Podcast transcript: How hosting the Olympics is helping a fast-growing city meet its needs

22 min approx | 6 Dec 2022

Meghan Mills

Hello and welcome to The City Citizen. This is a podcast series from EY, examining how cities can transform to be more resilient and sustainable places to live and work. 

I’m your host, Meghan Mills, EY Global Strategy and Operations Leader – Government and Public Sector. 

Each episode, we’re joined by expert guests, for their specialist insight into our theme. 

Joining us from Australia is Adrian Schrinner, Lord Mayor of Brisbane. Hello Adrian and welcome.

Adrian Schrinner

Hi, thanks for having me on.


John Kimlin is also joining. He is the EY Oceania Business Development Leader – Government and Health. Hello John.   

John Kimlin

G’day Meghan, it’s a privilege to be here too.


Adrian, you were born and raised in Brisbane, the capital of the state of Queensland, so I imagine you know it like the back of your hand. What’s your favorite thing about the city?   


Well, it's got to be the lifestyle. It’s all about lifestyle. I mean we've got a great diverse economy, but the really amazing thing about this city is its lifestyle. And particularly the fact that we are surrounded by an incredible natural environment here.

We have such rich green space. And we recently were awarded as the greenest city in Australia, and that’s all about the vegetation and tree cover across our city.

And we are a city that literally has koalas living in the suburbs of Brisbane, and that’s a pretty special thing.    


That’s amazing. So as part of this podcast, I’m now saying that I'm going have to go on a world tour to visit all these amazing cities, and Brisbane will be right of the top of the list. I've never actually been to Australia. Sounds like a great place.

And John, as a Brisbanite, what makes this city a great place to live and work for you?


For me it's two things. It’s Brisbane’s liveability and its attitude. Going back to liveability, the Lord Mayor doesn’t know, but I cycle, I can cycle in every day to work. And I cycle from out where the koalas are and right into Brisbane CBD every day, because I can. Because of the climate and the terrific infrastructure we have for cyclists.

Then the other thing is, it's the attitude — Brisbane’s attitude — and I think this is something that is very unique to Brisbane. I think that there’s not a day goes past when you’re not at a set of lights and there is a tourist looking at a map, wanting directions. And how many Brisbanites, Adrian, stop and give those tourists directions?


Yeah, it's definitely a thing in Brisbane. You know, people are delighted to show off the city that they live in, and it’s known as a really friendly city as well.


So, Adrian, what does your day to day typically consist of in your role as Lord Mayor? 


Well, that’s an interesting question, because I have to say, there is no typical day. Brisbane, as a local government, is quite unique in Australia. It’s the largest local government by a factor of more than double compared to the next largest local government. And so it is known as a super council, and we have responsibilities that a number of other councils don’t have in Australia.

So, for example, we are involved in running public transport services, particularly bus services, and also our City Cat ferries on the Brisbane River. And we have some of those expanded roles that maybe other local governments in Australia don’t have.

And so one day we can be dealing with neighborhood-level issues and the next minute we’re talking about, you know, major transport issues and planning for the future of the city.


Brisbane is no stranger to hosting big events, including World Expo 88 and the 2014 G20 summit. But now preparations are underway for the 2032 Summer Olympics and Paralympics. How did you realize the vision of hosting the Games?


It was the Lord Mayor of Brisbane plus the surrounding council areas in the South East Queensland region that came together as a group, and the starting point, the foundation, of that discussion was the challenge of growth in our region. We are the fastest-growing region in Australia. Brisbane is the fastest-growing capital city. It's a little bit like the Phoenix of Australia.

And so, as we discussed how we can deal with those challenges, the opportunity of what the Olympics could do for our infrastructure came to the fore. So that was really what started the discussions. And the mayors did some feasibility work. They funded some research and some studies into the opportunities. And it was all about how we could bring forward investment in infrastructure, in facilities, to deal with the needs of a growing city, but also to have a finite line in the sand, a date that all this needed to be done by.

