Sydney: It’s Not You, It’s Your InfrastructureJuly 11, 2012
Today the Brisbane & Sydney rivalry was stirred up again, even though the State of Origin concluded last week. This time though, it wasn’t about the NRL, but instead about a summit called the G20 Summit, where leaders and economists etc. of countries who have the largest economies (funnily enough the top 20 countries, who’d have thunk that from the name) get together and talk about money and policies etc.
The (Over) Reaction
Australia will host this Summit in 2014 and today Julia Gillard announced that Brisbane would be hosting the event. This announcement caused a reaction from some of the NSW Government ministers that I would classify as embarrassing. NSW Planning Minister Brad Hazzard made this comment in a statement regarding the decision: “It’s insulting to the 20 leaders”.
I’m sorry Brad, but that’s a silly comment and you know it. Sydney is a wonderful city and so is Brisbane (and so are all of the capital cities I’ve seen, I’ve seen them all except Perth & Darwin) and I don’t that world leaders are going to feel insulted that they coming to Brisbane instead of Sydney. He also said this in his statement: “She’s chosen Brisbane simply to use the leaders of the world as political pawns in her game to try and win back the votes across Queensland”. This is something I partly agree with, but I’ll get back to it later.
Julia Gillard said the reasons behind choosing Brisbane over Sydney was that the Sydney Convention Centre would be under renovation during the time when the summit would be on and that Sydney Airport has restrictions that simply make Brisbane a better choice. I agree with most of the things she said in this area and that this highlights a bigger problem for Sydney.
Today on Sydney’s Triple M, The Spoonman editorialised about how Sydney’s crippling infrastructure is causing a drop in productivity, which is causing the working families of Sydney to be worse off than other parts of Australia (you can listen to that editorial here). I also believe that infrastructure is one of the key reasons why Sydney wasn’t picked to host the G20 Summit in 2014 and the reason why Sydney might continue to lose out on future major events if something doesn’t change. The infrastructure simply isn’t up to scratch anymore, due to years of neglect from all levels of government, but specifically the NSW State Government.
Firstly, Sydney only has 1 major airport which in itself isn’t a problem (Brisbane only has one major airport too, Melbourne has several airports). The problem with Sydney Airport is that due to it’s location, expansion isn’t a possibility (and the airport is already tight on space as it is) and there is a nightly curfew that is in place because the airport is too close to major suburbs. The solution would be to build a second airport, one that isn’t surrounded so closely with houses, so that it could operate 24 hours a day. A second Sydney airport would also mean that the Sydney air traffic could be spread out between the two airports, increasing capacity. Unfortunately it looks like this won’t be happening for many years as the NSW Premier doesn’t support a second airport in the Sydney and instead was suggesting absurd ideas such as putting the second airport for Sydney in Canberra and linking it with high speed rail.
Secondly, Sydney has horrible roads linking the airport with the city. Melbourne has always been the shining example of how you need to connect an airport to the road network of a city, because they have a freeway (the Tullamarine Freeway) which links Melbourne Airport to the Western Ring Road (the major Melbourne bypass road, which links the north eastern, northern and Western suburbs together) and the Melbourne CBD. The Tullamarine freeway also links to the CityLink tunnels which allow access to the city’s southern and south eastern suburbs too. The only major issue is that there is no train line to Melbourne Airport.
Brisbane had a horrible city to Airport connection until a few years ago (it involved a single road called Airport Drive in and out of the airport, with an extremely dangerous roundabout connecting Airport Drive to the congested Gateway Motorway and a road which took you to the the northern suburbs of Brisbane so you could navigate through them and eventually find the Brisbane CBD). This has all changed now, with a second, freeway/motorway grade road being built which provides direct access to an upgraded Gateway Motorway (for easy access to the Sunshine Coast & Gold Coast as well as the southern and south western suburbs) and as of the start of next month, a motorway grade tunnel named AirportLink which will provide direct access to the Brisbane CBD, completely avoiding the northern suburbs and in 2014, direct access to the western suburbs too, via Legacy Way.
Travelling from Sydney Airport to the CBD either involves travelling through some of the southern suburbs of Sydney (including Waterloo, Mascot & Redfern) or taking the congested Southern Cross Way & Eastern Distributor roads, which are really designed for traffic trying to bypass the CBD and end up in the Harbour Tunnel or Harbour Bridge, not for traffic trying to get into the CBD. Add on top of this the fact that the traffic problems in Sydney caused by the lack of an M4 East link, Sydney-Newscastle Freeway & M2 link and the Southern Freeway to Southern Cross Way link, as well as the M5 East tunnel capacity issues make it difficult to get places (near impossible in peak hour) and I can understand why the Prime Minister might think twice before organising a major summit in Sydney.
