R.W. Chinnery

About R.W. Chinnery

R.W. Chinnery is a hack-of-all-trades with experience in: corporate communications, media liaison, news aggregation, blogging and maps for places he has never been. His academic background is in politics and international relations. He found great inspiration to pursue the humanities after having barely survived a year studying the natural sciences.

G20 Summit: Sydney – The non-event city

Last month federal treasurer Joe Hockey got stuck into former New South Wales premier Bob Carr, accusing him of putting a “Full” sign over Sydney to justify the lack of investment in housing and infrastructure development commensurate with Sydney’s growth during his tenure.

The city, of course, continued to grow regardless of any imaginary signs or arbitrary (and in practice, irrelevant) population limits. In the meantime, the city dined out on post-Olympic glory for far longer than was decent.

The treasurer was speaking in the context of his support for Sydney’s long-delayed second international airport, which has attracted some media buzz due to the real possibility the federal government may throw its weight behind the project.

(Ed’s note – see RW’s Smoke Signal, ‘Badgered’ into second Sydney airport, on this from last week…)

Ironically, the main source of reticence is now a NSW premier from the Federal Government’s own political party. The second airport is one of many urgently-needed infrastructure projects that have been pushing a stone up the hill of political vacillation while the city’s increasingly sclerotic transport system makes sure the rest of us keep to the same pace.

Perhaps they hoped if they kept it up long enough we wouldn’t notice…?

Despite the best “non-efforts”, however, people do in fact manage to get out of the city through the existing airstripport on a daily basis. Consequently, Sydney-siders are seeing not only places like Heathrow (which shows, if you really apply yourself to it, how to mismanage an airport on a far grander scale), but also wholly alternative ways of doing things with reasonable to pleasantly surprising results. Many such examples are to be found in the airports serving Asian cities with which Sydney is supposed to be competing with. Whether anything else works as well in those cities is another matter, but first impressions count, and last.

This will be particularly pertinent come November when Australia will host the G20 summit. For a couple of days, an Australian city will have the attention of people from around the world who spend their days making consequential decisions about policy, investment and where to take their next holiday. It is an invaluable opportunity, primarily for Brisbane where the summit is actually being held.

The NSW government was of course shrill in its protests when Brisbane was selected. The reaction of Brad Hazzard, the NSW State Infrastructure and Planning Minister, was marked by a tone of baffled incredulity at the then Labor federal government’s choice. The best Hazzard could offer by way of explanation for this Shakespearean upheaval of the natural order was that Canberra was seeking to shore up its vote in Queensland ahead of the 2013 federal election. Lesser contributing factors, the minister might have also noted, include: Having to ship in the VIPs via the aforementioned airport. Perhaps he intended some of the not-so-VIPs to land at Bankstown or the grass strip at Camden, possibly in Autogyros. If we hadn’t shut down Darling Harbour as a working port, they could have brought the press corps in as bulk cargo. Then there is the matter of Sydney’s sole undersized convention centre being in the middle of long-delayed renovations, and by “renovations” I mean “Pretty much entirely demolishing the whole thing and starting again.”

Also, the city’s main strip, George Street, smells like a mixture of vomit and hot lard most nights.

The merits of maintaining outdoor vomitoria aside, failure to secure the G20 is far more significant than missing an opportunity to host an event of genuine global importance.

Sydney’s prominence in the rest of the world’s image of Australia is usually one of its greatest assets. So while hosting the G20 is an excellent advertisement for Brisbane, a city that offers much for its size, Sydney will be unable to help being conspicuous for its deserved absence.

The irony is palpable.

Is it really such a bad thing? For now probably not, but perhaps eventually we will be saying, “Yes, yes, this is a bad thing.”

While London’s brand easily shrugged off being passed over for the UK 2012 G8 summit in favour of a golf retreat in Northern Ireland, I am not certain the same can be said of Sydney’s.

The G20 doesn’t just bring the big fish and their immediate entourage. They tow behind them a train of media and assorted “carpet-baggers” looking to snatch something from amongst the silt that gets stirred up. The city enjoys some very concrete benefits, such as having the local headquarters of most of the multinationals, quite a few major national companies, the big commercial banks, as well as the RBA and ASX. These advantages of proximity are always being undermined, however, by advances in information technology, and whatever assets a city has, it still needs to be able to present them effectively. To borrow a term from the tech world, it needs to have a “well-designed user interface”. This means having a vastly-better public transport network with a unified ticketing system; entertainment precincts that offer more than casinos, strip bars or squalid drinking farms patrolled by Ice and steroid-stoked ogres looking for a face on which to externalise their self-loathing; and a rental accommodation market that actually accommodates people reasonably close to their jobs without gouging them for whatever the ogres have left behind.

Somewhere further down the list, an opera house with a decent-sized orchestra pit wouldn’t go astray either…

Brisbane of course will present its own set of challenges and issues that have become conversational shibboleths amongst locals, but that isn’t going to stop people with a lot of money to invest and positions to fill from thinking, “If this place is good enough for the G20, it’s good enough for our local head office. Hell, it’s cheaper than Sydney.”


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