I am from Brisbane, and somewhat ironically, my original ticket out of this city was the G20 analysis I conducted while studying and working at the University of Queensland. In a serendipitous turn of events, Australia and my hometown city were announced as 2014 G20 hosts during that research, which paved the way for my shift to Sydney in 2013 to join the G20 Studies Centre at the Lowy Institute. That in turn led to an opportunity to conduct some study in Europe, where I'm now based.
So I have essentially spent the last two years in willingly self-imposed exile from Brisbane, writing about Brisbane.
Yet in coming back to the city now to cover the Summit, after four years of intensive G20 analysis and thinking about what this Summit might (or might not) achieve, it has been rather bemusing to find my city completely zombified. My focus is primarily on the content of what will happen inside the Brisbane Convention and Entertainment Centre (BCEC) where the summit is being held, on Brisbane's South Bank. But the ultimate impact of any G20 ultimately comes down to what leaders are able to achieve once they go home, and it is important that the punters on the street aren't left with deep feelings of resentment towards the G20 once the Summit is over.
If the voting public's memory of the G20 is negative (perhaps even angry), it is less likely that any leader will be all that motivated to follow through on commitments made within the forum. A google search of 'Toronto' and 'G20' will give you some insight into how things can go very wrong, and all of the destruction and violence that happened at that 2010 event. [fold]
It is hard to say with any confidence how Brisbanites feel towards this weekend's Summit – if only because there are hardly any around. Walking across to the Summit site yesterday from City Hall (in the middle of the CBD) felt a bit like starring in my own post-apocalyptic movie. Workers in the city were given the day off so as to minimise congestion, and almost everyone I know leapt at the opportunity to head to the beach for the weekend.
However the 'de-congestion' policies appear to have worked so well that Brisbane City Council is now concerned that all of the thousands of delegates at the Summit will come away with the impression that Brisbane is a ghost town (I do love this city, but to be fair, they would hardly be the first to draw this conclusion, G20 summit or no). Brisbane is, believe it or not, usually a pretty bustling place on a sunny Saturday, but the opportunity to be mowed down by a speeding motorcade doesn't seem to have pulled that many rubberneckers into town.
The media centre has been a little more lively, with world leaders wandering in and out, and various agencies like the IMF and OECD giving 'door-stop' press conferences outside the 'cubicle streets' in the BCEC, which are all named for Australian cities. As an aside, for anyone who thinks the US President doesn't possess pulling power, his speech at the University of Queensland today has been the only one to cause all of the journalists in the media centre to down tools and gawk at the big screens in silence. Earlier, I sat in the press conference with UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon with about 40 other people, but from experience, on any other day he could have filled out his very own auditorium.
Otherwise, the only really noticeable human activity going on within the vicinity of the Summit site are 6000 sweaty police, a handful of Falun Gong protestors, and a lone monk bearing a placard asking G20 leaders to give peace a chance. I have heard there are a few hundred protestors across the river near City Hall, but as today's mercury moves up to a sweltering 35 degrees, I sympathise with anyone who can think of somewhere better to be that is not in Brisbane's willpower-draining sun.
All in all, the G20 Summit might not have fully won over the people of Brisbane as of yet due to its on-ground inconveniences, but nor will it have the damaging legacy of the Toronto Summit. But is that better? I am not sure, perhaps the only thing worse than being protested about is not being protested about – at least it shows your decisions will have an important impact, be they for better or worse.
All photos courtesy of the author.