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A policy lesson from G20

November 14th, 2014

After spending months warning us of terrorists, rioters, and (most fearsome of all) thousands of political minders roaming the streets of the Brisbane CBD, warning us to reconsider our need to travel and giving us a long weekend, Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk is upset with us for taking off to the beach or staying home and waiting the whole thing out. He has been roundly mocked. It’s now clear enough that, except for high-end hotels and restaurants, G20 is going to be an economic disaster for Brisbane.

There is a broader lesson here. Paying substantial amounts to attract an event where the audience is mostly going to regard the venue as interchangeable with lots of others (car races being a prime example) is almost never going to be a sensible economic policy. The inflow of event visitors will mostly be offset by the deterrence of other potential visitors and by an exodus of locals. And the idea that events like this “put Brisbane on the map” is silly.

We won’t be lining up for another international summit any time soon, but the Commonwealth Games will be in the Gold Coast in 2018. I’m confident that an analysis after the fact will reveal very little to show for the $2 billion we are spending on them.

I’ll qualify the above by saying that it’s a different story with mass participation events. Noosa Triathlon for example, attracted 14 000 participants and 50 000 spectators (mostly family members, I think). The local tourism council tipped in $250k. Assuming a similar amount from Tourism Queensland, that’s a subsidy of $10/head. The event could probably have gone ahead without any subsidy: the main contribution for this kind of event is organizing road closures and crowd safety.

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  1. Donald Oats
    November 14th, 2014 at 16:50 | #1

    I’m still waiting for the t-shirt that says “I shirt-fronted Putin at the G20.”

    Seriously though, did the mayor of Brisbane really think an event with this level of fear-mongered security would be good for business? No doubt a few b’n’b places are doing a good trade along the coastal strip, but Brisbane CBD probably won’t enjoy it one bit.

  2. Ikonoclast
    November 14th, 2014 at 17:13 | #2

    Events and spectacles are a waste of resources. We should leave it to volunteers for amateur events and private enterprise for professional events. If private enterprise can make a dollar by attracting paying customers to their events that is fine. Not one public dollar should go into any professional event or even any amateur event. Our government should cease bidding for international events. They are an egregious waste of money.

    The public money should go into education including physical education and participation sports at school level.

  3. Kel
    November 14th, 2014 at 17:59 | #3

    I found it comical when senior plod kept on talking about security measures, areas shutdown, articles and actions proscribed and then they would implore Brisbanites to come in and enjoy the event! What a dilemma, the G20 or the beach?

  4. iain
    November 14th, 2014 at 19:57 | #4

    Stark contrast in infrastructure investment between APEC and the G20 this year.

  5. Andrew
    November 14th, 2014 at 20:21 | #5

    For the last six months, every message from federal, state and city authorities has borne the subtext that during the G20, everything will be done to facilitate the smooth operation of the event for the visitors to the city. Local residents would have to adapt and put up with the inconveniences, and if possible keep out of the way.

    Now when we do just that, the organisers are surprised and disappointed. What on earth did they expect?

  6. Fran Barlow
    November 14th, 2014 at 21:20 | #6

    Given that the regime was always going to turn the area around the venues into an armed camp, as they did in the last days of the Howard regime at APEC, it’s hard to imagine why anyone could imagine anything but a commercial disaster.

    You either think you’ll be harassed by police or threatened by terrorists (assuming you’re a credulous LNP supporter).

    That’s never going to work.

  7. jungney
    November 14th, 2014 at 22:20 | #7

    The whole charade is the fag end of bread and circuses. Hooray.

  8. Ikonoclast
    November 15th, 2014 at 05:32 | #8

    I am somewhat incredulous that it is a one day event. All these huge jets thunder in. Long motorcades wind through streets behind security barricades. Air force jets streak across the sky, helicopters circle, special army units wait on standby, police pound the streets and the “berm”* squad stands ready to act. Meanwhile, the public are sent to the naughty corner which is anywhere not the Brisbane CBD and then castigated for obeying and going to the naughty corner.

    All this happens for a one day event. What a waste of money and resources! What can they discuss in one day? Why not pick up a phone? Why not hold a video conference? This event is 50% propaganda, 50% vanity and 100% useless.

