The Sydney Morning Herald Environment September 24 2016
Lord Mayor Graham Quirk backs koala-led economic recovery – Cameron Atfield
As Brisbane suffers from a downturn in the resources sector and a slowing construction industry, Lord Mayor Graham Quirk hopes the city can embrace a koala-led economic recovery.
And he has cited the Chinese city of Chengdu, the home of the panda, as an inspiration for the cute-and-cuddly economic approach.
“Brisbane is the only place where you can hold a koala, and that’s a redeeming feature we have,” Cr Quirk told Fairfax Media.
“In terms of tourism, it is an advantage and an opportunity we ought not miss.
“Chengdu has certainly done that in China.
“They’ve not only established the panda research centre in Chengdu – and there’s a breeding program that goes along with that – but it’s also a significant place in terms of tourism.
“Out of that has come its recognition as a city and much more economic development has come to that city as a result.”
Chengdu, the capital of the south-west province of Sichuan, is home to 80 per cent of the world’s panda population.
The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is one of China’s major tourist destinations and Cr Quirk said Brisbane could well follow that lead.
The Lord Mayor said a new $2 million koala research centre, confirmed in the council’s 2016-17 budget, was central to those plans.
Increased bushland acquisitions – 10 years’ worth in the current four-year council term – would also play a role.
“We’re also looking at creating specific eucalypt plantations as well, making sure the right type of eucalypt tree for koalas are in abundance in our city,” Cr Quirk said.
Cr Quirk said the research centre would help ensure the “treasured icon” would not be lost to south-east Queensland.
“To say that Brisbane is the koala capital of Australia is not an overstatement and ecotourism is going to become increasingly important in our city,” he said.
“It’s not a case of taking advantage of the koala, it’s just simply saying we have this wonderful, treasured iconic little animal and we ought not lose that opportunity.”
The potential of the cuddly animal to break down cross-cultural barriers was brought home during the Brisbane 2014 G20 meeting, Cr Quirk said.
International leaders such as then-Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, US President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Indian President Narendra Modi all posed for photographs with koalas at a G20 reception held at the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art.
Even Russian President Vladimir Putin managed to crack a smile when holding one of the marsupials, brought in from Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary.
Cr Quirk also got in on the action, with two television crosses to India live from the Queen Street Mall.
“I did a live cross on two occasions, both from the Queen Street Mall,” he said.
“There was a presenter from India, there was a koala in the middle and then I was being interviewed on the other side,” he said.
“That was to 30 million people in one case and 40 million in the other and, call it a coincidence if you like, but we had 48 per cent growth in Indian tourism over the next year as a result of the G20.
“That was higher than any other place internationally, in terms of percentages – it wasn’t numerically, but in terms of percentages it was – so I don’t think we should underestimate the impact it can have.”
Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind said he had argued for some time that North Stradbroke Island should adopt a “koala island” tagline to boost its tourism industry.
So he said he would welcome any push by Brisbane to leverage the koala to attract more tourism dollars.
“The pulling power of something like a koala cannot be overestimated. It’s a very powerful, iconic attraction and, to put it another way, koalas are probably the hardest working tourism staff we have,” Mr Gschwind said.
“They have done so much for Australian tourism, it’s immeasurable.
“We should really build on our strength in that regard and make the most of it, which means we have to look after them, of course, and make sure they hang around and they continue to do this hard work for us.
“It’s much easier to promote and build on what you have, rather than make something up and pretending to be something else.
“It’s a truly unique thing we can offer.”
Mr Gschwind said China’s panda example would be a good one to follow.
“We are all equally enamoured with the pandas and associated with China as a whole,” he said.
“It’s typical of China and one of the reasons people want to go to China, to possibly see a panda.”