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Making the G20 Work for Brisbane, Business and the World

Professor John Kirton
Co-director and Founder, G20 Research Group,
Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto
Author, G20 Governance for a Globalized World (Ashgate, Farnham)
Brisbane, December 17, 2013

Keynote address to "Building Business Through G20," sponsored by the Brisbane Airport Corporation, Brisbane Marketing, Brisbane Development Association and Business South Bank, Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre, December 17, 2013, 7.00-9.00 am.


Lord mayor, distinguished guests, friends old and new. It's good to be back in Brisbane with you.

I first came to Brisbane over a year ago, after the announcement that you would host the G20's ninth summit. Now Australia has assumed the chair, the Australian year has begun, and we are only eleven months away from the great event itself on November 15-16, 2014.

So it's a good time to share some thoughts about what the Brisbane Summit means for Brisbane, for business and for the world

To start our dialogue, I bring four major messages.

First, the G20 works for the world,
Second, the G20 works for business,
Third, the G20 works for Brisbane, and
Fourth, the G20 can work better for all.

Let me briefly elaborate each one in turn.

The G20 Works for the World

First, the G20 works, and works well, for the world. We see this in several ways.

The G20 summit proved to be effective at crisis response during its first two years of work. Created in reaction to the great global financial crisis erupting in America in September 2008, at Washington that November, London the following April and Pittsburgh in September 2009, G20 leaders stopped the free fall into another Great Depression, restored growth and chose the G20 as their permanent, premier forum for international economic cooperation in the world.
Their summit then became an effective crisis prevention committee during its next three years. At Toronto and then Seoul in 2010, at Cannes, France in 2011 and at Los Cabos, Mexico in 2012, it contained within Europe a new financial crisis from Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain, before it could consume the world beyond.

The summit has now become an effective global steering committee, taking on broader, longer-term, future-oriented tasks. At the eighth summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, in September 2013 leaders helped pave the way for the end of chemical weapons in Syria, for a more reliable, fairer tax system, and for financing the infrastructure that Australia and most other countries badly need.

These summits have increasingly taken more, and more difficult decisions, with a surge to 450 made at St. Petersburg three months ago. Leaders have shown that their summit is far more than a "photo op" to impress voters back home, a global "hot tub party" to chat casually, or a "bully pulpit" to preach to others. It is also a place to make politically binding promises to do particular tough things in the time ahead.

And they have increasingly delivered on these decisions, taking the commitments they make at the sunny summit peak and complying with them after they descend into the dark valleys of domestic politics back home. Almost all members have recently improved their compliance record, producing a solid overall result. Australia's first-ranked, almost perfect performance is in the lead.

So Brisbane can be proud to host a summit that stands at the centre of global economic governance, and that works well for the world in many ways.

The G20 Works for Business

My second message is the G20 also works well for business.

It has fulfilled its core mission of providing financial stability — the necessary foundation for business to work. It has also generated a supportive environment for business, through smarter financial regulation, stronger economic growth and international trade, and now tax reform.

For its Brisbane Summit agenda, the Australian host is focusing on the fundamentals for business of the economy, finance, trade, and tax. It has added investment in infrastructure, where 70% of the users are business ones.

Australia's approach to its key priority is private sector–led growth, where business as a beneficiary and a contributor is necessarily a central part. After the initial summits where more government spending, mounting deficits and accumulating debts were the preferred response, Australia is shifting strongly to put the private sector first, as the only sure source of strong, sustainable growth.

Here it is being helped by the Business Twenty or B20, a body born at the |Toronto Summit to bring the business community in. Since then the B20 has been broadening its interests, involvement and influence in G20 summitry. Recent advances on trade facilitation showing that the G20 works better with its B20 inside.

And the G20 does deliver on the decisions that the B20 and business care about the most. My G20 Research Group, our colleagues at the National Research University Higher School of Economics in Moscow, and our friends at the International Chamber of Commerce have all worked with the B20 to assess G20 government compliance with such commitments. We have concluded that the G20 works for business in this way too.

The G20 Works for Brisbane

My third message is the G20 works well for Brisbane, for the city, its citizens and those in Queensland as a whole.

From the very day it was announced that the city would host the 2014 summit — on July 10, 2012 — the G20 has been helping make Brisbane a household word around the world. The great imperial capitals of Washington, London and St. Petersburg don't need help from the G20 to become globally known. But newer, smaller cities such as Toronto and Brisbane do.

The G20 is not just beaming Brisbane's name out but bringing into |Brisbane ever more people from ever more places around the world, just like me. Here they discover for themselves at first hand that Brisbane is beautiful in many ways, tell their friends back home, and return along with them, as the great Brisbane summit story snowballs out.

At the summit itself, the story of "Brisbane the beautiful" will be seen and said by the most globally influential journalists and the rest of their 3,000 colleagues who will attend. Having worked at summit media centres in the bleak basement of the State Department in Washington, a concrete building under construction in a drab suburb of London, and older, conventional convention centres in Toronto, Pittsburgh and Seoul, I am confident that the summit site in downtown Brisbane will beat its predecessors in its beauty inside and all around.
The broader economic benefits of hosting such a summit are strong, the best studies show. The world's most influential leaders, 4,000 government delegates, 3,000 media representatives, CEOs from the B20, and their counterparts from labour, civil society and the broader G20 community will discover for themselves that Brisbane is a great place to visit, trade with, invest and open offices in, and move to in the years ahead.

Now some locals are understandably concerned that Brisbane's reputation could be clouded by unfortunate events such as the death or arrest of passersby or protestors, as the summits at London and Toronto respectively were. But Brisbane is destined to do better, and even should the worst happen, the downbeat stories and images tend to be local and short-lived.

The G20 Can Work Better for All

My final message is the G20 can work better for all. Among the many ways to make this happen, the following five stand out.

First, the Australian hosts should have the visiting G20 leaders stay longer in Brisbane, to work inside the summit on a broader, bigger, bolder agenda of their own, and outside with the local citizens by listening, learning, explaining and educating, just as these leaders do with their own citizens back home. It is a poor use of leaders' scarce time to spend more of it flying to and from Brisbane than working while they are awake here.

Second, the Australian hosts should craft a named initiative as the signature achievement of the summit, so Brisbane's name will be remembered around the world for the particular good that it did, long after the summit itself has left. The G7 summit's named "Toronto terms on debt relief for the poorest" in 1988 and its "Muskoka Initiative on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health" in 2010 could be matched and surpassed by the 'Brisbane Initiative on" whatever you care most about in 2014.
Third, bring to Brisbane the G20's Young Entrepreneurs Alliance to work as equals alongside the B20 and others, to make the summit more of a success for private sector–led growth, innovation and jobs. At a time when big government and big business have limited capacity to directly produce badly needed jobs, they need to work with young entrepreneurs so young people can better build new businesses and jobs of their own.

Fourth, broaden the story from "Brisbane the beautiful" to "Brisbane the best in the world" at — the things you know about but that I and the rest of the world have just begun to learn. My list begins with Brisbane, home of the world's first self-contained, zero emission teaching and research facility, opened at Griffith University this year, based in part of the innovative technology developed there. I am sure you could and should add more. The best people and businesses in the world will naturally want to come to the place in the global village that is best for them, once they too learn.
Fifth, create a physical lasting legacy, to keep bringing the global G20 community back to Brisbane long after the summit itself has left. After a quarter of a century working on global summits, we in the G20 Research Group and our colleagues at Griffith University would look forward to working with you to shape such a legacy and more broadly to make Brisbane the most successful summit of all.

Thank you very much, merci beaucoup.

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