Viewpoint-24 June 2006





Harry Robinson Asks: Will the Future Bring a Better Country?



Deputy Queensland Premier, Treasurer, Minister for State Development, Trade and Innovation, Ann Bligh

With malice, one hopes that the late Jo Bjelke Petersen, wherever he may be, is writhing in frustration and fury. What are they doing in Queensland, the state that he kept for red necks and small minds?

They are talking such heresies as intellectual property and research. If Jo were to come back he would soon stamp out all that communist rubbish. He'd show 'em.

He can't come back and the heretics are free to let their minds rise and rise. Praise be!

Take Anna Bligh who has been a member of Peter Beattie's cabinet for some years.. Her recent titles include State Treasurer and Deputy Premier. She moves and shakes. Recently on Geraldine Doogue's Saturday Extra, she talked about money, lots of money piled up through mineral exports to China. What to do with the loot?

Ms Bligh testified that her Treasury was not going to assume that the minerals boom would go on and on. It might, and that would be nice. But prudence suggested that the boom could fade to a tinkle and the thing to do now was to make the most productive use of the money in the pot.

"We are making education, knowledge and R&D our drivers for the future," she said not once but three times. Peter Beattie has been making this kind of noise for a couple of years, calling Queensland "The Smart State." The phrase was rather too cute to convince and few people took much notice. Mr Beattie, a consummate politician, says many attractive and soothing things but the folks let a lot of Beattie-speak pass them by. Now that his treasurer and deputy has taken to singing the same song we might begin to look for real outcomes. We shall have to look for new institutes of learning, more money for existing universities, practical promotion of pure research, more highly charged efforts in R&D. The one specific she mentioned was to develop software for cleaning up coal-fire emissions -- the software to be sold on the world market. Converting intellectual property (IP) into cash. That one could backfire but we shall have to wait and see.

The tale will be told in outcomes. For the present we may note the revolution in Queensland thought: down with red neckery, up with IP. It is a long way from the times when Queensland-born writer Evan Whitton accused the government there of "institutionalised ignorance". Evan's complaint was a deliberate skimping on high schools -- to save the peasants from getting ideas. May the ghost of Jo burst a blood vessel or a plasma vessel or whatever ghosts use to keep themselves going.

The movement up the intellectual scale is not confined to Queensland. TFW has already noted that Alan Carpenter, premier of WA, the other big state with a big minerals boom, is science-savvy and minded toward investment in higher education.

How different from the Howard-Costello regime in Canberra where inter-party stoushes rate much higher than fostering pursuits of the mind.

Booming exports of coal, iron ore and natural gas are not the only factors common to Queensland and WA. They are also states attracting young migrants from the more sclerotic areas of NSW and Victoria. Younger people bring clearer visions with them. After all, it is younger professionals who are pushing the boundaries of computer aided design in architecture and engineering, younger adventurers who are trying to slit open new envelopes of electronic games, younger people who are writing and performing "new" music.

Queensland Premier Peter Beattie

The future will be a different country -- they'll do things differently there.*

But you'd never know it from listening to debates of the Federal Parliament, a body of men and women drawn from the law, business, an occasional doctor, many trade union secretaries and party apparatchiks -- all stuck looking in rear vision mirrors.

Beattie and Bligh are in their fifties, Carpenter still in his late forties. They are all too old to be active in ground-breaking occupations but young enough to see the potential in IP. Federal Parliamentarians tend to be like peace time army generals who forever fight the battles of the last war.

Is that why we look at Anna Bligh, Peter Beattie and Alan Carpenter with so much hope?


For the present, hope is alive and well.

'Onya Anna, Peter, Alan!


The premier of W.A., Alan Carpenter, told an audience that the future of his state would come not from the sale of uranium ore but from "science and innovation."


* Apologies to L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between.


Harry Robinson -- for 25 years worked in television journalism in Oz and the US and was for several years air media critic for the Sydney Morning Herald and the Sun-Herald.