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A lesson for Brisbane from Mr Lee

By Patrick Dixon - posted Tuesday, 31 March 2015

What kind of man can take an entire nation from third - world to first - world status in a single generation? Imagine what Brisbane could be like if we had leaders with only a fraction of Lee Kuan Yew's vision and drive!

Mr Lee's passing this week prompted us to look into his many achievements.

Did you know he cleaned up Singapore's rivers in just 10 years? 10 years! And, w hen he started, they were like open sewers, stinking, filthy and lifeless. By comparison, the Brisbane River might be considered a paragon of purity. Except it isn't.


So what's our excuse?

We need a goal, and someone to drive it Lee Kwan Yew, founding father of modern Singapore, is revered for many things, not least his transformation of a backward colonial outpost into an Asian 'tiger' economy.

Sure, he was criticised for restricting civil liberties. He said his autocratic approach was necessary for political stability and economic progress. Whatever your view of that, you cannot help but be amazed by what he did on so many fronts.

As long-time advocates for better care and management of our Brisbane River, we were drawn in particular to his environmental and water quality record.

Lee 's 1970s masterplan to transform Singapore into a modern city state recognised the urgent need to clean-up the rivers.

"It should be a way of life to keep the water clean, to keep every stream, every culvert, every rivulet, free from unnecessary pollution. In ten years, let us have fishi ng in the Singapore River and fishing in the Kallang River. It can be done," Prime Minister Lee said in 1977.


Sure enough, it was. The thing is, besides its strategic role, Mr Lee recognised that water would beautify Singapore's landscape and improve Singaporeans' quality of life.

It has been a long time since any of our leaders has pursued that sort of vision and goal.

Some time back, we had Sallyanne Atkinson who, as Lord Mayor, proclaimed 1987 to be the 'Year of the River' and originated the concept of Brisbane as a 'river city' . Then her successor, Jim Soorley, con tinued the focus on the river.

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About the Author

Patrick Dixon is a passionate Brisbanite and the principal of Dixon Family Real Estate Agents.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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