    This is a pointless flag waving, hand shaking, jaw flapping exercise. Abbott tells us he is going to push for growth, something about 2.5% extra growth. How exactly are the leaders going to do that? Many atttending the G20 are from the EU. We see how well the EU is doing under their and the IMF’s prescriptions.

    Is our modern age unique or have leaders always been such idiots? I am beginning to wonder. It certainly puts a different slant on history to seriously consider the proposition that all leaders have always been vain and stupid cretins leading credulous people to disaster.

    * Note: That’s “berm” as Inspector Clouseau would pronounce it.

  9. Collin Street
    November 15th, 2014 at 06:58 | #9

    They’re enjoying it, so they think everyone else would too: people who claim to not be enjoying it are just being all self-denying to make trouble.

    Because they genuinely don’t realise that different people like different things.

  10. Ikonoclast
    November 15th, 2014 at 08:21 | #10

    @Collin Street

    Yep, they genuinely don’t realise that people don’t enjoy being exploited, propagandised, lied to and pushed around. Imagine that! How unreasonable the masses are!

    All these leaders are figureheads only. The oligarchs run all the G20 powers. A few of the minor G20 nations are actually run democratically by the people.

  11. Ken_L
    November 15th, 2014 at 09:03 | #11

    I’m with Ikonoclast. Haven’t they heard of Skype?

    Still it is fun to have the Russian navy threatening our shores. It must make Tony feel terribly important.

  12. Jim
    November 15th, 2014 at 10:24 | #12

    Mr Quirk said last night something like “the G20 is great for the Sunshine and Gold Coast tourism industry as Brisbanites leave for the long weekend”. I take that as the first admission that the G20 is a dud as a tourism marketing tool.

    But where are these guys getting their advice? I don’t entirely blame the politicians for decisions to host dud events like the G20, or car races. Their public service advisors should also wear much of the blame and take responsibility for such bad advice. As a private sector consultant, if I provided such poor analysis and advice, I’m sue I’d be sued by the client!

  13. iain
    November 15th, 2014 at 10:37 | #13

    Barred from going to my local supermarket on foot this morning. Conversation with police officers “can I cross the road (Edward St)”, “no you can’t cross now”, “but the street is completely deserted”, “you can’t cross the road”, me pointing to other people crossing the road “but they are crossing the road”, “they’re delegates”. Stay cool, Brisbane.

  14. Megan
    November 15th, 2014 at 11:04 | #14

    The Gold Coast is as crowded as during the christmas holidays.

  15. Jim
    November 15th, 2014 at 13:31 | #15

    I was down at Noosa Main Beach this morning. It was packed, with a really great atmosphere. Too bad all of the overseas journalists are confined to the ‘amazing G20 marketing event’. @Megan

  16. Garry Claridge
    November 15th, 2014 at 16:27 | #16

    Surely, the businesses being disadvantaged by the G20 will be buoyed by the knowledge that we will be pushing for the GDP to expand at a rate 2% greater in 5 years time!

  17. Megan
    November 15th, 2014 at 16:29 | #17

    The first G20 meeting today was held in the, now defunct, upper house of the Qld state parliament. I was watching it and thought that was quite symbolic – i.e. as a state we haven’t had a chamber of oversight for nearly a century, the premier rules absolutely.

    But Abbott astonished me by making a point of explicitly stating how much he hates democracy in his opening address:

    I’m very conscious of the fact that the people around this room are some of the most influential and powerful people in this world – indeed the most powerful and influential people in this world.

    …Nowhere on earth will there be a more influential gathering than this, and yet, as we all know, our power and our authority is circumscribed.

    We are meeting in the Legislative Council chamber of the Queensland State Parliament and back in the 1920s, the Queensland Government abolished the Legislative Council because it was too much of a restriction on the power of the then Premier, who was in the Legislative Assembly. So, this room symbolises the limitations on our power.

    Not really, it symbolises unlimited power.

    He went on to boast that he had axed the carbon tax, stopped the ‘illegal’ boats (yes he actually said that), and complained that because he doesn’t have dictatorial powers he is having trouble privatizing health and education.

    Obama’s speech at UQ was terrifying too. He declared war on Russia and told the audience that freeing people from oppression requires killing them (my paraphrasing).

