PREJUDICE, IGNORANCE AND shallowness characterise the current national debate on Tasmania and its future. On the political right the island is portrayed as the kind of poor, tree-hugging, gay-loving, welfare-dependent, enterprise-free society Green-dominated Labor governments inevitably create. These images fit a narrative established in colonial times when Tasmania was thought of as a government-subsidised prison society where laziness, pauperism and depravity were rife, and self-discipline and self-help unknown. Whether West Australian Premier, Colin Barnett, realises it or not, his attacks on Tasmania’s ‘mendicancy’ draw as much strength from ancient fears and stereotypes of Tasmania as a flawed and failed place as from contemporary concerns about the distribution of GST revenues.
The anti-Tasmanian myths perpetuated by progressive intellectuals are less obvious but just as self-serving. Debate on Tasmania is framed in terms of a unique ‘moment’, ‘watershed’ or ‘tipping point’ where the island faces the choice between embracing the creativity and innovation of the elite few or being held back by ‘local resistance to change’ and ‘stuck in the mud of the past’. As with the right’s story about Tasmania’s poverty and weakness, the cultural left’s wipe-the-slate-clean-and-start-again story about Tasmania’s future is based on the assumption that mainstream Tasmanian politics and society is fundamentally flawed, destined to fail and in need of rescue. It also has a very long pedigree. We were told we were on the cusp of a radical rupture with the past when transportation ended, when the colonies federated, when the first Labor/Green Accord was forged in 1989 and when ‘the New Tasmania’ sprang suddenly from, among other things, the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1997.
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