Episode 1: 2032 and Beyond – Preparing for the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games

20 April 2023

The Brisbane 2032 Games promises to be a game changer to the way we view global events. As the world's first climate-positive Olympic games, the Brisbane games is set to be the catalyst for some of Australia’s largest infrastructural, cultural, and technological projects.

Ashurst has extensive experience in the delivery of global games, including creating mandates for the Olympics in Sydney, London, and Tokyo, and currently in the delivery of the Melbourne 2026 Commonwealth Games. Throughout the 2032 and Beyond series, experts at Ashurst will showcase the common challenges and themes for the incoming Brisbane 2032 Games.

In this episode, Ashurst Global Lead for the Client Centre of Excellence, Kim Wiegand, speaks to Transport and Infrastructure partner, Andrew McCormack, and Ashurst Risk Advisory business director, Mike Duggan, who specialises in strategy and sustainability, on the key concepts in the planning for the 2032 Games; legacy and climate-positivity.

This not intended to be a comprehensive review of all developments in the law and practice, or to cover all aspects of those referred to. Listeners should take legal advice before applying it to specific issues or transactions.


Kim Wiegand:

At Ashurst, we acknowledge First Nations people as the traditional custodians on the land on which we work in Australia, and we pay respects to their Elders past and present. We extend that respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people listening today.

Hello, and welcome to the first episode of 2032 and Beyond, our new podcast series focusing on the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games. My name is Kim Wiegand, and I'm the Global Lead for our Client Center of Excellence here at Ashurst. In this podcast series, we'll be taking a detailed look at a range of important issues which touch on the preparations for, delivery of, and legacy flowing from the 2032 Games. As a firm, Ashurst is no stranger to the Games landscape and has extensive experience in the delivery of recent major Games projects. This includes mandates for the Sydney Olympics, London 2012 Games, Tokyo Games, and currently in the delivery of the Melbourne 2026 Commonwealth Games.

Throughout this series, we aim to draw on this experience to showcase to you some common themes as we head towards the hotly anticipated Brisbane 2032 Games. Today I'm joined by two expert speakers, Andrew McCormack, a partner in the Ashurst Transport and Infrastructure team, and Mike Duggan, a director in our Ashurst Risk Advisory business, specializing in strategy and sustainability. In this episode, we'll be exploring two of the key concepts we're hearing a lot about as the planning for the 2032 Games builds momentum. These are legacy and a climate positive Games. Mike and Andrew are with me to discuss just what these terms mean in the context of the Brisbane Games. Welcome to you both. Mike, if I can come to you first, perhaps we should start with what would a climate positive Games look like from your perspective?

Michael Duggan:

Yeah, this is the question that's just on everyone's lips, and I'll tell you a story. Back in mid 2020, Ashurst hosted a boardroom lunch and we got a bunch of leaders that run businesses and are delivering projects around Southeast Queensland that really have a potential to have a real impact on the Games, and the biggest question on their lips was really, "What is a climate positive Games? What does it really mean?" Really, climate positive is all about going beyond what's it called achieving net zero emissions, which is basically removing emissions to a minimum and then offsetting to an effective zero base, but it's really about getting well beyond that to the point where you actually create an environmental benefit, and you do that by removing things like additional carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere and creating a safe climate for future generations.

I'll tell you another little story, and this is how I always remember it. Back in Canada, I grew up in Canada, I was a long-trip canoeist and my father and I used to go on long trips, sometimes up to a week, canoeing around the Kipawa in the Quebec part of Canada around Ontario, and he always taught me to leave no trace, to make sure that every time I go to a camp that I absolutely leave no trace. Pick up all the rubbish or anything that's been left behind, leave it in a better shape than it began with. Going beyond that, you're really picking up any other rubbish that you can find and making sure that you get rid of that, and it's kind of the same type thing. It's making sure that we leave the world in a better place so that future generations really have the opportunity to be able to enjoy the society that we've been able to enjoy for so many, many years.

So, net zero is one big milestone on the way up the mountain, but when you get to the top, it's all about removing those additional emissions. Climate positive is really the pinnacle of a combined mitigation and adaption strategy, because really what you're doing is you're being able to manage your community by creating a big gaping hole in the metaphorical boat, which is our carbon emissions rushing into that boat. We're drowning in that. We're absolutely drowning in that. So, the idea behind climate positivity is to be able to really plug the hole in the boat and remove the water at the same time, which is the absolute perfect scenario.

Kim Wiegand:

Can you give me just a practical example there of what are some of the things that organizations should be doing and could be doing to achieve this plugging of the hole and siphoning the water at the same time?