And the Olympics does exactly that. It gives you a line in the sand where everyone comes together and works towards that end goal. And so that’s where it started. And then we got the other two levels of government on board, and it’s been a fantastic collaboration now between all three levels of government, the community, business — but it all started with the challenges of a growing city and how we can focus investment and collaborate together on the future.


Fantastic. The other thing that I find so inspiring when I speak with the city leaders around the world is how they take a challenge, and then these new ways of collaborating, new ideas come forward with citizen engagement, business, government, all working together to come up with solutions to really help drive growth, improve quality of life and think about things from a long-term perspective. So it’s incredibly inspiring when cities have challenges and then you see people coming together with solutions. 


The thing about Australia, which is a little bit similar to the United States, is that we have three levels of government. And so there’s the local, the state and the sort of federal level. That has its benefits and positives, but it also can slow down the delivery of infrastructure and it can make decision-making more difficult. 

And the wonderful thing about the Games opportunity is that it brings everyone together, all three levels cooperating. And that, that's the Holy Grail. 


And when you think about the Olympics, they also bring the whole world together, right, which is quite remarkable, and for Brisbane to be the backdrop of that is wonderful as well. 


Oh, for sure. Look, I think you know, it is such a wonderful opportunity for the city and the nation, particularly when you're compared to other Olympic cities

I mean. we've just had Tokyo. Next, we're having Paris and then Los Angeles. And these are all well-known global cities. Brisbane, as a lesser-known city, has more to gain from the Olympics, I think, than most other cities would. Paris already has that global brand and recognition. Same with Los Angeles. 

Brisbane is a little bit more like, maybe, Barcelona where Barcelona was less well known before they hosted the Games, and now everyone knows that name. They are one of the most visited cities in Europe. And so that is the potential opportunity for Brisbane. 


Incredible. And building off of that sentiment: Brisbane has a population of around two and a half million people, and the Olympics is expected to generate US$8 billion of economic and social benefits, including an estimated 90,000 jobs, plus the creation of new venues, the infrastructure that you have spoken about. How are you planning to build a sustainable and inclusive legacy from the Games? 


You mention sustainability, you mention inclusiveness and they're definitely two areas that we are really focused on. We are really clear that we are determined to make sure that the Brisbane 2032 Games are climate-positive Games. And you know, that will bring all levels of government on a journey together on how we achieve that practical outcome by 2032, if not before. You know, that will generate significant positive change. Significant climate adaptation and real action on climate change.

And so that is an opportunity itself for showcasing our amazing natural environment here, another great opportunity, and protecting and enhancing that environment. But also, the inclusiveness of the Games is incredibly important. And that's where the Paralympic Games comes in as well. 

The Paralympics is just as important an opportunity for our city as the Olympics are, because it's an opportunity to showcase a city that we want to be inclusive and accessible. That is a big part of our vision as well. We have a very multicultural society in Australia and particularly in Brisbane. And in fact, almost one in three people in Brisbane were born overseas. That's an incredible amount of people that were born elsewhere, but have come here. 

And we have this rich multicultural community. So we want to make sure it's inclusive for all different types of culture, but also for people with a disability. And you know, for people of diverse backgrounds. And that's another pivotal opportunity for our city. 


So that's incredible. And you know, sustainability and inclusiveness are two big words that we use often in business and in government. And it's also quite inspiring to hear how you will really be a leader with these Olympics, and thinking about those two ideas, focused on being climate-positive, adaptation, and then the multicultural element, as well as the Paralympics. So quite a remarkable opportunity to really set a new tone around events on the world stage as well.

Post-Games, some Olympic villages become university housing or private homes or shopping malls. In London, a decade after the Olympics, 95% of locals believe that Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is an asset. What do you envisage for Brisbane after the Games? 


