Why are Tasmanians Poor People?

A Tasmanian person is 30% poorer than the national average. With the Australian GDP per capita at $68,000 the Tasmanian is just $49,000. Why?

Geography determines destiny.  And Tasmania is an isolated island at the bottom of the Southern Hemisphere, containing three towns of note in the north and a small city, serving as the capital, in the south. By the time transportation was abolished 150 years ago 75,000 convicts had been sent to the island. Today the population is just 500,000. In the same period the population of Australia as a whole has ballooned from 1.5 million to 22 million. Had the same rate of increase occurred in Tasmania, in excess of 1 million people would be living in the state now. Twice as large. When migrants come (by choice rather than in chains) to Australia they gravitate towards big economic zones to find work. At the same time educated young people who grow up in Tasmania leave for Melbourne or Sydney to pursue a variety of interesting careers. It's been an acute problem for 50 years, at one point in the 90s the population was going backwards. 

Culture can trump demographics though. Even if the population remains stagnant, as is projected, Tasmania could become significantly wealthier. But it would require leadership and huge cultural change. Many Tasmanians maintain an inward looking xenophobic approach to new ideas. And any criticism from outsiders is meet with an automated defensiveness. Premier Will Hodgman is the son of late politician Michael Hodgman. And Minister for State Growth Matthew Groom is the son of former Premier Ray Groom. There's a sense that these blokes didn't force there way into office with new ideas but rather inherited the family farm. Perhaps there is no appetite for big change. Certainly there are no leaders prepared to burn political capital to radically adjust the state's trajectory. If a charismatic leader were to emerge with a believable message describing how they would Make Tasmania Great Again then the soil might be fertile. Their constituents probably wouldn't come from the Denison Division though. 

At the moment the elite middle class in Hobart like things pretty much they way they are. They live in nice large houses with wonderful views, their children go to one of four private schools, they shop at Hill Street, dine in Salamanca, and take overseas holidays regularly. The kind of people who never went north of Creek Road until MONA opened. But most people in Hobart aren't middle class. They're working class, except a lot of them aren't working. And if you live in the northern suburbs or the pre-tertiary areas of the eastern shore you have to worry about burglary, violence, addiction, and burnouts.

The Hobart elite brag about MONA and the MONA-effect. That's been a big change they say. David Walsh’s cosmopolitan injection of private citizen ambition got the capital humming. There are now better restaurants, more microbreweries, and new hotels being erected. The culture has changed a bit but most people in Tasmania are still where they were ten years ago, looking at a sunless horizon. The attendees at this year’s awesome DARK MOFO were mostly tourists from Melbourne or Sydney as well as citizens from the elite suburbs. It was a no-povo zone. Indeed MONA's flagship beer MOO BREW states on the cup that it is, 'Not suitable for bogans.' 

There is no secret sauce to success. But looking outwards to more successful corners of the globe could be wise. Since Singapore was expelled from Malaysia 50 years ago it has been able to push it's GDP per capita of $2,600 up to $55,000. Singapore's phenomenal growth is the result of a guiding philosophy that a welcoming approach to business should be the basis for everything. Tasmania could emulate as closely as possible their methods, as outlined in the Home for Business Strategy. The Singaporean strategy encompasses every industry, placing as much emphasis on consumer goods, manufacturing, chemicals, and energy as it does on tourism or digital media. They take great pains to make it easy for multinationals to move operations there. Singapore has benefited big time from its geographic location close to China. Tasmanian could better position itself logistically. Chinese people like to eat the produce farmed on the island. Tasmania may not be as close to China as Singapore but Hobart to Shanghai is still just 12 hours flight. Close enough to get commercial flora and fauna products there in a timely manner. 

Tasmania needs to mind flip. Even if the less privileged could imagine a better future they would not feel entitled to demand it. And the middle class elite are comfortable sitting on their hands. While Tasmania is a very nice place it is not a very rich one. Perhaps all this is tolerable. But if so people will need to also accept why people on the ‘Mainland’ look down on ‘Tassie’. They do so because the people who live on island are poor.