Michael Duggan:

Yeah, Kim, it takes both obviously a policy lever, a technology lever, but also then a big change in the way that we run our societies. I mean, we're talking about operating society in a very different way and operate in business in a very different way that really we're not very used to as kind of a traditional business and financial market. One of the things I wanted to bring up that really helps to give you a few ideas is this concept of a triple bottom line, which was started years ago by a guy named John Elkington. The idea is that we really need to pull the levers around economic growth, we really need to make sure that the social and community development aspects of our society are strong and changing, and we're also keeping a focus on environmental stewardship. And that takes things like advances in energy and water technology, it takes a requirement for businesses to change the way they operate so that they actually account for all of the emissions that are within their supply chains.

Kim Wiegand:

Thank you, Mike. Andrew, if I can come to you now to consider the second concept we touched on, what is your take on the legacy we should be looking to achieve from the Brisbane Games?

Andrew McCormack:

Well, it's a good question, Kim, and I think there's a number of aspects to the legacy of the 2032 Games. I'll probably focus on three key aspects. First would be cultural change. Second, transport infrastructure. Third would be sporting legacy. And all three of those are actually interlinked and interrelated concepts.

Kim Wiegand:

Can we maybe just potentially just take them one at a time, maybe starting with what you mean by cultural legacy to begin?

Andrew McCormack:

Yeah, okay. Cultural legacy or cultural change is really about a need to change behaviors. If I was to sum it up, it's probably about promoting sustainability over consumption. It's also probably about looking to promote the circular economy. That's something that we've heard a lot about, but what is it? Well, it can probably be summed up as a focus on reusing and regenerating the materials and products that we use, but also about embracing sharing resources and refurbishing and reusing existing infrastructure. Overall, it's probably about prioritizing positive environmental outcomes over perhaps more traditional outcomes where the focus was on creating economic growth and making money. It's probably also importance to realize that they're not mutually exclusive goals, it's just the timing is a little different. You can still get economic rewards, but they will actually come later in time and as a consequence of achieving the primary environmental objective.

A thing that I also think is worth pointing out, and it's a truism in life, is that change, any change, particularly this type of change, is not easy. In my view, I think we need to be looking for a carrot to encourage behavior rather than a stick to punish the poor behavior we want to eliminate. What I think we need to do is demonstrate to the community that this change in approach is actually desirable and it will promote some immediate benefits. It's not just about avoiding some far off doomsday scenario. It's actually going to make life better sooner.

And in that sense, these Games can be used as a focal point to create, if you like, a united vision for what the future should look like and therefore that will support that behavioral change. And in this regard, government, and by that I mean all levels of government, state, federal and local, have a unique opportunity to lead this behavioral change, because they have the ability to influence market behavior through their procurement processes and their procurement decision making. And hopefully will set benchmarks that the private sector will be able to then embrace and follow.

In this regard, we've already seen here in Queensland, Minister de Brenni, who's the Minister for Energy, Renewables and Hydrogen, making it clear that a significant part of Brisbane's 2032 emissions are going to be supply chain related, which was something Mike mentioned before, and there's going to be a real focus on encouraging the supply chain to reduce those emissions so that the overall emissions total from the Games is much lower than it would otherwise have been. We've also had the Director General of the Department of State Development making it clear to the market there'll be a heavy weighting towards low-carbon-intensity solutions in the procurement processes that the state will be running to procure goods, services, and the like for the Olympic Games.

A final observation for me on this point is that I think the whole project needs to avoid the temptation to place an over-reliance on carbon offsets in order to balance the environmental books, because while carbon offsets in and of themselves are not a bad thing, if we focus on carbon offsets we'll actually miss the opportunity to embrace and implement long-term lower-emission solutions, which will actually give us a prolonged benefit into the future, not, if you like, a sugar-hit offset which will balance the books in 2032.

Kim Wiegand:

So, whilst not a stick, there's definitely the intention of some measures to put in place selection benefiting those organizations, suppliers, et cetera, who demonstrate all of the climate positive, I suppose, behaviors you're talking about?

Andrew McCormack:

I think if you want to be considered for supplying to these Games, but by that, that's going to be largely through the state government procurement process, you're going to need to show that you've addressed the climate positive issue. You're going to need to show strategies and solutions which offer the lowest possible or potential emissions outcome. We're never going to be able to remove emissions entirely from the supply chain, but it's about reducing them. And the way to drive that behavior is to make that an aspiration you have to fulfill in order to win the job, and hopefully then actually move the market. The will on the subject of carbon offsets, I think we'll see in the years to come a more stringent treatment of carbon offsets and not using them as in some ways an easy out in order to achieve an overall environmental objective.

