One month out from the G20 summit, it’s time for Brisbanites to stop complaining and embrace the spotlight, writes Rohan Williams.
I’ll admit it — when it was announced that Brisbane would host the G20, I was one of those people who groaned, rolled my eyes, and immediately started looking forward to the day it was over. This, I remember thinking, was the last thing Brisbane needed.
As it turns out, it’s exactly what Brisbane needs.
I’ve lived in or around Brisbane for most of my life, and if there’s one thing I’ve noticed in that time, it’s that Brisbane is a little bit insecure. Well, that doesn’t really do it justice — we have raging insecurity issues. We don’t like being seen by the rest of the world as a big country town. We don’t like being ranked behind Sydney and Melbourne, no matter what the competition is.
We are obsessed with establishing ourselves as a ‘world city’. Whereas most other cities are content and secure in the knowledge that they do, in fact, reside within the world, Brisbane is determined to shout it from the rooftops — even if we haven’t actually hosted a major world event since Expo ’88. There’s a member of Australian parliament who wasn’t even alive then!
Now, we’re being given a chance to prove our status as a world city, and we’re whingeing about it. Brisbane is your friend who complains when you don’t invite them to the party, and whines that it’s just too hard to get there when you do.
The fact is, we won’t become a World City™ just by acting indignant whenever somebody mentions Sydney or Melbourne ahead of us. We won’t guilt the world into taking us seriously. We have to earn it, and we earn it by pulling off events like this — the biggest gathering of world leaders Australia has ever hosted — without a hitch. Even if it is a total pain.
It’s going to be inconvenient. Roads will close. For a few days. One of which is a public holiday. Two of which are weekends. But somehow, we’ll make it through this, together. And one day, we’ll bond in a bar over our old war stories about the time the William Jolly Bridge was closed for a few hours on a Saturday. It’ll be great.
Parts of the Cultural Precinct will be closed for three days, but quick show of hands — did anyone have any pressing engagements at the Queensland Art Gallery, State Library of Queensland or Gallery of Modern Art that weekend that you absolutely can’t reschedule?
It’s tempting to think that this would all be a lot easier if we held the summit on an island, or a farm, or Canberra — you know, somewhere tiny and irrelevant. This would be a good idea if the leaders of the free world were strapping on a backpack and coming here by themselves. Alas, each of them will be rolling with an entourage that will make Vincent Chase look like an amateur, and there’s no way a sleepy little town would have the infrastructure to put them up for the weekend.
This is where we start to see a return on our investment, by the way — the upsurge in trade for local shops, hotels and restaurants is expected to run in excess of $100 million. If you’re a retailer who’s still deciding what to do that weekend, it might be worth keeping your doors open. Even if the locals barricade themselves inside their homes for the weekend, those 4000 delegates and 3000 media have to shop and eat somewhere.
Not only will they spend big while they’re in Brisbane, but it’s a fact that business events have great potential to attract visitors back for leisure. Putin’s next shirtless horseback riding weekend could be in Brisbane!
Speaking of hotels, remember all the complaints back in 2012 that Brisbane didn’t have enough hotels to host an event like this? Five new or refurbished venues have opened their doors this year, and there are more on the way. If you think that would’ve happened without the G20, you’re kidding yourself.
These hotels will be filled with delegates that you probably don’t care about, but that’s not the point. I don’t care about them either. That’s not how this works. Our mutual lack of interest doesn’t make the summit any less of a big deal. It doesn’t matter that you don’t want to see these guys. Guess what? They don’t want to see you, either. This is the G20, not Comic-Con. Obama won’t be signing your Shepard Fairey posters.
Terrorism is an issue, of course, but probably not as much as you think. This will be the ninth G20 summit, most of which have been held in cities that would have made for more attractive, more visible targets than Brisbane, and there have been no major incidents so far. That’s no reason to be complacent, of course, but there’s also no reason to be absurdly paranoid.
Run-of-the-mill protesters are more likely to be a concern than ISIS — in Toronto, for example, plenty of damage was caused to local businesses by rioters in 2010. But this is where the tyranny of distance is on our side. Brisbane really is a long, long way away from the rest of the world, and it’s not that easy to pop ’round for a protest. Flights, accomodation, food — it all starts to add up after a while, and even the most righteous protester from Europe or the US might decide to just stay home and pop Manufacturing Consent in the DVD player instead once they do the math.
That’ll leave the heavy lifting up to local protesters, who are more likely to hurl mean tweets than Molotov cocktails. Brisbanites might be insecure, but we’re not stupid — we know the dignitaries will all go home on Sunday night and we’ll be left here to clean up. Why make a mess?
I understand the cynicism, I really do. Maybe it’s because we’ve been burned before. In truth, the last time we rolled the red carpet out for the world like this wasn’t for Expo ’88, it was for the Goodwill Games, and look how that turned out. But at least we got a sweet bridge out of it, right?
Look, I’m just saying that living in a city deemed worthy of hosting the G20 heads of government is a first world problem. It might actually be the definition of a first world problem. If it really bothers you, and if you’ve got the option, just get out of town for the long weekend. I’d stay within driving distance, though, because if the security around town is too much of a hassle, the airport will really upset you.
Look past the inconvenience and see that this is a great opportunity for Brisbane to make a splash on the world stage. No city has ‘come of age’ more often than Brisbane – but maybe it’ll actually stick this time.
Are you happy the G20 is being held in Brisbane, or do you wish they’d go somewhere else? Vote in our poll and make your case in the comments below!
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