  18. Ken_L
    November 15th, 2014 at 17:36 | #18

    If the ABC’s report of this morning’s proceedings is accurate, they were a banal assortment of word salad offerings abysmal even by the low standards we’ve come to expect from these kinds of gatherings. Economic growth and more jobs are Good Things apparently and we should try very hard to make them happen.

    Maybe I’m naive but can anyone explain why people like Putin and Obama waste their time at these events? If I were Obama I’d send Joe Biden, and If I were Putin I’d certainly boycott it in protest at the ridiculous posturing about the Ukraine. Yet here they both are so they must think there’s some benefit, but I’m buggered if I know what it is.

  19. Donald Oats
    November 15th, 2014 at 18:03 | #19

    Just saw the news, our PM Tony Abbott standing alone onstage, greeting the heads of state one at a time. Not one single shirt-fronting took place: even worse, I am now left wondering whether shirt-front is merely a synonym for handshake. So much for going the biff 🙁

  20. November 15th, 2014 at 18:49 | #20

    @Ken_L
    Ken, I think it’s clear why the world leaders are there. Putin will have a chance to kill a man with his bare hands (or possibly bear hands since he is Russian) and Obama will have a chance to see Tony try to shirt-front Putin. Who would want to miss that?

  21. Megan
    November 15th, 2014 at 19:56 | #21

    “Our” ‘leaders’ (Abbott, Cameron, Harper, Obama in particular) are coming across as childish.

    The establishment media ‘news’ says Putin was sitting alone at the lunch at parliament house today (he wasn’t – Brazillian President Dilma Rousseff sat with him).

    Putin approached Harper today with an outstretched hand and Harper hesitated and then said “I’ll shake your hand but I just have one thing to say. Get out of Ukraine.” Putin replied “Impossible. We’re not there.”

    Maybe he bothers to go to these things to give our leaders opportunities to make themselves look stupid.

  22. Collin Street
    November 16th, 2014 at 07:10 | #22

    But Abbott astonished me by making a point of explicitly stating how much he hates democracy in his opening address:

    Qld upper house was 100% appointed, and was abolished by a labor government on the grounds of being an obstructionist nest of failed reactionary twats, to general public approval.

  23. Fran Barlow
    November 16th, 2014 at 08:28 | #23

    @Donald Oats

    Perhaps he meant to say ‘shirk-front’.

  24. Donald Oats
    November 16th, 2014 at 10:45 | #24

    @Fran Barlow
    Indeed.

    Given the current front bench performance, I can see why PM Abbott didn’t appoint more women in the cabinet: the only woman theres is running rings around the rest of the motley crew; in fact, I can imagine the sauropods on the front bench wondering why Tony risked even one woman front bencher. When PM Abbott does a renewal of his front bench, he would be well advised to populate it with women (and that includes the top job).

  25. John Quiggin
  26. jungney
    November 16th, 2014 at 11:04 | #26

    I’ve really enjoyed the spectacle of Tony’s long G20 train wreck which continues how he started office. His behaviour makes if plain that reality is slipping his grasp. Obama and the Democrats may be in trouble in the US, and he has been a serious disappintment for many, but thank heavens he is in office right now to break the shell of denialist silence on AGW.

  27. John Mashey
    November 16th, 2014 at 11:06 | #27

    Did this actually work out OK financially or not?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Expo_88

    Amidst a business trip around Oz, that was our first of many visits to Brisbane and we quite enjoyed it … but one never knows how the $ works.

  28. Keryl
    November 16th, 2014 at 11:30 | #28

    @Megan

    I agree – the diplomatic immaturity displayed by Obama, Cameron, Abbott, and Harper is quite worrying. Rather than trying to engage in mutual, productive dialogue with Russia, they decide to act like a bunch of sanctimonious, bully-boy prefects lecturing Russia on what’s right and wrong. I’ve never seen world leaders act so adolescent in my whole life. Where did all the great statesmen/women go?

  29. Ken_L
    November 16th, 2014 at 12:16 | #29

    @John Quiggin

    John I read that Guardian piece when it was published and I have to say I wasn’t persuaded. A bilateral agreement between China and the USA would certainly have taken months if not years to finalise, and the input of the two nations’ leaders to anything but the broad principle would have been minimal. I don’t see how the APEC context added anything to the deal – it would have made the same impact if it had been announced after a separate meeting between the two leaders or even without any meeting at all.