I can understand why 95% of London locals thought it was a good legacy that was delivered. I have been to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park myself and seen that amazing legacy, so I was inspired by that. And I think that's the ultimate test. Like we have good strong support for the Games in advance. Like right now, there's a lot of excitement about it. There's some strong community support. 

But the critical test is, 10, 20 years after the Games, whether people look back and think, was that a good investment and did we positively change the city and the region and the state? And so, if we get results like London has, that would be fantastic. That is, that's the ultimate endorsement of the sort of investment decision that we've made. But we're really having a long hard think now about legacy and what are the legacies that we'd like to leave. 

But legacy is not something that only comes after the Games. We're looking at how we can start delivering on legacy outcomes before. So we have 10 years between now and the Games and then we're thinking about the 10 years after the Games, so a 20-year window or a 20-year horizon that we have to look at legacy. And legacy doesn't just have to start in 2032. So we're really focused on that at the moment. Then there's some great discussions being had. 

One particular important legacy, I think, in addition to the ones that I mentioned with sustainability and inclusiveness, is the journey of reconciliation that Australia is on with our First Nations people. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. And there's a great opportunity for the Games to advance that as a process of reconciliation. To celebrate, acknowledge and showcase First Nations culture. And also to deliver real positive outcomes for First Nations people.

And so what employment opportunities and business opportunities are available for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people? How can we incorporate them into all of the planning? And really advance that cause of reconciliation in our nation? And once again, there's a real turning point — I think that it will happen, and it's started to happen already, but over the next 10 years, there'll be real progress made. And that's one of the things I'm excited about as well.


I mean, it's just so exciting to think about that, the legacy-building, and as you said, gaining momentum now. Bringing people together around the vision that you have for the Games and for the future. It's inspiring again to hear that leadership that the city has. John, what impacts do you think the Games will have long term on the city's infrastructure?


I think “profound” is the word that immediately comes to mind. I can recall — I'm reluctant to recall — when I first moved to Brisbane back in 1980 (I'm starting to show my age here), the amount of construction and infrastructure that was going on around the 1982 Brisbane Commonwealth Games. And I look back now at the legacy of that, and that stadium still is in place at Nathan — it's a suburb about 10 kilometres out of the city.

So I see the impact the Commonwealth Games made, and I see the infrastructure, the road infrastructure that went in around that. I know that the infrastructure that will be delivered as part of the 2032 Olympics will even be more profound. And I'd like to go back to Brisbane if I could, 40 years after 2032 and have a look at the effect of that infrastructure then as I look 40 years back on the Com Games. And see the precincts’ way of looking to construct as part of the Olympic precincts. And see whether they attracted that type of demographic 40 years later.


Adrian, how are you currently collaborating with the private sector to deliver your Olympic transformation plans? 


Well, if you go back to the reason that we got together as a group of mayors to pitch for the Olympics in the first place, it was that growth that the city was experiencing. And linked to that growth is the need for infrastructure investment. And it's not just roads and transport upgrades. It's not just the hard infrastructure. It's also the community of infrastructure, sporting infrastructure, parks and green spaces, and those sorts of facilities as well.

So those soft infrastructure assets are just as important. And so that'll be critical going forward for the next years in the lead-up to 2032. But we will need private sector investment. There is no doubt that it's going to be a partnership. There are many things that can be achieved by collaboration with the private sector, and we're certainly open to that. 

Brisbane has already some great examples of major private sector investment in city shaping infrastructure. And whether it's the current Queen’s Wharf precinct, which is an integrated resort development in the heart of the city, or our network of tunnels that exist in the city at the moment. So road tunnels which have had private investment in them and are operated by the company Transurban. 

There are great opportunities to collaborate on the delivery of infrastructure and facilities. And so we've got already some great examples in the city, and we can build on that in the lead-up to 2032. 


That's great that you not only have great examples of where it's already worked, but now you're building this, this legacy, and have this vision to get even more of the private sector involved making investments and collaborating on that. 

