Former Queensland Premier Peter Beattie.
Former Queensland Premier Peter Beattie. Inga Williams

What would Peter Beattie give Queensland if he was Santa?

WHAT would former premier Peter Beattie give Queensland for Christmas if he was Santa?

A passion for innovation and public and private partnerships.

He was asked to offer a one-word answer when asked at an American Chamber of Commerce in Australia business luncheon what present he would give the state to increase jobs and prosperity in 2016.

But the man behind the iconic Smart State could not hold back.

Mr Beattie's fellow panellists, Suncorp Bank chief John Nesbitt and Cardno chief Richard Wankmuller, had similar problems.

Mr Nesbitt said Queenslanders needed more optimism, but Mr Wankmuller felt improved infrastructure was more important.

The men all reflected on the problems the mining downturn sparked.

Mr Nesbitt said Queensland was moving on from its mining and construction-based economy to turn back into a services-based economy.

"We're seeing it a little bit difficult in some of the regional areas, when you get up to Gladstone, Mackay, Emerald and all of those areas in amongst (them)," he said.

"They've all suffered with the mining and construction boom slowing down."

But Mr Nesbitt said the economy was picking up as exchange rates were coming down.

"There's a skip in the step of south-east Queensland," he said.

"You can see it in the Sunshine Coast.

"We're seeing some customers seeing their forward order book pick up by 25% on last year."


Mr Beattie believes people are more optimistic because new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is promoting innovation.

The former premier said Australia was excellent at innovation, but not commercialisation.

"If Turnbull manages to deliver this national strategy, you'll see agribusiness do really well," Mr Beattie said.

He said the nation was already in a great position to feed Asia.



Crazy stories are already coming out of the agriculture sector, Mr Nesbitt said.

But the stories are the good kind of crazy.

"We've already seen the price of beef go from 55 cents a kilo in just a couple of years to up around $3," Mr Nesbitt said.

"To see that rain come across Queensland, that again gives it a boost."

He said there were many very talented businessmen among Queensland's farmers and graziers.

But Mr Nesbitt said there were also "some ordinary ones", and they required education.



Mr Beattie said more people should be encouraged to plunge ahead with their business ideas.

The former ambassador for trade with the US said America's approach to entrepreneurship needed to be emulated in Queensland.

Mr Beattie said many of the nation's billionaires had two or three attempts before they succeeded in the business world.

He said when they failed, they were not viewed as failures, unlike in Australia.

Business leaders should be put in the same category as sportspeople and honoured, Mr Beattie said.

He said Queensland's biggest weakness was a lack of investment capital.

Stability is the key to attracting investors, Mr Beattie said.



Mr Beattie believes the government's biggest problem is health costs.

"Health costs are going through the roof," Mr Beattie said.

"They are growing much faster than the GST.

"The states cannot fund health as it currently is, nor the growth in education."

He said the health costs were exponentially higher than inflation increases.



Putting a smile on tourists' dials is something sadly missing in Australia's tourism industry, to Mr Nesbitt's mind.

He said the service tourists received was very basic and ordinary compared to other countries and needed to be overhauled.

Mr Nesbitt referred to Virgin Australia\ chief John Borghetti's simple strategy - say hi, smile and try to remember people's names.

"It's not complicated," Mr Nesbitt said.

"You go to New Zealand, they've got it right. The resorts make you feel special.

"Why can't we in Queensland make people feel special?"



Mr Beattie's high praise for Malcolm Turnbull did not flow on to former prime minister, Tony Abbott.

"I'm out of politics - I can be really frank and ugly," Mr Beattie said.

"I think Tony Abbott was like a wet blanket on the country.

"I think Malcolm Turnbull has been like a breath of fresh air."


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