    And it still doesn’t explain why Vladimir Putin would come to Australia to listen to Tony Abbott whine about problems getting his GP co-payment, and be publicly insulted by that ass from England.

  30. patrickb
    November 17th, 2014 at 00:50 | #30

    And what happened to the FTA with China? Barnaby went through several sets of undergarments such was his excitement at the prospect of 1 million aussie cows ocean bound for the middle kingdom. Nary a peep out of any of them at the capital g spot.

  31. Gene O’Grady
    November 17th, 2014 at 08:23 | #31

    Reminds me of the big fuss over the economic benefits of bringing the big track events to Eugene (Oregon). Always much ballyhooed, and always almost everyone, like regular restaurants and motels, takes a bath. Phil and the big boys enjoy themselves, of course, and that’s enough for the local newspaper.

  32. Newtownian
    November 17th, 2014 at 08:56 | #32

    @Megan

    “But Abbott astonished me by making a point of explicitly stating how much he hates democracy in his opening address:”

    That should be astonishing but truth be told it isnt as the fashion for some time now has been for all government leaders to fashion themselves along the French Presidential line – king for a an electoral term more or less.

    In fairness to Abbot, Kevin 07 had exactly the same mentality – as illustrated by Labor conferences being a celebration of him, not democracy – based I’d speculate on the idea that government is merely an exercise in scientific management and he as an expert plus being elected qualifies him to be the local version of L’Etat c’est moi”.

    Sadly, at least in Australia, the great popularizer of this style was none other than our recently missed Gough who for all his great humanity, brilliance and wisdom arguably also pushed this new style of self marketing and demagoguery. He happened to be pretty right in what he did so he can be forgiven. Perhaps this style of governance was simply an emerging property of modern mass communication which is first about image and marketing and then about policy.

    Maybe Gough was simply right person right time but unfortunately he set a precedent in style for those who came after him and said they themselves wished to be like him – including Abbot. Unfortunately Gough’s successors on both sides for the most part lacked his substance illustrating once again that except as a last resort/in times of real emergency – e.g. a rallying leader in time of war as Churchill illustrated – demagoguery and real democracy dont mix.

    It interesting to note how in 1945 despite his rallying ability Churchill was dumped in favor of real change in the form of low profile Attlee. Regrettably though we now live in the era of the would be show pony.

  33. Megan
    November 17th, 2014 at 10:03 | #33

    @patrickb

    I think they’re signing it now in Canberra – maximum milking by Abbott (ha, ha – sorry dairy farmers).

    Unfortunately for Abbott his cheerleader A. Jones has been giving him a rough time this morning apparently. If Jones turns on him he’ll only have News Ltd left for fawning adoration.

    Jones was getting stuck into Abbott because “we” can’t see this secret trade deal. I don’t know if he mentioned the TPP, but if people start waking up to these secret deals we might be able to stop them.

    According to the interwebs Jones also told Abbott that climate change is a hoax and windmills are fake. With friends like that….

  34. November 17th, 2014 at 10:24 | #34

    @Ken_L
    Ken, if people were rational then national leaders would probably settle things with an exchange of emails. However, humans aren’t very rational. They often like to meet face to face and I suspect they may actually enjoy these little get togethers. Well, Tony might not be enjoying himself. He’s like a nervous catholic host determined that no one should mention protection at a spouse swapping party.

  35. sunshine
    November 17th, 2014 at 11:28 | #35

    I’m not sure if this big meeting amounted to much (why didnt they just promise to go for 50% growth?) or if Skype would suffice ,but I think there is a lot to be said for face to face meeting .

    Funny how complicated ‘free’ trade deals are -I thought they would only need to be one sentence long.

    Watching the Bolt Report yesterday showed how entertaining the coming years promise to be now that we are approaching the end game for deniers.

  36. Megan
    November 17th, 2014 at 12:29 | #36

    Here is the communique.

    I’m not sure where the 800 individual actions are to be found. There are a lot of documents in the ‘Annex’ so maybe they’re in there scattered about.

