our wonderful State 1000 fold. Good luck.

  15. Cantankerous old biddy

    June 8, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    How about somone like Heather Chong the orchard expert; How about someone from colony 47 or Anglicare who works day to day with people – not the CEO; How about a leading retailer like the bloke who runs Habitat; how about a miner from the West Coast – foreman or engineer; how about an IT specialist forging new markets; how about a scientist from the Antarctic Division or Menzies; how about someone who runs a neighbourhood house in a depressed area; how about a single mother living below the poverty line – there are plenty of them struggling through Uni articulate enough to speak publicly;how about someone from the Heart Foundation or Cancer Council or Asthma Foundation; how about some leading women sportspeople like hockey or netball players; how about an artist or an architect; how about someone from a church but not the leading cleric in long robes but one of the flock.

    We have many wonderful people in Tasmania. perhaps someone can organise a forum with some of these sorts of people.

  16. Steve

    June 8, 2011 at 1:54 am

    8; I have to admit to a problem with the “teenage mothers and forestry workers” bit.
    Huge generalisations on the subject of teenager mothers but I’ll leave that one alone as I do understand the general viewpoint.
    Why do you put in the forestry workers as though they are a different species? I hate the Tasmanian forestry industry but that does not mean that those who work in it are some kind of different species. Sorry, they are just working people, going to work in the job they started in. Some are smart, some are stupid, just like any other group, including those whose background lead them into academic careers.

  17. Michael Swanton

    June 8, 2011 at 12:14 am

    Tasmania does not revolve around UTAS, contrary to some belief. Michael Swanton.

  18. Natasha Cica

    June 8, 2011 at 12:03 am

    Forgot to include this link – http://www.economist.com/node/18744197 – which is part of The Economist’s recent analysis of what’s stopping Australia advancing as fast as it could. How would the argument apply, or not, in Tassie?

    Interesting quote:

    ‘Better themes for politicians would be their plans to develop first-class universities, nourish the arts, promote urban design and stimulate new industries in anything from alternative energy to desalinating water. All these are under way, but few are surging ahead. Though the country’s best-known building is an opera house, for example, the arts have yet to receive as much official patronage as they deserve. However, the most useful policy to pursue would be education, especially tertiary education. Australia’s universities, like its wine, are decent and dependable, but seldom excellent. Yet educated workers are essential for an economy competitive in services as well as minerals. First, however, Aussies need a bit more self-belief.’

  19. Ben Quin

    June 7, 2011 at 10:11 pm

    In response to the Bronwyn challenge for ideas, we could:

    1. Volunteer one hour per week as tutors in remedial reading and writing at the local school.

    2. Smile and say hello, especially to those we would normally try to avoid on the street.

    3. Put very expensive parking meters in the University of Tasmania car-park, to stimulate the thinking of Tasmania’s educated elite about problems with outer-urban alienation.

  20. Mike

    June 7, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    Revolution and academic forums like we saw last night at UTAS do not belong in the same sentence.

    Look to the North of state if you want to see how to get the job done.

    If you want revolution it wont happen by academic talkfests that preach to the converted(as warm and fuzzy as they are).

    By all means have them but dont overstate their value and impact.

  21. Terry

    June 7, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    I agree generally with the comments by Ms Wiliams.

    I was present at this forum.

    Clearly the panel were all formally educated and thus were not representative of Tasmanians being white wealthy Anglos in the middle class sense (and some of the bloggers here)

    Almost all of them made comments which suggest they consider themselves superior. None (except for the MLC) seems to have worked in a real job in the economy.

    I know plenty of very successful Tasmanians (who by the way do not judge a person by the money they earn or how much they contribute to that GNP) that left school at grade 10 if not before.

    The young Africans that were in the audience were not from Sudan but from Rwanda where to get a primary education is a prize. I talked to them at the end of the panel discussions.

    Economists such as Saul E are the last people to give Tasmanians advice.

    Formal education is fine but to characterize Tasmanians because they didn’t go to year 11 or 12 as failures could be considered arrogant and self serving and does nothing to make a compassionate society. You need the support of Tasmanians to get changes.

