A policy lesson from G20

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.

47 thoughts on “A policy lesson from G20

  1. 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.

  2. @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?

  3. @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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. @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.

  7. @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….

  8. @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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.”

  12. 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’.

  13. 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.

  14. @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.

  15. > 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.]

  16. 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.

  17. @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.

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