Kim Wiegand:

Mike, just coming back to you on that, it probably leads quite nicely into your views on if you were the BNE Games Sustainability Committee, if you were on that committee, what would be the top three things to focus on and how would these support the most impact for a climate positive Games?

Michael Duggan:

Yeah, so this committee's right now just being launched. It'll work alongside the existing Legacy Committee, and I think the Sustainability Committee is probably going to have one of the most important initial jobs in doing what I'd call setting up the operating environment that's really going to be conducive to meeting those climate positive goals that are going to be put in place. And it takes a lot more than just policy and technology. You can't solve everything with just those two kind of levers. You really need to be able to focus in on some key things that will help that operating environment to really run smoothly and make it conducive to all of the various different policy and technology levers that we're trying to put in place.

And I want to keep with that theme of three that Andrew just talked about, and I'm going to talk about my three E's, and these three E's are really what's going to help the operating environment to run smoothly. And that's the enablers, the externalities, and experiences. Enablers are those types of things that really amplify or scale up the core climate positive initiatives, and those are things like household income and business prosperity. So if we've got incomes that are higher within households and we've got more discretionary dollars to spend, we've got the ability for households to actually invest in reducing their climate impact, and that's an important lever to pull. If workers are earning higher wages, they've got the ability to help their businesses to actually invest in the technologies that will help the businesses reduce their impact. So, those types of enablers, along with things like partnerships and along with things like movement and transportation of stuff, water and electrons around, are all kinds of things that we'll really be able to ensure that we can create that environment that supports climate positivity.

Two more E's, I've got a couple more to go. Externalities. Externalities are those types of things like safety, jobs in the broader risk environments that are part of the operating environment which climate positivity will be achieved. Safety is things like the environments where people work and recreate, and they still need to be as safe and supportive for the community as they were prior to us actually going down the track of trying to be climate positive. Jobs, we need job security, we have to have fulfilling employment, we need to support families to invest their time and money back into those technologies that I mentioned before will help us to become a more climate positive Southeast Queensland, and those broader risk environments. Such things as disputes and litigations stemming from some things like unfilled objectives that we're aiming for as part of our climate positive plan will be areas that we have to be really careful around to ensure that we, A, meet our goal, but B, de-risk the environment that we're operating in.

My last E is experiences. So, the experiences that we want the community to engage with are transparent and authentic, and transparency's all about saying what you mean and meaning what you say. It's disclosing those things that are most important to stakeholders in a way that they not only engage with but that are true and correct. Storytelling is another big aspect of this. We want to be as authentic as possible on the road to climate positivity. So, the challenges that we experience along the way and the achievements that we experience as a community can be celebrated through amazing stories that we create across Southeast Queensland and Australia and probably the world. And finally, we really want to be able to set up frameworks that allow us to monitor and evaluate the progress that we make towards climate positivity. The experience is going to be rooted in making sure that we really understand that we're achieving what we say we achieve, and there's nothing better than a good strong monitoring and evaluation framework to demonstrate that.

Kim Wiegand:

And can I just touch on that just briefly? That framework, those three E's, are these things that each organization or government department, for example, should be driving independently or is there a framework out there to follow?

Michael Duggan:

I think, Kim, there's a lot of different frameworks that these can draw from, but I think in many cases that this is going to be very bespoke to Southeast Queensland. We have an environment that's like none other, and to be able to demonstrate those three E's of enabling, externalities, and experiences, we're really going to have to create our own framework. This is the first time that climate positive has been created as an objective, a key objective of something like a Games. Brisbane will be the absolute first. The upcoming Games in Paris is focusing on net zero. They're actually not going to be climate positive. And I think for us to be able to actually strive to be climate positive, we're going to have to do things in a very bespoke Queenslander way and create a framework of our own.

Kim Wiegand:

Andrew, you mentioned that transport was a key part of the Games' legacy. Can you tell us a bit more about transport as you see it from a legacy perspective?

Andrew McCormack:

Yes. I think with transport, and in fact with all infrastructure that's being built in relation to the Games, the mantra both from the IOC and from the Brisbane bid and now Implementation Committee is that we're building infrastructure for the future, not just for the Games. The Games is in fact a catalyst to help achieve our transport ambitions, if I can put it in those terms. And what are those ambitions? I suppose putting it at its most basic, it's probably about moving more people out of private vehicles, which is something we're still fairly wedded to in Australia generally and in Queensland in particular, and moving them onto public transport. Doing that simple thing or relatively simple thing should produce a number of environmental benefits. It should reduce pollution, it should reduce congestion, and if we do those two things, that should improve livability in cities like Brisbane and also improve connectivity.

