CPDS Home Contact Professionalism: Chronological Summary

Modernising Queensland - Email sent 31/8/09

Stefanie Balogh
Courier Mail

RE: 'Overstated?', Courier Mail, 29-30/8/09

I should like to endorse your suggestion that Queensland's apparent shift over the last two decades from a conservative backwater towards political, social and economic sophistication is merely skin deep, and to suggest that that is largely a consequence of amateurish, mainly-politically-motivated attempts to achieve change.

My interpretation of your article: Queenslanders may be kidding themselves about how vibrant and cutting-edge this state has become. Queensland has tried for two decades to shake off its image as a sleepy country town and cultural wasteland. Brisbane was seen to lack the cosmopolitan polish of Sydney and multiculturalism of Melbourne. There has been a perception of progress - but also evidence of problems. The premier has sought again to revitalize the tourist industry - but the state did not gain recognition for a single top-rating restaurant. While many ordinary people from southern states are attracted by Queensland's weather and lifestyle, the captains of industry and politics still remain in the south. Queensland claims Australia's first elected female premier and Australian governor-general, but few senior federal politicians are from this state. Queensland has world renowned scientists, and a major Gallery of Modern Art, but the veneer of cultural renaissance may be only skin deep. A fashion spectacular did not attract some big designers. Tourism is struggling - after success in 1980s it is seen to have failed to move with the times. Queensland's financial position has deteriorated badly - with a need for heavy borrowings. Queensland is still seeking to make itself into a modern vibrant state, but there is still further to go.

On the basis of several decades of studying, and attempting to accelerate, Queensland's modernisation I should like to suggest for your consideration that:

  • the lack of competent institutions within the community itself to support modernising reformers has been a major constraint, because it has permitted populist initiatives (ie those that sound good to the ill-informed, but can't achieve much in practice) to be seen as the best available (see More Competent External Support to Parliament). It has been my experience over decades that:
    • emerging ideas / trends tend only to gain acceptance in Queensland some 15-20 years after they have been implemented in world-leading regions (sometimes even after they have been found to be dysfunctional elsewhere);
    • institutions to provide community leaders with practical and up-to-date advice tend not to exist, and there is apathy within the community in response to any suggestions that would require anyone doing any work to overcome such gaps (arguably because the state's rich land / mineral resources have permitted a high level of material prosperity with limited intellectual effort). Queensland's current crisis in public finance has been developing for many years, yet (a) no competent institutions considered that they had any responsibility to undertake an independent assessment; and (b) even after a crisis has now become apparent no one seems to believe that they need to get off their backsides to look more closely at the apparently-dubious goings-on;
  • efforts to 'modernise' Queensland over the past two decades have been largely a pretence - to gain political applause from the media and benefited interest groups. While the anti-intellectual populism ("Don't you worry about that") of the Bjelke-Peterson era disappeared, the 'intellectual populism' of the Goss Government arguably was even less constructive, while the subsequent Smart State rhetoric was simply a joke (because the costly efforts to boost human resource and research inputs to a 'smart' economy were not accompanied by any serious efforts to address the main constraint - ie the lack of competency and organisation within Queensland business to make productive use of such inputs). Efforts to reform Queensland's institutions gained little traction, arguably arguably because they did not consider the need to develop competent institutions to support the state's political system;
  • academic confusion about the nature and status of practical knowledge and creativity seems to have limited the contribution by universities in disciplines linked with the humanities (eg see A Crisis in Education at QUT?, The Value of Creativity and Culture, and 'Creative Culture' in Brisbane);
  • the requirements for more substantial progress (eg leadership within the community that is not primarily politically focussed) have been obvious for a long time, yet the required initiative has tended to be suppressed by a political tradition of seeking to control change and dispense patronage. On three occasions under different governments, the present writer has observed the rejection of proposals that would have strengthened the economic capabilities of the Queensland community itself, apparently because this would have reduced the ability of the political system to dispense patronage;
  • suggestions for overcoming these constraints that were put forward in 2007 are probably still relevant (see Queensland's Next Successful Premier).

John Craig