The Queensland Plan: The Peoples’ Plan or more government spin?
In late July, Premier Campbell Newman launched The Queensland Plan, a new 30 year vision for the state. Describing the Plan as The People’s Plan, he said “this is not a Queensland Government plan, this is the plan of Queenslanders for Queenslanders.”
The Premier’s bold ‘People’s Plan’ claim is based on the extensive community consultation carried out for the Plan, which involved tens of thousands of Queenslanders through two summit meetings, an online survey and other activities. While the reach of the consultation was wide, my analysis shows the methods used do not justify the ‘People’s Plan’ label.
These consultation methods were unable to deliver a People’s Plan. Although a significant number of people contributed to The Plan, they were not representative of the broader Queensland population because of the way they were selected. As well, much of the consultation was orchestrated by the government, with participants mostly unable to change predetermined outcomes.
Firstly, the government tightly controlled the two summits held during the consultation, particularly the first summit, which set the questions for the subsequent community survey. This first summit included 267 community members (three from each electorate), 89 MPs and 40 mayors. The delegates from each electorate were selected by the local MP (overwhelmingly from the governing LNP). This method is biased in favour of those know to, and well regarded by the MP. In addition, the MPs actively participated in the summit proceedings, including facilitating some small group discussions. This is not conducive to free and independent discussion of issues.
The scene was set for this summit with a presentation from the CSIRO on global megatrends. This stimulated discussion among the delegates on global issues like depletion of natural resources, loss of biodiversity, and technological and social changes. However, discussion of these issues in relation to Queensland’s future was not included in any subsequent sessions at the summit. Instead, predetermined discussion topics were used without any reference to the delegates’ discussions about the CSIRO megatrends.
The main output from this summit was six questions to be used in an online survey of community attitudes. The questions were decided after a tightly directly process by the majority vote of the delegates, most of whom were selected by the MPs.
However, the most serious issue with the consultation was that the opinions of the wider community about the state’s future were invited through an online survey, with participants being self-selected rather than randomly selected. The views of such a ‘convenience sample’ are highly unlikely to represent those of the broader Queensland community, regardless of the number of people taking part. Therefore the government cannot legitimately claim the survey results represent the aspirations of Queenslanders.
It is also notable that the survey questions were all ‘how to’ questions. Instead of being asked about their own vision for the future, Queenslanders were asked how to achieve a predetermined vision ‘embedded’ in the questions, which were chosen by summit delegates mostly selected by government MPs. As it turned out, the vision embedded in the questions is very similar to that in the final version of The Queensland Plan.
From this analysis, it is clear that consultation for the Plan was not free and open, and did not include an accurate assessment of the views of the broader Queensland population.
While the government said the Plan would go ‘beyond politics’ and ‘be a genuine reflection of our collective aspirations for the future,’ the community consultation was always going to be filtered through the government’s prior commitment to the so-called ‘four pillar economy’ policy framework. Focussing government activities on growing the agriculture, mining, tourism and construction sectors of the state economy was always the unspoken agenda during the consultation process and divergent views were ‘massaged’ to fit into this framework.
The government has not acknowledged that there are widely-held views in the community, which are potentially at odds with the four pillar economy. For example, there is no real recognition in the Plan of the serious threat posed to the Great Barrier Reef by human-induced climate change, even though protecting the reef is among the most important environmental issues for the community. A new report has confirmed that climate change is the greatest threat to the reef.
Even if the four pillar economy policy is desirable for Queensland now, its suitability over 30 years needs to be tested against a number of possible scenarios. These include climate change impacts on agricultural production preventing the forecast twofold increase, and severe restrictions on thermal coal exports as part of global action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (the so-called ‘stranded assets’ scenario). The resilience of the four pillars policy in the face of these possibilities needs to be examined through a free and open dialogue with the community.
A much more open process was used in consultation for Perth’s Dialogue with the City undertaken in 2003. This included free discussion of several different scenarios for the future development of the Perth metropolitan area, together with a statistically valid survey of community attitudes. The WA government supported deep deliberation about the future based on extensive background data rather than preconceived opinions, aiming to stimulate innovative solutions that integrated differing views.
A detailed analysis of the consultation for The Queensland Plan shows that the government has failed to take the diverse Queensland community with it on The Queensland Plan journey. Instead, the government has ‘edited out’ everything that threatened the four pillar economy framework. What we’re left with is a set of slogans, and upbeat exhortations to join ‘Team Queensland’ and ‘work together’ to deliver the Plan.
The Plan is complacent and unimaginative in its assumptions that the next 30 years will be largely a projection of the recent past.
The Queensland Plan is not the People’s Plan. Unfortunately it is a lost opportunity to have a real dialogue about Queensland’s future at this time of great environmental and economic uncertainty.