Jul 11, 2012

Keane: you’re welcome to the G20, Brisbane

Brisbane will host the 2014 G20, but won't get much of the windfall. And taxpayers will lose a lot of money.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

One of the key ways in which politicians demonstrate that they are another species of human being entirely is in their obsession with what are euphemistically called "Major Events". Today there was another outbreak of Major Eventitis in relation to the 2014 G20 meeting, to be held in Brisbane, a decision that infuriated NSW politicians. Maybe it's because politicians never have to endure the inordinate disruption that such events cause to the rest of the population. The G20 has degenerated into a pointless talkfest more quickly than most fora. The degeneration usually begins when the founding leaders depart the scene, which might account for what's happened with the G20, which initially featured George W. Bush at the shambolic end of his presidency, Kevin Rudd, Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy, of whom only Sarkozy stuck around for a while. Julia Gillard has, predictably, been accused of bias and political calculation in the selection of Brisbane, although she could have put it anywhere and been accused of trying to curry favour with voters of the relevant city. There's nowhere where Labor doesn't need a massive lift. Major Events come with major price tags, of course. The 2007 APEC meeting in Sydney, where John Howard and Alexander Downer belatedly discovered a purpose for a multilateral forum they'd ignored for most of their time in government, was initially forecast to cost $216 million. Predictably, the cost blew out -- particularly for security, which ended up costing $170 million by itself. "The direct costs of hosting APEC 2007 will be offset by the significant benefits attached to being the host economy," Alexander Downer assured us at the time. When then-deputy premier of NSW John Watkins dared to express scepticism on this point, Downer, in what was hardly the finest hour of his then-press secretary the unfortunate Chris Kenny, declared "the fact is that trade with APEC economies generates around $70 billion annually for his state". Indeed, though quite what that fact had to do with the massive disruption occasioned by the APEC meeting, including snipers on roofs and other security theatre overkill (all hilariously mocked in The Chaser's finest hour), wasn't clear. According to the Prime Minister's statement today, the G20 meeting is currently forecast to cost $370 million dollars from the Commonwealth, plus some spare change from Campbell Newman. Yes, you read that correctly -- hosting the meeting will cost more than a third of a billion dollars. On previous form, that cost will blow out. And while politicians like Downer and Gillard are shy about saying exactly what the economic benefits of such meetings are, the cost enables us to have a guess at some figures. To offset the cost to taxpayers, the estimated 7000 G20 attendees would have to spend about $53,000 each during their brief stay in Brisbane. Viewed as a stimulus measure, it notionally amounts to a transfer of $300 million-odd from the rest of Australia to Queensland. But based on the APEC spending breakdown, much of the money will simply be spent within government -- additional funding to ASIO, Attorney-General's, the AFP and Defence, for example, for security. The biggest amount of funding will most likely go to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and be spent on additional staff for that department and capital on ICT equipment and fitting out venues. IT and comms contractors will probably be the biggest winners, but Queenslanders shouldn't count on much of a windfall from the event - a great deal of the money will never leave Canberra. And then there's the now-standard abrogation of civil liberties that accompanies all officially-designated major events. Remember Morris Iemma's "anti-annoyance" proposal for World Youth Day, and his draconian "restricted area" laws for APEC? The curtailment of protest rights in Perth for CHOGM? These big gatherings come with big crackdowns on basic rights to free speech. Politicians might love them, but the most sensible attitude of people outside Brisbane ought to be: you're welcome to the G20.

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14 thoughts on “Keane: you’re welcome to the G20, Brisbane

  1. JosieK

    Well said, that man. What the the NSW Premier is banging on about, I have no idea. APEC was an affront to anybody living in Sydney and I imagine that nobody apart from Bazza is sorry that we won’t have to live through a repeat of it.

  2. Steve777

    Brisbane is certainly welcome to it. I remember having to go through the ‘APEC fence’ in the Sydney CBD, instructions not to look out windows (I worked near the Intercontinental Hotel) and the fireworks display to which citizens weren’t invited. And it’s not like the Olympics with tens of thousands of visitors spending their money here and events at local venues beamed to millions around the world. It’s hard to see very much economic benefit to the host state or city, let alone votes.

    The best place to hold this sort of thing is Canberra, where disruption to the life of Australians going about their daily lives and work would be less and where security would be much easier to control. After all, the delegates and their entourages are coming here to work, not to enjoy the shopping, beaches or scenery.

  3. The Pav

    On an economic level Campbell- Newman is a dill for not wanting it.

    If his obkection was on the fact it would stuff up the city and annoy the citizens then he’d have my vote.

    Why do we try and get these blankety events!

    I’d rather have root canal surgery than go through the shemozzle again.

    Sorry Ms Gillard but I ain’t with you on this one anywhere in Australia

  4. zut alors

    Cripes, I’m so excited at the prospect of Air Force 1 and its sibling, Air Force 2, landing in Brisbane in 2014 that I may have trouble sleeping tonight.

    But seriously, what is the ‘thinking’ behind the theory that the G20 is a popularity boost for the PM? I can’t imagine a single vote would sway to Labor as a result of this [email protected] coming to Queensland. A waste of money, time and effort – and guaranteed to cheese-off most Brisbanians.

  5. MJPC

    Memo to the chaser team…book flight to Brisbane
    for G20 in 2014.
    If Mr Abbott is he PM at that time the Australian
    public will be in sore need for something to
    laugh about.

  6. Sharilynn Gerchow

    I think you’ll find the most sensible attitude of people INside Brisbane is :no thanks!

  7. michael r james

    On the other hand, just think about the improved efficiency (increased productivity!) of one all-purpose riot to oppose international capitalism, Campbell Newman and, probably, Tony Abbot et al. And with Major Newman thinking he is in charge (he won’t be of course, which will induce him to throw his weight around in ever more arbitrary ways) we can expect some wondrous civil liberty outrages that will take us right back to Bjelke-Peterson (circa Springbok tour) days.

    We expect you southern ratbags to come up to lend weight to proceedings.

  8. zut alors

    Michael RJ, you’ve cheered me up with the image of such prospects. It will be like time travel back to those golden days of Bjelke-Petersen madness – the media coverage will be a slavering frenzy.

    I’m almost looking forward to it now.

  9. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    I’m with you Zut and MichaelRJ. Hopefully, NO-CAN-DO Campbell will call up plenty of Victorians. They always whinge about Queenslanders being such morons, they should provide the necessary comparative colour and movement.

  10. The Pav

    As to the popularity issue that’s why the PM had it in Brisbane.

    Qld must be written off unless people see through the current govt quicker than usual
    so why annoy Melb & Sydney where she may still have a chance..
    Anyway you can always appeal to the deep norths sense of parochialism.

    BTW I bet if it hadn’t been held in Brisbane the same premier would be complaining about how Sydney/Melb get everything
    and the PM had snubbed Qld

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