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Wake-up call: Maybe it's time we opened the curtains, as well as the borders

Opinion

As Queensland starts to emerge from the long, dark tunnel created by the coronavirus, some added sunshine would do us the world of good, writes Shane Rodgers

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At some point in the next month, Queensland will likely remove its border “germ wall” and re-join Australia. When this happens, we should seriously consider doing it properly.

I am talking about time zones, as in having the same one for the entire east coast. Yes, I’m also talking about daylight saving. The trouble is, if you mention that term in Queensland, people look at you as if you have used a bad swear word in church.

When you ask politicians about it, they tend to break into a cold sweat and nervously trot out a practiced line about concentrating on issues that unite us rather than divide us.

Sometimes they declare that the time we choose to live by in Queensland will not be dictated to us by “southerners” (i.e. fellow Australians who live outside the germ wall).

The result is six months of expensive business mess every year, fewer Queensland jobs, lost business investment and an under-activation of our tourism and recreation economy.

The problem is that we are having the wrong conversation. If you ask people if they want daylight saving, large numbers in the daylight-rich north will say “heck no”. They are perfectly happy with way the sunshine falls now and there are some inconveniences for some groups when the daylight is back ended.

Fair enough.

The more pertinent question to ask is: “Are we prepared to wear some inconvenience in some areas to boost our economy and create jobs here?”

In other words, the discussion should not be about daylight saving. It should be able whether Queensland can really afford to be out of time-step with the larger economic states (regardless of how the clocks are set).

The answer is no – particularly in the economic conditions that lie ahead over the next few years.

Ai Group conducted a survey in 2018 and found that around one in 10 businesses currently operating in Queensland were less likely to place jobs and investment in the state due to the summertime differences.

About 17 per cent of national businesses not currently operating in Queensland were less likely to open branches here due to the time disparity.

That is no surprise. For the increasing number of companies operating across states, two different eastern time zones in summer is frankly an expensive pain. It is an even bigger pain for border communities.

The time mismatch impacts thousands of people daily. The Brisbane to Sydney air route is one of the busiest in the world. Money that might otherwise be spent in Queensland goes to southern accommodation providers and restaurants because early meetings inevitably mean travelling the night before rather than doing a day trip.

One in three businesses say the issue has a “significant impact” on their business and a similar number have to alter staffing to stretch over the time gap.

There is also the opportunity lost for our struggling tourism and hospitality industries. You don’t have to spend much time in Melbourne and Sydney in summer to see that, at 8pm, there are people everywhere and the economy is fully activated.

At the same time in Queensland, many restaurants are already packing up the chairs and Netflix is being fired up for the night.
This is an easy issue for both sides of politics to shirk in a bipartisan way.

While polling in recent years suggests a majority of Queenslanders now support daylight saving time in summer, no party wants to be the first to jump. The majority is not large enough in a world of close elections and marginal seats, and it divides the north and the south at a time when friendships are already stretched.

The only way this issue gets onto the policy agenda is for both sides to accept that it is in the best interest of the state to put it on the program in a neutral, bipartisan way.

With the first Queensland four-year Parliamentary term kicking in at the end of October, the next few months are the only opportunity to get time zones into the policy melting pot any time soon.

All we need is an agreement by all parties to do a thorough economic assessment of the pros and cons for Queensland. That way it is part of the policy discussion mandate for the four-year term and we can debate it properly with plenty of election buffer built in.

If we miss this window, it will be many years before it opens again for a new mandate. It’s time for a mature, objective conversation that asks the right questions.

Shane Rodgers is the Queensland-based national Head of Operations for national employer association Australian Industry Group. He is a former business executive, editor and journalist.

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