    Where are their voices? Why didn’t the panel mention outrageous power or water charges or other such changes that are impacting on Tasmanians.

    No wonder the population has stopped listening to the elite chattering classes.

    I probably will not go to any such talkfests again unless they are more representative.

  22. Bronwyn Williams

    June 7, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    #7 Hi Kate. I’ve lived in Tasmania for three years, and so far, I haven’t managed to break into any cliques. Is your community group open for membership?

    And, as far as inviting teenage mothers and forestry workers to economic debates, your suggestion that I would wish to parade them before the intelligentsia as examples of an unenlightened, disinterested educational underclass couldn’t be further from the truth. These are the very people who must be engaged if Tasmania is to prosper. They may lack a sound formal education, but they are not stupid – they have ideas, and aspirations, and a comprehensive change in direction for Tasmania’s economy must, at the very least, acknowledge their input.

    Education is undoubtedly the key to facilitating the input of all groups in any society. Those who have the benefit of a good education need to get out into the wider community and engage the disengaged. You might be surrounded by ‘fantastic achievers who care deeply about their community, their politics and the environment’, but talking amongst yourselves won’t accomplish a great deal.

  23. Kate Mooney

    June 7, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    Oh for goodness’ sake Bronwyn. If us native Tasmanians (and I presume you are referring to white people, and are not criticising our Aboriginal population) all have a “mind-numbing disinterest” in politics and the environment, what on earth is the point of getting teenage mothers and forestry workers along? As examples of the mind-numbing disinterest you say the “natives” exhibit? Honestly, your generalisations are alienating and silly, and pander to the very thing you seem to be trying to avoid – an “us versus them” mentality. It may surprise you to hear that many people who have lived in Tasmania from birth are fantastic achievers who care deeply about their community, their politics and the environment. I for one am surrounded by them in my community. Perhaps you live and move in small cliques such as the ones you deplore in this article and have not met any of them yet. Please don’t write us off so lightly.

    Now I’ve been suitably outraged at your dismissal of our attitude and aptitudes and our capacity to numb your mind, I do agree with you that our “semi-literate populace” is of real concern and will probably keep Tasmania wretchedly disadvantaged for many generations to come, whatever else we do. The more focus on this issue, the better.

  24. Tom Nilsson

    June 7, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    It is pretty obvious that we need a more productive and efficient public service. There is no point just employing people for the sake of employing people. Otherwise we could just as easily employ people to dig holes and fill them up again.

    We want value for money from the public service. There are plenty of individuals who are doing a good job, but the people in charge are not. There is too much paper-pushing.

  25. Natasha Cica

    June 7, 2011 at 4:57 pm


    Public events run by the Inglis Clark Centre are advertised in The Mercury in the week prior to the event – we also issue a media release, which is distributed to all Tasmanian media outlets (including Tassie Times, I’m pretty sure, but let me know Lindsay if that needs correcting*). We also send out advance information about events via our email list – anyone who would like to be added to that should email me directly on Natasha.Cica@utas.edu.au

    Last but not least, I urge anyone truly concerned about Tasmania’s future options to consider making a donation to the Sandy Duncanson Social Justice Fund: http://www.utas.edu.au/foundation/sandy-duncanson-social-justice-fund

    Natasha Cica
    Director, Inglis Clark Centre for Civil Society

    *Ed: always published in TT Media and Events

  26. Natasha Cica

    June 7, 2011 at 4:56 pm


    Airlie Ward’s 7 30 programme on Friday is covering a similar topic to Monday’s debate, so I’d encourage interested people to connect with that too. I understand Mary Massina at the Property Council is also continuing to open fora for discussing key questions about Tasmania’s future – certainly, population and immigration are important questions that I very much wish we’d had time to explore on Monday.