And we talk a lot about the power of three. You know, government needs the private sector, the private sector needs government, and then of course you have startups and the citizen and resident view as well.

So another word or another concept that we talk a lot about is technology or innovation. John, how could innovation support Brisbane's plans for a sustainable and inclusive legacy from the Games? 


Another good question, Meghan, and you mentioned startups. I should actually put a plug in here for the Lord Mayor and Brisbane City Council, because they've been a very strong supporter of startups and the startup community in the city hub, by creating precincts where startups can go and innovate. And through some of those innovations, there is a lot of technology that I think will start to come to play in the 2032 Olympic Games.

So, for instance, we're going to have millions of visitors that are unused to Brisbane, wanting to get around Brisbane. And they're going to want to, people like yourself, Meghan, are going to want to experience Brisbane. You might want to cuddle a koala. So I think the technology can play a part in giving people options to get around Brisbane. 

Meghan, if you’d like to go and hire a taxi, this is your best way to go and cuddle a koala. However, if you took this option of taking public transport, we might give you an incentive to stop off at Indooroopilly shopping town, have a cup of coffee on us and then wait for another transport vehicle to get you to the koalas. 

So I think technology will play a key part in moving the millions around the city and give them options to travel and to look at on-demand travel when things are peaking, getting all modes of transport to the venues to soak up citizen demand. 


Can I just add to that, and I agree 100%, technology is going to be critical in the way that we evolve and adapt to the future. I guess our scale as a council has allowed us to do some things that maybe some other local governments might have been a little bit risk-averse to do. And one example, it's a relatively minor thing but it has quite significantly transformed the way that people move around our city, is the adoption of e-mobility in Brisbane. We're actually the first city in Australia to say yes to e-scooters and e-bikes and the public hire schemes that are out there. 

A lot of other councils push back on that new technology. And so we thought, here's an opportunity for us to be ahead. And adding to that, we've recently signed a memorandum of understanding with a company called Wisk, who are building autonomous air taxis. So these are effectively big drones that can carry passengers around from A to B without a pilot, so they're pilotless. And we'd like to explore that opportunity in Brisbane in the lead-up to the 2032 Games. 

So we look forward to working with Wisk and other companies that come up with innovative and disruptive technology that can assist us in solving some of our challenges, whether they be transport challenges or environmental challenges. 


So first I was going to go there and ride a bike to go see the koalas, and now I need to try out an autonomous air taxi, for sure. Incredible. 

Okay, so one last question, Adrian, Games aside, what do you want Brisbane to be known for? What makes you most proud of the city? 


Well, the first answer is that I want Brisbane to be known, because, at the moment, the reality is a large part of the world does not know Brisbane. That is about to change. So being known is the first step. And that's a critical one, because having a city that is known is a game changer. You know, that lifts the entire opportunity and future of a city. 

I guess then the next part of that answer is, what are we known for? Now the critical thing is, you know, this is something that generates fierce debate in our community, but for me it's really simple. It is the lifestyle and the friendliness of the people. I want it to be known as a place that people want to come, not just to visit, but to live and to set up a business. And I think capturing the essence of Brisbane — but then, you know, I guess putting that on display to the whole world is what I'd love to see. 

But I think the critical ingredient is that wonderful mix of people and place and that natural environment that is a magic combination.


Good luck, although I'm sure you won't need that with your ambitious plans. And I really look forward to the 2032 Olympics and watching as this unfolds in Brisbane. 

It's been really great having you on the podcast, Adrian, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much for joining us.


It's been a wonderful pleasure and thank you for your best wishes. We will put every bit of planning into this, but we also do need a little bit of luck as well. I think everyone needs some luck. 


And John, thanks to you too. 


You're more than welcome, Meghan. 


Do join us again to meet more special guests discussing the future of cities. Also, you can subscribe to this series, so you won't miss an episode.  

From me, Meghan Mills, Adrian Schrinner and John Kimlin, thanks for listening, and goodbye.