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Queensland, the Smart State

By Scott Prasser - posted Thursday, 10 July 2008

It is almost 10 years since the “Smart State” idea, a major cornerstone of the then freshly elected Beattie Labor Government, was launched. It has since been one of the distinguishing features of the Labor Government.

Economically, “Smart State” initiatives sought to diversify the Queensland economy to a so-called “knowledge” economy.

Increased spending on research and development, education and special research centres underpinned the policy - along with a lot of spinning by effusive Premiers.


It was hoped that the policy would produce high-tech industries. However, there was also a strong political goal within the strategy. It would not only distinguish Labor governments from its predecessors, but also make Coalition governments appear pedestrian given their focus on opening up the resource sector and preoccupation with traditional Queensland agricultural industries. The wider issue is whether the Smart State strategy has been the best use of resources.

After all, Smart State has cost us at least $500 million, of which most funding has gone to academics, universities and new research centres for apparent high-tech and new and emerging technologies (for example, biotechnology).

There has also been a lot of “relabelling” of programs to fit under the Smart State umbrella (for example, education). One strong argument is we should be focusing on our strengths. For instance, 30 per cent of our manufacturing sector is involved in food processing, which given our agricultural economy, makes sense.

Consequently, more funds should have been directed to leveraging greater benefits from this sector.

You only need to look at how important food is becoming in the world economy. The Smart State strategy is all about government spending.

In Queensland, government spending on research and development has long been on par with the rest of Australia, but private sector spending has not. Commercialisation of research and lack of innovative practices in the private sector are the real problems holding Queensland back.


A more deregulatory framework, improved state taxes, and better allocation of government spending on projects that make a difference are seen as more appropriate policy responses. In other words, let's make Queensland have the right competitive environment for business to come here and to make profits.

So 10 years on and what have we got? For one, a lot of happy vice chancellors and academics at a few of our major universities.

But Smart State's success in diversifying the wider economy has been minimal. Queensland's largest export is still coal, and our second largest industry, tourism, is noted for its low skills and low research base. One of the problems is trying to “measure” Smart State industries. The closest we come to it is the so-called “creative” industries sector.

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First published in Queensland Business Review in July 2008.

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About the Author

Dr Scott Prasser has worked on senior policy and research roles in federal and state governments. His recent publications include:Royal Commissions and Public Inquiries in Australia (2021); The Whitlam Era with David Clune (2022) and the edited New directions in royal commission and public inquiries: Do we need them?. His forthcoming publication is The Art of Opposition reviewing oppositions across Australia and internationally. .

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