    Here’s some more published feedback on the Denison Debate: http://andrewolivier.blogspot.com/

    Since Monday night, my email inbox has been clogged with messages from people keen to take this conversation forward. Here’s just one, duly anonymised and typical of the general tone of feedback:

    ‘For ten years in Melbourne I had the privilege of interviewing leaders in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors for extras on DVD and then, as technology progressed, for online videos. In particular my business had a close working relationship with [a leading Australian business commentator] and each year I produced and directed intense panel debates on the Australian economy which were distributed to [x]’s subscriber base. All these ‘conversations’ were conducted in a non-adversarial environment, as was your debate last night, and I realise now what an extraordinary experience I had in Melbourne being able to participate in a national dialogue on a daily basis through access to some beautiful minds. It is something I have missed since I returned to Tasmania and have not yet been able to replicate. Last night, however, felt like a ‘coming home’. I thoroughly enjoyed the evening – in particular the short pieces from each panel member ensured as an audience member I didn’t lose interest and the representation was diverse.

    ‘Call me naive but it felt like just maybe a citizen’s revolution may be possible to take ownership and accountability for our community and its future so that we might, as is right, tell our politicians what we want them to do.’

    cont …

  27. Natasha Cica

    June 7, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    Dear Tasmanian Times

    In terms of the substantive criticisms made by Bronwyn Williams, its fair to observe that with any audience of approximately 250 engaged citizens, it’s impossible to satisfy every individual. That audience was gratifyingly diverse – it certainly included many people I knew by name (because a key part of my role at UTAS is community engagement) and also very many more I did not. I was especially pleased to see members of Hobart’s Sudanese community in the audience, and to discover that some audience members had travelled from the north-west coast for the event. For those near and far who couldn’t attend, the presentations by the panelists will be broadcast online on the UTAS website, as soon as the recordings have been technically processed.

    Here is more of my own recent commentary on the state of Tasmania from the online and print version of Inside Story: http://inside.org.au/island-on-edge/; see further for commentary (with Saul Eslake) on Peter Mares’ National Interest programme on Radio National: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/nationalinterest/stories/2011/3216535.htm


  28. David Obendorf

    June 7, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    I attended this forum and it was at least refreshing to see that the UTAS panelists are all talking of the “need for change” but they also realise the old, stuck cultures and entrenched realities – a very large public sector, a semi-literate voting populace, welfare dependancy and mediocrity in local & state goverance.

    At one stage the moderator, Natasha Cica asked for a show-of-hands of those employed in the private sector – it was perhaps 20%.

    The presentation by MLC, Ruth Forrest came after Ruth had penned an Op-ed in last Satrurday’s Mercury responding to the advertising by environmental community groups calling for Forestry Tasmania to be disbanded. Ruth described herself as ‘a legistalor’ and she pragmatically realised the limitations of State Governments to affect “macro-economic reform”. But Ruth highlighted the areas where the State Partliament can efffect change through planning legislation and improving the ‘silo culture’ of the paper-over-worked bureacracies in Tasmania.

    Ruth also highlighted the need for state goverance to focus on delivery of services and public sector efficiencies. All good sentiments but remember Ruth is but one of 15 MLCs!

    One questioner from the audience gave a generic example of the ‘silo culture’ that Peter Poulet talked about (and described so well in this TT article – thank you!). Public sectors tendency “to pick winners”, blow up balloons of sensation & spin and impulsively spending tax-payers’ money on a particular program which usually was self-servicing rather than an sample of public service or well thought out public policy.

    All in all, it was another worthwhile forum at the Burbury. My overall impression is the rhetoric has changed from even 5 years ago!… but the people pulling the levers in government and bureaucracy are only slowly responding.

    [PS: Greens Tim Morris and Liberal Louise Archer were present in the audience.]

  29. salamander

    June 7, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    Thanks for this Bronwyn: clearly I don’t belong to the right clique as I didn’t hear about it. However it all sounds so inane and lacking in real ideas, I don’t think I missed much so your distilled version must be the more entertaining choice. Perhaps this conversation was a follow-on from Will Hodgman’s “live chat” online last week, which would also have achieved 0 on any scorecard of effective debate.

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