When the venerable New York Times publishes a piece in its travel section praising cosmopolitan Brisbane to the hilt as an upscale destination, you know that you can forget all about those cliches about a “sleepy big country town”. Those of us who’ve lived through Brisneyland’s transformation (“Brisvegas” is so last year) are well aware of the pace of change. Yet, for whatever reason, many of the denizens of the Sydney-Melbourne-Canberra triangle rarely pay us a visit, and older stereotypes still prevail.
But in truth, all over the show, we’ve been witnessing the Australianisation of Queensland this decade. South East Queensland in particular, is now not too different demographically and sociologically from other bits of urban Australia, except it’s speeding ahead at a greater economic rate of knots than many of them.
Lest Crikey readers suspect I’m writing astroturf for the tourism mob, or doing an impersonation of Anna Bligh trying to lure corporate to our capital, I do have a political point. The release of Senate preference tickets has revived speculation that our very own Pauline Hanson might be about to revive her own political career.
So is the spectre of Queensland’s past returning to haunt the nation?
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Probably not. Although Hanson has an advantage she didn’t have last time through having registered a party and thus having secured a box above the line on the Senate ballot, her campaign is largely a name recognition one. Kevin Andrews and his mini-me, Moreton MP Gary Hardgrave (ironically a former Minister for Multicultural Affairs), have stolen her clothes on “Sudanese gangs“, and in any case the “values” debate seems to have gone missing in action this year, rendering Pauline’s anti-Islamic musings somewhat moot. And Hanson’s name is now probably more recognised as the brand of a former B list reality TV star.
Embattled Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett is seeking to reprise Nats Senate leader Ron Boswell’s fight to keep Pauline out from 2001. (Incidentally, Hanson’s decision to preference the ALP over the Coalition is pure revenge politics against Boswell.) Bartlett’s slogan is “Choose Common Sense: Stop Extremism” which rather nicely wraps Hanson and the WorkChoices package together in one box. Bartlett is undoubtedly sincere in the work he’s been doing with refugees and ethnic communities, but there’s no doubt talking up the Hanson threat serves his political purposes.
But, as I’m suggesting, the most important thing is that Queensland has changed. I took a campaign related trip out to Hanson’s former stomping ground of Ipswich last week, and her issues couldn’t be further from voters’ minds. Infrastructure, industrial relations and interest rates are the holy trinity of Labor’s campaign in Blair this year. Perhaps Barnaby Joyce has provided something of a safety valve for it, but there’s little sign of the voracious rural discontent that One Nation also channelled in its heyday.
So I suspect that Hanson will find few votes to harvest further out bush.