Beyond 2018 - Kate Jones shares her vision for the city
Prior to winning the bid for the Commonwealth Games back in 2011 former Gold Coast Mayor Ron Clarke said that the city would not only benefit from $2 billion in economic investment, 30 000 new jobs and more than $500 million worth of new transport and sporting infrastructure, but the social legacy for the city would be profound. In his words “hosting the Games would represent a coming-of-age for the city.” Seven years on with GC2018 now behind us did the event live up to its promise and will it prove to be transformational for the Gold Coast? Kate Jones, the Minister for the Commonwealth Games, Innovation and Tourism Industry Development shares her views with Trevor Jackson.
There was so much anticipation and excitement in the lead up to the Commonwealth Games, now that the dust has settled what do you see as the positive outcomes for the city?
I think the biggest thing will be that there’s a whole bunch of people who’ve never been to the Gold Coast before, particularly from the international community, that got to taste and feel the city. The reason why a major sporting event like the Commonwealth Games can be transformational is that you motivate a whole community of people to travel to a destination that they otherwise may not have visited.
When you think about the 1.5 billion viewers internationally and that we sold 1.2 million tickets more than Melbourne did in 2006 and you look at the size of the Gold Coast vs. Melbourne you start to realise how significant that is. There’s new infrastructure in the city now that otherwise wouldn’t have been built with investment from both the federal and state governments, a billion dollars worth of public transport, as well as the international quality sporting venues - that puts the Gold Coast in the box seat now as a potential host for major events.
Outside of the infrastructure, do you see the Games as a transformational event for the city? If so, in what way?
When you talk to Gold Coasters I think it’s a similar sentiment to the way Brisbane people felt when the city really began to develop in the 90’s. There’s a new depth and diversity to the city now that it’s been showcased globally for the first time. It’s being seen as a welcoming city for international tourists and students and that’s highlighted by the fact that it has the most diverse student population of anywhere in Australia. There’s a real hum and cultural aspect to the city that I don’t think a lot of people realised was there previously.
In the past the Gold Coast has had an image problem in this country, where many people didn’t take it seriously. It’s a place that’s been seen as a beachside party town full of theme parks. Do you see people’s perception of the Gold Coast changing now?
I can say hand on heart that it will. Not only for Australians who hadn’t been to the Gold Coast for years, but for international visitors who may not have visited for a long time, if at all. The feedback I received from the International Sports Accord in Bangkok just after the Games is that the Gold Coast has got it all. It’s seen as a great, modern and young city that also has some of the most beautiful beaches and rainforests anywhere in the world.
When you look at the most recent ABS data the latest figures show the Gold Coast has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country and the fastest growing sector while tourism is doing very well. We’re seeing a major surge in jobs, in education and other industries. The level of investment in the Health and Knowledge precinct speaks volumes about the city’s priorities and that the Gold Coast is serious about education and research. It’s vital for the city’s future to ensure we can provide long term, sustainable jobs and that there are many opportunities for both work and study here.
You took part in the Human Rainbow event with the Gold Coast community and our international students on the morning of the Opening Ceremony – what did that signify for you personally?
It really reinforced why so many of us are proud to be Australian. We are a truly multicultural community and it’s so important for the Gold Coast to be seen as a welcoming place, particularly in the current global context. I think the Human Rainbow was a wonderful symbolic gesture from the city and that it helped to send a very strong message globally.
When cities host major international events the thinking is that the outcomes will benefit the city long afterwards. What does the Gold Coast need to do now to capitalise on the Games and ensure we make the most of this opportunity?
We have a strong working relationship with a number of partners on the Gold Coast, including Study Gold Coast, the Gold Coast City Council, Gold Coast Tourism and the Education and Training sector. Now that the Games have finished we need to pool our resources to establish major attractions and events for the Gold Coast. In just a few weeks the city will play host to the Logies for the first time, but the city’s established events are also gaining momentum with a surge in the number of international entrants for the Gold Coast Marathon this year. In terms of infrastructure the 2 new indoor sporting venues at Coomera and Carrara are fully booked until March next year, which is really pleasing to see. You can’t underestimate the global awareness that the Games has created or the level of interest locally and nationally for the Gold Coast as a destination now.
It’s suggested that the big winner for the Gold Coast post Games will be tourism, but what opportunities do you see for the city’s education sector now?
There’s more than 120 000 international students studying in Queensland and we now have the fastest market share growth in Australia. A third of those students study outside of Brisbane and of course the Gold Coast is the most significant of those destinations. We need to focus on continuing to grow our international student numbers, particularly in countries like China, India and Brazil where there is massive potential for growth.
What about trade?
We invested heavily in a trade and investment program during the Games and once again the feedback from that has been extremely positive in that the quality of the program was unsurpassed compared to similar events staged previously. We saw two and a half thousand people from 26 different countries including some of our key trading partners like England and India participating in the 32 trade events staged during the Games.
Eighty percent of the delegates who took part in that program have indicated that they’re keen to do business with the Gold Coast and Queensland as a result of taking part in the Trade 2018 program. That’s a remarkable strike rate.
Do you see any particular challenges for the city in the wake of the Games?
My only concern is if locals don’t feel as though there’s a post Games benefit. The fact that the Prime Minister and the Premier have been able to come to an agreement over an upgrade to the M1 is a big benefit to the community, but I don’t think there can be a downside because there was so much investment that the city would otherwise have had to wait years to receive, but instead it was fast tracked and because of that the Gold Coast can now position itself differently in the global market as a world class city.
In all honesty, is there anything that you would like to have seen done differently in hindsight – like the Closing Ceremony for instance?
Obviously you don’t want any criticism, but the positives far outweighed any issues people may have had. When the opening ceremony was staged the response was fantastic, the way we mobilised the thousands of volunteers to look after the event and the recognition they received; the reconciliation plan where we worked in hand in hand with the Yugambeh people who played a major role in not only the opening ceremony but much of the Games; and the 2018 Festival program too. We also ensured that no matter where you came from, what your gender was or whether you were able bodied or not, you were equally welcome at GC2018. It was inclusive and that sends the best possible message to the world.
As the Minister for the Commonwealth Games what are you most proud of in terms of the Gold Coast hosting the event?
So many families came. The Commonwealth Games International Federation said that they couldn’t recall a previous event where so many kids had attended the Games. That says to me that a whole generation of young Queenslanders and Australians got to see elite athletes compete on their home soil and I think that’s a very big down payment in the future of sport for Australia. I think we’re going to see a lot of sporting stars of the future who will be asked: “when was the spark lit for you?” and their answer will be the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
*Photo: Kate Jones celebrates the Human Rainbow with international students and Gold Coast community members on the morning of the Opening Ceremony.