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Saturday, December 15, 2007

There are two major factors in the City of Brisbane becoming the modern city it is to-day: Clem Jones and its unique system of local government wrought through the council amalgamations of 1925 which formed Greater Brisbane.

To-day we have word that Clem Jones is dead. At the height of his powers, Miss Eagle remembers Clem doing a weekly talk-back program on 4BH. People would ring up about the usual local government stuff - ditches, drains and dunnies. They would complain about an overgrown culvert on the corner of Dirt Lane and Bush Street in the suburb of Whoop Whoop and Clem would be able to give up to the minute details of planning and maintenance and the caller would go away content. What Clem didn't know about Brisbane wasn't worth knowing.

Clem was a Labor Lord Mayor and it was under Labor that Brisbane became, in 1925, the largest city in the world - in area. In these modern times of economic rationalism, conservative governments allow and Labor governments are too afraid to change the ratty little fiefdoms in places like suburban Sydney and Melbourne with their dress circle little councils in the city centres.

If people were serious about economic management and administration of major cities, they would do what Brisbane did in the first quarter of the 20th century. Brisbane is a City-State. Its aldermen service City Wards as large as State Electorates and they are remunerated at the same level.

Brisbane controls its own road transport system and controlled, for many years, its own electricity supply.

Clem brought Brisbane into modern life with sewerage. Clem is/was famous for lots of things but it was sewerage that made all the difference and for which he will be historically remembered. No more outside dunnies and la-la men picking up the cans. Brisbane went modern.

Modernisation happened again under Labor with Lord Mayor Jim Soorley in more recent times. Jim Soorley was a surprise packet. He came from almost complete anonymity to defeat the incumbent Liberal Lord Mayor Sallyanne Atkinson.
Atkinson was considered to be highly popular but turned out to be highly beatable. Late and secret polling given to the Australian Labor Party in Queensland showed she was beatable. The ever astute Wayne Swan, now Treasurer of Australia but then Secretary of the Queensland Branch of the Australian Labor Party, had next to no money for the campaign but put a last minute effort in: crumb-y black and white ads on TV, old fashioned door-knocking, old-fashioned trucks with loud speakers trawling the suburbs. It paid off and Soorley defeated Atkinson.

Under Soorley's leadership, Brisbane modernised once again. This time in its spirit - and outdoor dining became its most classic manifestation. That wonderful climate and no one had bothered before. But in the late 80s, with the Expo and the Commonwealth Games, Brisbane had a taste of something different. Under Soorley, it got it.

So for those who wonder what life will be like under wall to wall State and Federal Governments dominated by the Australian Labor Party - go north. Take a look at Brisbane - the home of the two most senior elected officials in the nation: Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister and Wayne Swan as Treasurer.

The centre of Australian gravity has moved north to Brisbane. You can even have a cabinet meeting there these days! It is helped along by the most moderately priced real estate of the eastern state capitals. But, Brisbane is what it is to-day because occasionally Labor has done its job brilliantly.
  • Labor established sound municipal administration.

  • Clem Jones took the reins

  • Soorley brought fresh and humane eyes and ideas

These days, the Liberals have the position of Lord Mayor of Brisbane while Labor dominates the city administration with the most councillors under the leadership of Miss Eagle's old friend, David Hinchliffe. One could say that David is the de facto Lord Mayor of Brisbane.

The Lord Mayoralty of Brisbane is the only seat of government of any significance held by the conservative parties in Australia. Labor will ensure they can't muck that up as well.