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Published 02 August 2012 10:11, Updated 02 August 2012 10:13
Going south? ... Queensland, the home of bananas and drunk backpackers, isn’t feeling so good about itself these days.
Last week Queensland Premier Campbell Newman told reporters after a COAG meeting that his state was at risk of becoming the ‘Spain of Australia’.
I thought Queensland was already a place British tourists went to get drunk in the sun. What Newman meant, however, was that Queensland has a debt problem that needs to be addressed (apparently with savage measures) so it won’t drag the State down for decades to come.
Newman’s comments are in step with the usual politician spiel playing on consumer fears about the Australian economy. They persist despite knowing – as many Australians themselves know – that we are far luckier and better placed than those unfortunate European nations, whose food and soccer skills we have long admired.
That being said, Newman’s comments have made me reflect on the changing mood of Queensland we have observed in the last 18 months. When I started doing this research six years ago, Queenslanders seemed inordinately proud of how well their state was doing and how the Eastern dwellers were moving north for jobs and a better way of life.
In our Mind & Mood report of April last year we noticed a shift. The broader concern among Australians – what will we do when the mining boom is over? – was equally present in that resource rich state. What particularly irked Queenslanders was the current lack of money in the state despite all this mining activity. As one man said, “we’ve come through a boom period, the coffers should be full but for some reason there’s nothing there”. Another man in a different discussion group agreed. “We’ve had the biggest resources boom ever and Queensland has no money in the bank. It’s crazy.”
Suddenly Queensland wasn’t looking quite like the place of golden beaches and opportunities any more. Participants in our discussion groups were wondering if their kids needed to think about, gasp, ‘moving south’ for a job.
Man 1: I wonder what sort of future my kids are going to have if they stay in Queensland?
Man 1: We should be worried about kids’ futures. There’s not going to be much left for them after the mining boom’s over.
And again …
Man 1: What is Queensland going to do in 20 years time when the resources are cleaned out?
Man 2: We’ll be stuffed.
Man 1: What will we have to offer?
Questions about the mining boom, its breadth and length, are sometimes assumed to be the preoccupation of Australians in those states without rich mineral wealth. That’s not so. Newman will have to show he can be smarter with the natural endowments of his state lest he face the same fate as his predecessors.