Everyone is talking about story. In Hobart, story events are all the go. In a recent Tas Weekend piece Amanda Ducker surveyed the landscape of story events in Hobart. But she missed some of the history. Some years ago the Cancer Council of Tasmania ran a series of Ratbags in the Pub sessions in the Republic. These were well attended and riotous. I am too old to participate in storytelling events now – it is the prerogative of younger people, and I am entirely relaxed about that. But I did win the first Ratbags in the Pub event with this story; a piece of dystopian futurism. I subsequently twice published the story and in each doing so rendered it less of a story and more elaborate – I added in far more elements than were there in the original story. What struck me when I came across it the other day was how dismayingly prescient it has turned out to be – even, in part, in its more fanciful aspects. So I thought it worthwhile to post up, to see how others bounce off it all these years later.
Brown Sludge and the Rainbow: Colour-Coding Tasmania’s Future
The question is, what will Tasmania be like in 2020? No-one can pretend to know the answer to this of course, but here are two rival scenarios, extreme visions, it is true, brown-sludge on the one hand, rainbow on the other. This, then, is how it could be.
By the year 2008 the major parties are even more emphatically the agents of capital than is the case now. The CEO of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry summons the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition and instructs them to privatise all public assets, processes and structures forthwith.
As this is clearly impossible under current political arrangements, a devilish-clever stratagem is devised. It is announced that there will be bi-party support for a 300 per cent pay rise for all parliamentarians. In the ensuing and predictable outcry, the Premier pretends to bow to public opinion and rams a bill through that reduces the size of Parliament to two, with the CEO of the Chamber for Commerce and Industry as permanent Cabinet Secretary to the new Government of Economic Unity.
By 2020 the Government of Economic Unity has taken the following decisions.
The public service is abolished, its functions ‘outsourced’ to international consulting and resource-extraction conglomerates.
Elections are declared a scandalous waste of taxpayer money. They, too, are abolished.
A 60-hour working week is instituted, with no weekends, and only a single day holiday at Christmas and Easter. Wages are frozen at 1960 levels, and women over 20 are banned from paid employment. A target of six children per couple is announced, and certain sticks and carrots are put in place to help achieve it.
Membership of a football club is compulsory, as is attendance at 30 approved sporting events per year. A 40 percent wages garnishee is implemented, as Tasmania still seeks a means by which a team in the AFL can be made economically viable.
The teaching of humanities and social sciences in school and university is declared subversive and abolished. Curriculum design is handed over to Planetary Resources Corporation, which, on the promise of ending unemployment, has won royalty-free mineral and forest clearing rights to all of Tasmania.
National Parks have been privatised of course, but in 2015 the owner, Global Recreation Services, announces that the parks are not viable and permission is given to asset strip them ahead of sale to Planetary Resources Corporation as the world’s dump for persistent and highly volatile toxic wastes.
The 70-year old ‘Cook Plan’ has been rediscovered, dusted off, extended and enthusiastically implemented: inner urban Hobart and Launceston are now alike seas of high-rise residential towers and office blocks. Faced with occupany rates below 30 per cent, the Government of Economic Unity has commenced the compulsory resettlement of people living in country towns deemed economically non-viable. The process begins with Richmond, Stanley and Evandale. Tourism having all but evaporated – except for business executive conventions – none of these towns are deemed to merit any further existence.
By 2020 four-fifths of the indigenous fauna is extinct, no building erected before 1950 still stands, capital punishment has been instituted for what used to be called misdemeanours, and, because of dramatically increased morbidity from industrial cancers, the average life expectancy has plummeted to 45.
But there is resistance. Around Karoola, around Jackey’s Marsh, around Cygnet, certain subversive enclaves have set up barricades and declared independence. It is May 9, 2020. The Government of Economic Unity has moved deployments of SOG personnel to the barricades. There is now, of course, also a Government of Economic Unity in Canberra. Tasmanian has just contacted its counterpart by videophone, seeking to end this rebellion nonsense by a strategic nuking of one of the rebel colonies; Cygnet, say. A reply is any moment expected…
That’s the brown-sludge. Here’s the rainbow.
In 2004 the government finally acknowledges that, above all else, the democratic scope must be enhanced and protected. It restores parliamentary numbers to the levels that pertained before the 1998 coup. The great superiority of Hare-Clark is simultaneously proclaimed, and Tasmania becomes an internationally-famed exporter of best-practice electoral process.
This change proves catalytic, energising. In a ferment of public-spiritedness, reform is enthusiastically embraced, and the following years are witness to a profound revolution in public life.
There is a shift in the locus of political power away from the formal political system. Members of Parliament are no longer remotely representative, but serve as facilitators of citizenship. Their chief task is to co-ordinate fluid centres of decision-making within civil society, where most decisions are now made.
Participants in public life have ceased to be aggressive, devious and manipulative; the only legitimate political resource is now the quality of one’s argument. The people of Tasmania have acquired the skills of citizenship; they are no longer the mere consumers – the mere dehumanised cyphers of the market – to which they had been reduced by the late twentieth century.
Democracy is pervasive then, not formal, and public servants, too, work directly with citizens and the loose and temporary structures of civil society. Political parties, essentially Stalinist institutions of mindless conformity and group-think, are obsolete in the new democratic culture, and have withered away.
Industry is now decentralised and low-tech, based in solar and other passive energy technologies, and is no longer remote, expert-centred, and alienating. A similarly accessible vernacular science-technology is beginning to emerge. Business is free and private, but not capitalist in that large profit surpluses are neither sought nor available. All offshore owned and managed enterprises have fled or have reverted to local control.
Work is rewarding, diverse and flexible, and there are no longer major disparities of income. The distinction between labour and management has all but disappeared.
History is a core learning module in the new, open educational environment that has replaced schools. All buildings pre-1920 and all sites of indigenous significance are protected, and, moreover, universally valued. The alienation of past from future has dissolved, and the community-binding passage of time is now safeguarded.
A charter of environmental rights guarantees the interests in habitat and ongoing existence of other species. The wild begins to trickle back into the settled areas, where it is welcomed. The habit of environmentally responsible behaviour is now so widespread that there is no longer a need for national parks.
Oh yes. And a new species has been discovered. It is pink, it has a curly tail and funny little wings, and it flies through the air going ‘oink’.
Brown sludge? Rainbow? The point is that – despite the concluding cynicism of my ‘rainbow’ vision – everything is possible; that even in a rapidly globalising world we can still choose our own future. The future we come to inhabit will not arrive by accident – it will be wrought by the decisions of people. It can be imposed upon us from without. It can be wrought by those of our own prominent public figures whose insistent but calamitously misguided visions would reduce our unique and wondrous island to a second-rate imitation of the rest of the world. Or it can be seized and won by that frustrated cohort of disempowered citizens, large and still growing, who happen to be genuinely and constructively visionary. It is all up to you.
I thank you.