Once I was here, one of my first friends, a native of Melbourne but recently arrived from living in Perth, curled her lip slightly as we walked together along the riverbank. 'Brisbane is a small town pretending to be a big city,' she pronounced, as if the river were throwing up an unpleasant odour. She was not impressed by the city's self-affixed label 'Australia's New World City'.
PM Julia Gillard has been on a week-long tour of Queensland to bolster Labor support and persuade people that carbon pricing does not mean the end of the world as Australians know it. In Brisbane yesterday, she smilingly announced that the G20 Summit was coming to town in 2014. Most people seem to agree that this mega-event will put Brisbane on the map. (Did you know where Los Cabos was before June?). And, for a nation that continually claims to punch above its weight in the global arena while failing to sound totally convinced itself, it will provide a chance to show off both city and state (Finance Ministers will convene beforehand in a different regional centre). Ms Gillard summed up:
'Hosting the G20 in 2014 provides an invaluable opportunity for Australia to influence the global economic agenda... With Queensland a driving force behind the nation's economy, there could be no better place to welcome the world's leaders than Brisbane.'Needless to say, not everyone is as enthusiastic. It's a bit tricky for State Premier Campbell Newman. Previous Premier Anna Bligh jumped at the opportunity when the Commonwealth first asked for expressions of interest, but a lot of water has flowed under Brisbane's bridges since then, and Mr Newman is naturally reticent about the huge costs involved in playing host to the G20 leaders, estimated at getting on for $400 million. He cannot appear churlish, however, in the face of such an opportunity to put Brisbane on the lips of millions across the globe. 3000 media are expected as well as 4000 delegates.
Sydney's nose has been put well out of joint. What on earth does the Prime Minister think she's doing, insulting the world's most powerful leaders by sending them to such a provincial outpost when everyone knows that Sydney is Australia's real new world city. Indignant New South Wales Planning Minister Brad Hazzard is convinced it is a purely political move and Sydney should win based on any criteria. Like it's congested airport that regularly delays visitors (both my inbound and outbound flights a couple of weeks ago)? And its convention centre that will be closed for three years of refurbishment from 2013?
Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre has been rated in the world's top three (by the International Association of Congress Centres) at least three times since it opened in 1995, and regularly hosts thousands of conference attendees. Next month, for example, more than 5000 International Geological Congress delegates will rock up. It can accommodate more than 40 concurrent sessions; and has a high security component, being very close to the CBD yet in its own precinct that can be locked down. And Brisbane will, in a matter of days, have a brand-spanking-new airport link to whizz visitors into town: its construction was the reason my friend and I came to this city. Below is a highly complex junction where the airport link connects with the Clem7 Tunnel and the Inner City Bypass.
My first instincts were that G20 will be good for Brisbane and Australia. While I am hugely cynical about the tangible results of such conferences, global issues will be highlighted in a country that is geographically isolated, at times politically reclusive and largely environmentally backward. There will undoubtedly be protesters, and so there should be, as long as they are peaceful. They would do well to know what they'll be up against, however, in the form of police and security forces. The scale and nature of Australia's, and particularly Queensland's resource boom and development, with its potential impact on global climate and the Great Barrier Reef, may combine with anger and frustration about the world's financial shortcomings, economic hardship, corporate greed and political ineffectuality to create a potentially explosive situation.
Will I still be in Brisbane?