I don’t know much about the convention centres in Sydney so there isn’t a lot I can say about that other than what has been said publicly: The Sydney Convention Centre will be under renovation at the time the summit is on and Brisbane has a Convention Centre at South Bank that is ready for events. I don’t know if the Sydney Opera House would have been a better venue, but after discussing the two previous issues, I don’t think it really matters.
Where The Politics Comes In
I mentioned before that I did agree with Mr Hazzard when he said that Julia Gillard was playing a politics game with this, but I disagree in the reasoning. For all the reasons I mentioned above, I don’t think Sydney was ever a credible contender for this summit. Where I think the politics comes in though is that Julia Gillard chose Brisbane over what I would have thought would be the next choice following Sydney: Melbourne.
Melbourne has an Airport that can be run at full capacity 24 hours a day and has a suitable road network connecting it to the CBD and I would assume Melbourne has a Convention Centre big enough to host the summit. So I do think Julia Gillard chose Brisbane as a way to try and improve her party’s polling in Queensland, but I think she chose Brisbane over Melbourne, not Sydney. I don’t think it’s going to be very effective though in changing many people’s vote. Surely most people wouldn’t suddenly decide to suddenly vote for a party, simply because the leader of that party offered them a major world summit for them to host?
So I hope this made sense and I really hope that all the ministers and representatives in Sydney today who were acting like spoilt children about losing the G20 Summit to Brisbane, saying that Sydney was the only World City in Australia, that Sydney was the only place they could properly experience Australia and that it was “insulting” to bring world leaders to Brisbane decide to grow up. You’ve brought this upon yourselves by not providing the poor people of Sydney the infrastructure that they DESPERATELY NEED. For the people of Sydney who care about this (and to be honest, I don’t think many regular folks really care where these summits are held), let your government representatives know that they need to build you infrastructure for your city.
Personally, I’m glad that Brisbane is getting a chance to hold an event anyway, most of the big events get given to Sydney and Melbourne, even though Brisbane is one of Australia’s fastest growing cities and isn’t a small country town anymore like some folks in Sydney & Melbourne think. Brisbane is a lot more similar to Sydney and Melbourne these days than it is to Darwin.
Over the last decade and a half, Brisbane has built SO MUCH infrastructure, the place looks nothing like it did a decade ago, especially in terms of our road network. We’ve upgraded or built: The Pacific Motorway, Ipswich Motorway, Gateway Motorway & Gateway Bridge Duplication, Clem7 Tunnel, AirportLink, Go Between Bridge, Port of Brisbane Motorway, Bruce Highway, Caboolture Bypass, Mt Lindsay Highway, Inner City Bypass, 2nd Airport Access, Duplication of Redcliffe Bridge, South-Eastern, Inner Northern, Northern (partly) & Eastern (partly) Busways. We also built a water grid, which should prevent us from drought again. We are in SOOOO much debt right now, but at least we have something to show from it and all of this infrastructure is an investment, not an expense and it should help us create more money in the future.
I’d also like to see the Local, State & Federal Governments cut the rubbish and the games they currently play with each other and do what they’re supposed to do: build and manage infrastructure and services for the people who vote them in. Sydney needs 4 major roads to be built/upgraded, additional train lines and a second airport so just build them. Melbourne needs some additional roads to connect up the network of existing ones more efficiently as well as a train line to the airport: build it! Brisbane needs a couple more tunnels, a train line to Coolngatta and some additional busways, so build them! We all need the NBN, so keep building that. There’s got to be a way to fund this stuff properly (I don’t know how, but I’m sure there’s a way if it needs to be done, cutting back on the pollie perks is probably a good start).
So Sydney, as a Brisbane resident I’ve got this to say to you: It’s not you, it’s your infrastructure [that's letting you down].
Finally: I’d like to note that I don’t want the G20 Summit to come to Brisbane actually. I do want Brisbane to host big events and I know this summit could possibly be the gateway to this occurring, but I am concerned about the violent protests and car burnings etc. that have occurred at previous G20 Summits, that’s something that I don’t think any city in Australia wants. I wish that it wasn’t this specific conference that we were hosting, but beggars can’t be choosers I suppose.