Tasmania's fast-growing salmon industry is at the centre of the latest political battle. Photo: Audrey Bendus and Arthur Chapman

Many have their hopes pinned on Tasmania as a clean, green and liveable refuge from the incoming climate crisis but the future of the state hangs in a balance as voters head to the polls this weekend.

Housing affordability and the furore facing the salmon industry will be among the pressing issues influencing Tasmanian voters on election day this Saturday.

While critical, these issues will be competing with the incumbent Liberal government’s relatively smooth handling of the coronavirus and concerns around who can best manage the Covid recovery. Health and education are also key issues affecting voters.

Despite Premier Peter Gutwein’s widely-applauded pandemic response, a Liberal majority is far from certain, if the latest uComms poll for the Australia Institute is any indication. Under Tasmania’s Hare-Clark system that makes every election a close race, and with both Gutwein and Labor leader Rebecca White refusing to lead a minority government, the final outcome is still up in the air.

The island state’s charming lifestyle is no longer a well-kept secret. The state is experiencing a serious boom in population growth and rising property prices. 

Housing affordability remains a big problem for the state, with parties and independents campaigning on their plans to ease homelessness, rental stress and social housing waitlists, as well as issues around workforce and supply chain shortages in the construction industry. 

All parties are promising to build more social and affordable housing: The Liberals have committed $580 million to build 3500 social housing homes by 2027, Labor $195.7 million housing for 2000 new social housing properties over the next term and another $37.8 million to “fast track building of 490 affordable homes”, and the Greens are calling for 8357 additional affordable homes by 2030, which would include social housing as well as rent-to-buy affordable homes for low to middle income earners.

Improving the sustainability of the building stock is also on the agenda, with Labor promising $5 million to install solar panels in schools. The Greens also want to introduce mandatory disclosure of Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme (NatHERS) ratings on building sales, like is done in the ACT, to incentivise upgrades for existing properties.

The party would also like to examine alternative production methods for Tasmania’s cement industry.

The pink fish in the room

Tasmania is known for its pristine wilderness but also its primary industries, such as forestry and agriculture, which is why some of Australia’s fiercest environmental battles have been fought in state. 

The state’s fast-growing salmon industry is at the centre of the latest battle. Last week, prominent author Richard Flanagan dropped a shocking expose of the salmon industry’s destructive practice. It’s been an issue simmering below the surface for years but the extent of the environmental damage has been hard to discern.

The industry has enjoyed bi-partisan support from the two major parties and there are plans to expand the poorly regulated industry. 

The Tasmanian Greens want to see all fish farms become land-based, a more sustainable fish farming method that is becoming common in other parts of the world.

“If we don’t remove industry and political influence from salmon industry regulation, there is a high risk Tasmania will lose both its unique and priceless marine life, as well as the jobs that a well-managed industry could provide,” said Greens environment spokesperson MP Rosalie Woodruff.

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