And if you do those two things, the two latter things, improve livability and improve connectivity, that should actually lead to an increase in productivity. So again, you can see there's an economic benefit that will ultimately flow from achieving some fairly desirable positive environmental outcomes. An interesting difference between this Games and previous Games is although it's by shorthand referred to as the Brisbane 2032 and the Brisbane Games, it's not really just about Brisbane. In fact, it's definitely not just about Brisbane, it's really about Southeast Queensland. It's about a much broader area and covers a lot more communities. And one thing that Brisbane and Southeast Queensland will need beyond 2032 is a world-class transport system and a transport system that offers a variety of transport options, both public transport being a mix of buses, trains, and here in Brisbane, a metro system, but combined with non-vehicular transport, so pedestrian access ways, cycle ways, as well as retaining some routes and capacity for private vehicles.

And we've actually seen evidence of a move in that direction already. There's a project that's in planning at the moment to improve the rail link between Gold Coast, which will be an important venue for a number of events at the Games and hosts the next largest city almost in Queensland, and Brisbane, the biggest city. And we're looking to have a rail link and a rail corridor that is both quicker in terms of journey times and offers more capacity, more frequent services. And that infrastructure benefit would enable the region to grow and the people who use that infrastructure to feel and enjoy the benefits well beyond 2032. A bit closer to home in Brisbane, we have a very big bus network and so does many parts of Southeast Queensland, and there's been a lot of talk about the opportunity to transition to clean buses and moving away from the diesel and even the LPG fleets that most bus companies and local authorities are using.

What's happened, though, is that the industry has been looking for some clarification or some leadership from the government to say, "Okay, we understand there's this long-term objective to transition from the existing fleet to a cleaner bus fleet. You clearly want to then invest, but how are you going to invest? How many buses, how many units do you want? What's the demand look like? Where do you want them and over what timeframe?" And we're starting to see I think the state government responding to that. There was some recent press, a recent press release from the state government indicating that they're keen to actually develop a manufacturing industry here in Southeast Queensland for electric bus vehicles, because there'll be a demand for it, but they've also seen the opportunity to grow that as an industry and base it here in Southeast Queensland. And that again shows this whole, if we have an environmental target, it can lead to some real positive economic outcomes.

Kim Wiegand:

The carrot you were talking about as opposed to the stick. What's the actual benefit for the economy and the local community? I like that. Mike, a final question for you. What legacy do you think can be enabled by a climate positive Brisbane Games?

Michael Duggan:

Yeah, this is the exciting question at the end where we really start to drill into what are the hopes and dreams for us as a community? And I think Southeast Queensland has an opportunity right now to almost act like a bit of a living laboratory, where we get to experiment with leading climate technologies, ways of living, ways of doing business that'll have a lasting legacy on the environment and community well beyond the Games. And the one I really want to highlight that I think will enable a climate positive Brisbane Games and a legacy of the future is the net positive social impact. I think we talk a lot about the climate impact that we'll have, but these Games have the ability to really create such an incredible positive social impact for our communities. And to answer some key questions that people across the community are going to have, like, "How will this affect my life? How will we as a community really benefit? How has legacy really created a better future for the generations to come?" These are the questions that the focus on climate positivity, but even more so on positive social impact, should answer well beyond 2032.

Kim Wiegand:

Clearly, the 2032 Games are a sporting event, perhaps the biggest global sporting event, but there's a lot more to it, as you say, the social impact and others. Andrew, just to close out, how do you sport fit into the legacy of the Games once it's all over and done with?

Andrew McCormack:

Well, you're right when you say this is a sporting event, and probably it's certainly one of the two biggest global sporting events that happen, but it's actually a golden opportunity for Southeast Queensland to change things up. And in terms of how sport fits into that, I think there's a real opportunity to leverage both the new and upgraded sporting facilities we're going to be left with once the competition's over, but also to leverage the global profile that these Games are going to give Australia and in particular Brisbane and Southeast Queensland. There's probably three ways that we should look at that.

The first is that there's a real opportunity to establish Southeast Queensland as a center for sporting excellence, both in terms of being perhaps a hub for sporting technology companies who will be interested in the fact that we are delivering this important sporting event and that we've got the ideal climate and facilities for them to make this a hub and a place where they base themselves, and again, we create a new industry that can thrive here. And in a related vein, national sporting organizations here in Australia can think about using Southeast Queensland as the hub for their organizations, for their headquarters and basing themselves here. Again, it's about growing a new economy, new types of business that are going to be able to sustain people's employment and communities after the Games have been finished.

