Statistics more than numbers, they are people Talking Point, The Mercury, Thursday 15 December 2016 Think for a moment about the next 10 years or even 20, if you have children or grandchildren growing up in Tasmania. Imagine them in that time. Are they well educated and happy? Are they healthy? When we imagine a child growing up in Tasmania, we see Vegemite-smeared faces, school uniform polo tops, cricket on the oval and the sight of the sprinkler in the backyard in the middle of summer. It’s a happy sight because Tasmania is part of the lucky country where people are happy - we live in the land of opportunity, don’t we? The Tasmania Report provides an opportunity for all Tasmanians to gain a deeper understanding of the where we are at, socially and economically. As the report is read and discussed, we must remember that these statistics represent real people, real lives, and real families. Despite how alarming they are, the conversations about this report shouldn’t be about statistics or rates or percentages. It has to be about the risk of the normalisation of poverty, of homelessness, of poor education and health outcomes, of vulnerability. There is a blind spot in our day-to-day perception of our state, our community. We don’t think these outcomes happen here. Or we have heard the statistics before and it is like white noise in the background. It’s the picture of two Tasmanias we speak about time and time again, where praise for success in art and culture, unique wilderness and quality food exists next to the reality that there are many Tasmanians who don’t have the chance to join in. For 15,000 Tasmanian children living in poverty somewhere near you, opportunity is what happens for someone else. They are not the children we imagine when we picture what we like to think is a typical Tassie family. The report provides some basis for optimism. It demonstrates the vibrancy of our tourism industry, strong growth in our exports and a sense of confidence in our business sector. However, there are other economic indicators that are cause for concern. Almost 55% of Tasmanians are in the most or second most disadvantaged socio-economic status quintiles. While we represent only 2.25% of Australia’s population, Tasmania has 3.5% of Australia’s most disadvantaged households. Economic inequality brings with it other inequalities, such as health outcomes. If you are from a lowincome area in Tasmania, for example, you are more likely to have fair or poor self-assessed health; to have high or very high levels of psychological distress; to die younger and of more avoidable causes; and to put off going to a doctor or buying medication due to financial reasons. These facts and figures suggest that Tasmania is not immune to the political disruption that we’ve seen in the UK and US this year. There, as here, jobs, industries and services have been disappearing from communities, leaving incomes stagnating and feeding the inequality that has resulted in many feeling marginalised. As the promise of prosperity grows for some sectors and markets, we must work hard to bridge the two Tasmanias.
Globally, the value of tapping in to the power of communities—whether geographic or demographic—is gaining traction. Citizens are increasingly recognised as the “protagonists in a new innovation age … people who cooperatively invent, enhance and manage innovative solutions for new ways of living.” 1 The desire for self-determination was reflected in consultations TasCOSS undertook this year in communities around Tasmania. The common views we heard were that decision-makers don’t have a “real-life idea” of the problems that communities are facing, or of community priorities. Participants believed that Tasmanian communities have little or no input into creating solutions and that there are very few opportunities for co-design of state or local government programs. We have a choice in how we respond to our complex social and economic challenges that The Tasmania Report exposes: We can muddle through looking to the past for the same old responses that we’ve tried before, or we can open ourselves up to new ways of thinking and forge new paths. The will for new ways of doing things is there. The will from communities to determine their own future is there. TasCOSS believes we need to work together - government, community sector, employers, schools, communities and families - to create a unifying social vision in which Tasmanians are participating fully in all aspects of life – economic, social and political. Kym Goodes is the Chief Executive Officer of the Tasmanian Council of Social Service