    A brief look at the ‘Brisbane Plan’ indicates that they think “sustained growth” is the same as “sustainable growth”.

    As was pointed out at “AutomaticEarth”:

    If the G20 nations could have ‘grown’ growth at a 2.1% clip with the sort of ease with which their reports were issued this weekend, they would have done so already, all along, long ago. The fact that they haven’t, it doesn’t get any simpler, implies that they can’t this time either.

  37. Megan
    November 17th, 2014 at 12:42 | #37

    Deputy Commissioner Barnett was probably talking about the temperature but when I read this I was thinking of how all our citizen’s rights were removed for the G20:

    “It would have been very easy in those circumstances for tempers to fray, but can I just again compliment the protesters, the protest organisers and our people for the way they handled today’s oppressive conditions.”

  38. jungney
    November 17th, 2014 at 18:28 | #38

    Hi JQ. I don’t know if you accept suggestions but I reckon a thread on the matter of Australian masculinity and its paramount exemplar, Tony Abbott, could be fruitful.

    I’ll kick off.

    For an athlete, Abott walks like a man who is not comfortable in his body. He’s almost a square gaiter and they are notoriously hard to train. He looks to me like a man who is doing what some femenists would describe as gendered performativity. That notion, usually applied to women, holds that being identified as a woman requires female performativity, ie, acting like a women with the emphasis on the acting part. Its a role play. Abbott looks to me to be doing male drag. You know, the swimsuits, the cycling, the volunteer firie, the father of daughters, not so much of the husband of late in the absence if His Wife from the public sphere.

    Just sayin’.

  39. Patrickb
    November 17th, 2014 at 19:02 | #39

    Sorry for the OT interruption but I’d urge people to leave comments on the RN Counterpoint page in response to Brendan O’Neill as he attempts to downplay violence against women to shore up his irrational hatred of feminism. Why the hell we are paying for this is beyond me. Once again sorry for being OT but such was my outrage.

  40. November 18th, 2014 at 00:16 | #40

    @jungney

    I agree he walks funny, but Abbott is a bloody good cyclist.

  41. November 18th, 2014 at 00:53 | #41

    @John Brookes
    When it comes to sensible policy no one cycles better than Tony Abbott.

  42. jrkrideau
    November 21st, 2014 at 06:59 | #42

    @Fran Barlow
    Here in Canada one of the senior police officers in Toronto is just starting his disciplinary hearing for ‘kettling’ (surrounding with rito police and holding thousands of demonstraters and any casual passers-by for hours in a thunderstorn during the 2010 G20 in Toronto.

    Anyone who knew anything about that total fiasco and was in Bisbane would have been packed up and out of town long before the meeting started. No city with a G20 meeting going on is likely to be a place any innocent citizen wants to be.

  43. Collin Street
    November 21st, 2014 at 08:41 | #43

    > Abbott looks to me to be doing male drag.

    Fer sure. But he’s not the only one; you see the same thing from ex-us-president bush the lesser, for example.

    [see also the fedora brigade of MRAs; this sort of thing seems a lot more common on the Right than the Left, for reasons I’ve hypothesised about before.]

  44. Ikonoclast
    November 21st, 2014 at 10:10 | #44

    Fedoras are horrible hats. It’s a gangster hat as in bootlegger era gangster. Other blokes’ hats that look ridiculous are pork pie hats, baseball caps, polo caps and golf caps. Almost no hat looks okay on an anglo-saxon bloke in Australia except a functional wide brim hat to stop the sun: something a bit like an akubra but with a slightly lower crown and slightly broader brim.

    On the other hand, I would give marks for chutzpah for a large sombrero in Queen St.

  45. David Irving (no relation)
    November 21st, 2014 at 11:48 | #45

    @Ikonoclast
    [recoils in horror] A fedora is just about the most stylish thing a bloke can put on his head. It’s not the fedora’s fault that those MRA twats wear them.

  46. Ikonoclast
    November 21st, 2014 at 12:24 | #46

    @David Irving (no relation)

    I have to disagree. Fedoras look ridiculous. Then again I suppose they are better than bowler hats, top hats and leopard skin pillbox hats.

  47. David Irving (no relation)
    November 21st, 2014 at 18:04 | #47

    You’ve never seen me wear one, Iko.

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