There's also a great opportunity to improve health outcomes for the community. And it might sound a little trite, but one thing that the Olympics do is they generally get people off the couch and thinking about trying to take up some sport and some physical activity. So, you've got the kind of desire to emulate the athletes or feel part of the team, but also the ability to then do something about it, particularly for the younger generation. They'll be able to use these facilities that we're going to have, and most of the facilities are going to be available for community use after the Games has finished, and that's going to be a really important sporting legacy piece.

Perhaps the third one, and it's the most important, but in some ways the hardest to articulate. There's a real opportunity here to use sports, to use the Games to unite the community in striving towards a common goal. And what is that common goal? Well, it's perhaps articulated best as a move towards a more sustainable way of living. And that, if you recall, links back to my first point, which is this is actually in my mind all about behavioral change and how we achieve that.

Kim Wiegand:

I like that. I'm not sure that you'll see me emulating Usain Bolt any time close to 2032, but I buy into absolutely looking at the behavior change and that sustainable way of life. I think that's really important. I suppose to wrap up, what would be quite interesting to hear from your perspective is what does the next few months look like? Obviously, 2032, we're quite a ways away from that actual event, but there's a lot to happen in the meantime. What does even the next few months look like on this journey?

Andrew McCormack:

Well, you're right when you say 2032 seems like a long way away, but it's not. Nine years, it is actually the longest lead-in period any Olympic city or region has had, but we are faced with I'd say a challenge, but also an opportunity that no other Games city has had before in that we have taken on a commitment, and it's a part of the Olympic contract that we are committed to delivering a climate positive Game. And that means we are going to have to do things differently, so we're going to need that time. And at the moment, we're still in the planning phase.

It's actually quite an exciting time, because the next few months should see some more clear direction coming from both the Brisbane Organising Committee and also the state government about how we're going to actually deliver on these objectives. What are the practical things that are going to have to happen? Who's going to be doing them, when are they going to be doing them? And look, that plan is not going to be in such granular detail that everything will be solved. It is likely to be a framework and sort of a roadmap into the future, but then there'll be many projects that need to be delivered in order to bring it all together.

Michael Duggan:

Yeah, I think Andrew, you've taken a great long view and then brought it back to the last couple of months, and I think over the next few months, if you were to just break it down into another couple of threes, there'd be three C's, wouldn't there? There'd be bringing on capacity, so making sure that we've got the capacity to actually deliver on the initial planning phase, so that's hiring people. The Games Committee is going to have to hire in key positions, as we're seeing right now, to ensure that we can actually deliver on the planning phase and have the right skills and capabilities there. Second one is consultation. Part of the next few months is getting out into the community and start talking to stakeholders and understanding what this actually means to them and utilizing that information to feedback into the planning phase and the setting of our interim goals over the next few years.

The last C is really all about communication, and it's getting out there and really starting to talk to people and start building those stories that are so important to making sure that the community comes along on the journey, because that communication phase is all about winning the hearts and minds of those people in the Southeast Queensland community so they become part of the entire journey that we go on. And not just a willing part, but an excited part and a part of this journey that helps us to be as successful as we know we all want to be.

Kim Wiegand:

Thank you, Andrew, and thank you, Mike, for sharing those insights. I really enjoyed understanding more about the Games as we move forward. It'll be interesting to see as the master plan and legacy plans for the Games evolve in the coming months, as you say, how the concepts of legacy and a climate positive Games are really brought to life.

Well, that's all for this first episode of 2032 and Beyond. Thank you for joining us. We hope that you can join us again for our next episode when we will speak with Wayne Gerard, a member of the Brisbane Olympic and Paralympic Games Legacy Committee, to get his views on how Brisbane can take advantage of the legacy opportunity offered by these Games. To hear other Business Agenda episodes, you'll find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcast. While you're there, feel free to subscribe to Ashurst Business Agenda and leave us a rating or review.

Until next time, thank you for listening, and goodbye for now.

This podcast contains general information and does not constitute legal advice. Ashurst is not a sponsor, licensee, or promotional partner of the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games and the Olympic Movement, nor any Olympic body, event, team or athlete. Nothing in this podcast is intended to suggest any such sponsorship, license or promotional affiliation.

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The information provided is not intended to be a comprehensive review of all developments in the law and practice, or to cover all aspects of those referred to. Listeners should take legal advice before applying it to specific issues or transactions.