Wednesday, 13 March, 2019
The Hon. David Bartlett, Premier of Tasmania from 2008 – 2011, spoke at the Hunter economic breakfast on 1 March.
He discussed the effect created on the Tasmanian economy by the ‘random lightning bolt of weirdness’ that is the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart. MONA’s opening in 2011 boosted tourism numbers and spawned a range of other enterprises. It breathed new life into the State’s economy.
Bartlett drew nine insights from the success of MONA that can inform upon economies in cities and regions, like Newcastle and the Hunter:
- Find your tipping point
Bartlett talked about The Tipping Point, the magic moment referred to by Malcolm Gladwell in his 2000 book. The tipping point occurs when an idea or trend in social behaviour crosses a threshold. Bartlett says that is what Tasmania has done over the last 20 years. He says there were great ventures happening in Tasmania before MONA came along. He described MONA as the ‘salesman’ that turned the eyes of the world to Tasmania. Other individuals and institutions were then able to recognise the possibilities and seize the moment to capitalise on that potential market.
- Back key individuals and projects that can create change
Identify individuals who can make things happen. For example Brian Ritchie, bass player from punk band Violent Femmes, who moved to Hobart. Bartlett granted him funding to create the MoFo music festival. Ritchie had a ‘little black book with the details of every musical artist in the world’. Bartlett was far-sighted in supporting what was considered by his advisers as a risky project.
- Don’t underestimate your audience
Bartlett related the way that the Hobart community had embraced some of the controversial elements of MONA and MoFo. They saw the opportunities offered as queues formed for arts events. He said that regional leaders, particularly in Government, can be terrified that people might not like something controversial or different. It takes courage to give people permission to do remarkable things and to take risks to do them.
- Identify and articulate your ‘Lexus’ and your ‘olive tree’
Bartlett related to insights gained from Thomas L. Friedman’s book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree. He argues that, for regions to survive and prosper in a globalised world, they must find both their Lexus and their olive tree. The Lexus represents all that is new in a region – innovation-based, technology-based, export-focused and facing the world. In Tasmania, this could be Incat, an advanced manufacturer that has constructed 75 per cent of the world’s ferries. The olive tree is the thing that roots regions in their history, what they believe in and what unifies them as a community. This could be Tasmania’s apple tree. Each region needs to identify these and to get both right.
- End (or don’t start) the religious wars
Bartlett discussed how environmental protesters hijacked the high-profile Sydney launch of Incat’s Spirit of Tasmania III. They dropped a sign over the edge to say Woodchipping the…Spirit of Tasmania. It highlighted environmental issues that had plagued Tasmania for 40 years. A subsequent truce between the forestry industry and environmentalists worked because the forestry industry was no longer economically viable. Bartlett says it had been propped up by successive governments for 30 years, as a religious war. Regions need to identify these ongoing conflicts and ‘get out of the trenches’.
- Authenticity is everything.
Keep it real. People want authentic experiences. The highest consumer-rated tourism experience in the whole of Tasmania is Ian Hall’s all-terrain vehicle (ATV) tour of Henty Dunes, on the west coast of Tasmania. When you do the tour, he tells you the stories of the region where he is from. He is ‘just a bloke’ with four ATVs on some sand dunes. The authenticity is what people want to buy.
- Identify and deal with unintended consequences.
In his address, and the Q&A session following, Bartlett listed a range of consequences that the MONA phenomenon has created in the lives of Tasmanians. One has been a backlash, particularly in Hobart, against the effects of tourism on the city. For example, the Airbnb phenomenon has negatively impacted rental affordability in Hobart.
- Constant evolution is necessary.
Don’t get complacent. Evolution and what is next is really important. There needs to be a constant striving to understand what is next for a regional economy.
- Speak with one voice.
Regions succeed when they speak to Government with one voice. Bartlett gave the example of the Tahune Airwalk, destroyed in Tasmania’s summer bushfires. Within three weeks of the fire, the Huon Valley community unified, together with MONA, the State Government and the Tasmanian Government Tourism Council. They spoke to Federal Government with one voice and were granted $2 million for a collaborative project that would have immediate impact. MONA will build a temporary art and light installation in the forest, to retain tourism and help rescue the regional economy.
Bartlett said that the real MONA effect is to give Tasmanians confidence.
“We have had an extraordinary cultural change in Tasmania,” he explained. “There is a cultural confidence and a contagious view of our own assets.
“Suddenly everything we do is really good because everyone else is telling us it’s really good. That has created an extraordinary culture of experimentation that wasn’t there 10 years ago.”