YIMBY, self-fulfilling prophecies, Cairns tourism & Qld GSP growth: Comments & questions on my outlook presentations

I’ve had several interesting comments and questions regarding my economic outlook presentations last week.

YIMBY – Yes in my backyard

In my Brisbane Club presentation last Wednesday Qld: Hot or not? I commented on Brisbane City Council’s temporary planning instrument to restrict apartment and townhouse developments in low-density residential areas (e.g. see this Urban Developer article), saying I thought it was bad policy. Unsurprisingly, given I had an audience filled with property developers and real estate professionals, this was a popular opinion! After my talk, one seminar attendee told me about a group she had set up promoting higher-density development, YIMBY QLD, with YIMBY standing for “Yes in my backyard”. What a fantastic initiative. A good summary of the problems with planning policies discouraging higher-density development is contained in Brad Rogers’s excellent 2013 guest post Old Queenslanders in a New City.

Talking down the economy

After my QMCA presentation, I was asked whether all the negative talk from economists about the economic outlook could actually reduce business and consumer confidence so much that it brings about a downturn. That is, can economists deliver a self-fulfilling prophecy? I replied that I doubt it, given that economic commentary is contestable and that anyone without a sound basis for what they were saying would be shouted down and eventually ignored. Moreover, the economy tends to follow its own path and ignores the prognostications of even the most eminent economists. I noted one of the most infamous economic forecasts of all time, one which clearly had no real impact on the economic outlook, that of esteemed US economist Irving Fisher. In his classic account of the 1929 stock market crash, The Great Crash 1929, John Kenneth Galbraith commented:

That autumn Professor Irving Fisher of Yale made his immortal estimate: ‘Stock prices have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.’ Irving Fisher was the most original of American economists. Happily there are better things—his contributions to index numbers, technical economic theory, and monetary theory—for which he is remembered.

Cairns tourism

Cairns-based financial commentator Mark Beath questioned whether tourism was “hot” in Cairns. Having had a closer look at the data for Cairns I can report that, while tourism in Cairns from domestic sources has experienced strong growth, there is a lot of concern over international visitor numbers. The Cairns Post reported at the end of last month:

Conus Business Consultancy Services partner Peter Faulkner has crunched the numbers and found an 8 per cent year-on-year drop in Chinese visitation to the region.

That compares to an 8 per cent increase Australia-wide.

Overall international visitor numbers were down 3 per cent in the Far North but up 6 per cent nationally.

Fortunately, domestic tourist numbers were up 15 per cent with expenditure rising 20 per cent, bringing the overall increase in tourism spending in the region to $3.4 billion year-on-year.

The Cairns Post’s description of the data isn’t entirely clear. Total spending in the Tropical North Queensland (TNQ)* tourism region was $3.4 billion in the 12 months to 30 September 2018, up around 12% from around $3 billion in the 12 months to 30 September 2017. These calculations are based on TEQ’s handy snapshots of domestic tourism and international tourism. Thanks to Mark for the question and for prompting me to have a closer look at the data.

Queensland’s economic growth rate

Luke Dixon from AMP Capital, who also spoke at the Brisbane Club event, was asked whether Queensland’s economic growth rate was permanently at a lower level than it was in decades past. It certainly appears to be the case from eyeballing the data (see my chart from my QCMA presentation below). From 1987 to 2000, Queensland’s average annual economic growth rate was 4.7%. Since then it’s been 3.6%.


I also replied to the question, referring back to the 3P’s framework that Ken Henry popularised while Treasury Secretary. That approach stresses the supply-side determinants of GDP, that is the factors that are relevant in determining long-run GDP growth (as opposed to demand-side factors which can push an economy away from its trend growth path in the short run). Those 3Ps are participation, productivity, and population. The major contributors to GDP growth over the long-run are productivity and population growth, so I focussed on those two Ps.

We know that the population growth rate in Queensland is now much lower than it was in the 1980s and 1990s when interstate migration was at its strongest (see my chart below based on ABS estimates). Also we suspect the productivity growth rate has fallen since 2000. For instance, in the original 2002 Intergenerational Report and in the 2007 IGR, Treasury assumed long-run productivity growth at 1.75% p.a., but it has since revised that assumption to 1.5% p.a. So with lower population and productivity growth, it’s natural that growth rates of Queensland gross state product (GSP), the state equivalent of GDP, would be lower on average than they were in previous decades.


There were a few more comments and questions I received which I hope to respond to in a future post.

*This region is essentially Far North Queensland and excludes Townsville which has its own tourism region.

This entry was posted in Cairns, North Queensland, Tourism, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to YIMBY, self-fulfilling prophecies, Cairns tourism & Qld GSP growth: Comments & questions on my outlook presentations

  1. cairnseconomy says:

    Thanks Gene. I will look at this further and aggregate some stuff with incoming data however I think a closer watch on the domestic NVS numbers is warranted considering margins of error around the survey data for regions. The most recent growth number has been close to an historic high relative to Cairns Airport growth numbers which have now gone negative for the first time since 2010. The NVS growth number has previously always reverted around the airport.

    I can’t find the particular quote I was looking for but note a comment in the most recent CairnsWatch from now 25 year veteran Rick Carr at HTW that tourism “remains healthy” but on watch in 2019. Airport numbers for the last quarter of 2018 are a particular concern and subsequent to the last NVS period. However as far back as last July local economist Bill Cummings flagged softer tourism growth following the GFC recovery in his annual Cairns Chamber presentation.

    I would also be more circumspect around the NVS numbers for Queensland and PR spin from Kate Jones. Within the good spending numbers quoted Queensland lagged on interstate visitors and holiday visitor numbers. Almost nobody noted that the strongest Queensland growth sectors were intrastate and business.

    Intrastate wont help Cairns much when the weakest major route has been Brisbane. Return of capacity on this route from Qantas and new accommodation capacity will be factors to watch in 2019. Otherwise, tepid not hot.

    • Gene Tunny says:

      Thanks for the comment and the info Mark

    • cairnseconomy says:

      Sorry that was wrong on intrastate business for the most recent NVS. Qld total business visitor nights were up 18.6%. Interstate business visitor nights were up 33.9%. Growth in Qld overnight interstate holiday visitors was below any state ex ACT at 5.5% although did better on nights. If I have my numbers right?

      Annual seats BNE-CNS were down 7.3% based on most recent BITRE route data to November 2018 with passengers down 3.7%.

  2. David Fair says:

    Hi Gene. Very well written post. I enjoyed reading this. Hope all is well on your end.


    David Fair 0425 155 202


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s