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It's all talkfest and little action in the Summit State

By Scott Prasser - posted Thursday, 10 December 2009


Premier Anna Bligh just a few weeks ago announced a Queensland Government-sponsored tourism jobs summit, which was held yesterday.

Its aim was “to hear directly from local tourism operators and other industry leaders, to determine the best way to spend tourism funding to secure their industry”.

We all know the importance of tourism to the state. It employs more than 120,000 people, and for the Gold and Sunshine coasts and north Queensland, tourism remains the key economic driver, constituting some 20 per cent or more of these regional economies.
We also know that Australian tourism, especially in Queensland, has taken a battering from the global financial crisis, higher Australian dollar and overseas competition.

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Queensland's domestic visitor numbers fell 6 per cent last year and the number of nights stayed fell 11 per cent. Interstate visitor levels also dropped 11 per cent, while international visitors declined 5 per cent.

The issue now is whether this summit, put together in just 15 days, would be sufficiently prepared for the serious talks this sector deserves.

Some saw the tourism summit as just another excuse to hand over taxpayers' funds to an industry that seems to receive favoured treatment whenever the economy dips. Remember how the Borbidge Coalition government during the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis gave an extra $5 million for tourism marketing? A subsequent Treasury review questioned the value of this and persuaded the incoming Beattie government not to give an additional $5 million demanded by the industry.

And only last year the Queensland Government, with very limited analysis, gave $4 million to tourism for marketing. Perhaps we should know whether that funding achieved anything before the government once again dips into taxpayers' pockets. The Bligh Government must show that any spending in this area has clear performance measures.

The other issue concerns Queensland's policymaking process.

It seems the state has been awash with summits of all types and sizes in the past decade. Queensland has held summits on road safety, information management skills, obesity, resources, infrastructure, climate change, multiculturalism, including one for multicultural women, north Queensland jobs, youth drugs, transport infrastructure, transport safety and Queensland Health.

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Last year there was even a national toy summit! But who's counting?

The question is not only what summits cost, but whether these temporary and often rushed events are appropriate mechanisms to tackle Queensland's difficult long-term policy issues?

Summits can bring experts, interest groups and governments together to share ideas and to develop consensus solutions on difficult policy issues.

However, all too often real understandings of issues are not maintained and policy initiatives are quickly absorbed by the bureaucracy, so that little is achieved.

Summits often seem often to be just another political stunt symptomatic of that Queensland disease - crisis decision-making.

The recent tourism summit might be different. But we have to wonder about having yet another summit when there is a $50 million-plus Tourism Queensland statutory body whose job it is to research, provide expert advice and connect to industry.

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First published in The Courier-Mail on November 26, 2009.



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About the Author

Scott Prasser is Professor of Public Policy and was Executive Director of the Public Policy Institute at the Australian Catholic University. Scott has worked previously in senior policy and research roles in federal and state governments and in several universities in Victoria, NSW and Queensland. Recently, Scott co-edited with Associate Professor Nicholas Aroney and J.R. Nethercote the book Restraining Elective Dictatorship: The Upper House Solution? He has just written with Helen Tracey a report entitled Beyond Gonski: Reviewing the Evidence on Quality Schooling.

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