With the Queensland Plan forum in the news, and in the wake of the southern states of Australia winding their clocks forward an hour for daylight savings this weekend just gone, that thorny old issue of daylight saving time in Queensland has once again raised its head.  Despite the best intentions of both the ALP and LNP to keep it under wraps and pretend that daylight savings is a non-issue north of the Tweed, the Queensland public has again declared a desire for action on this somewhat stagnant issue.

A brief history lesson now – daylight saving time was introduced permanently in parts of Australia in the early 1970s, after being initially briefly employed previously during the world wars as an energy saving measure.  New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia have all since undertaken the practice of winding their clocks forward one hour in spring, and back one hour in autumn, so as to capitalise on the excess morning light delivered by nature during the summer months.

At this time, Queensland was under the rule of Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s National Party, with a predominantly rural and profoundly conservative voter base.  To them, and Sir Joh’s Nationals, the concept of adjusting clocks twice a year was more than a minor inconvenience, and after a brief flirtation with the practice, was permanently stopped.  The sharper-minded observers will recall the mutterings from the then-Queensland Premier about how daylight saving time would fade the curtains and make the cows produce sour milk.  Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke famously told the world that Queensland’s resistance to the concept was because “Joh wasn’t getting out of bed an hour earlier for anyone”.

Of course, all (word deliberately omitted) things must eventually come to an end, and with the revelations of corruption and the onset of the Fitzgerald Inquiry, Joh’s Nationals were turfed out of office in 1989 for the Wayne Goss’ Labor Party.  Goss sought to immediately introduce a trial of daylight saving time in Queensland, which ended up running for three full summers, before a referendum was held in 1992 to decide whether Queenslanders were prepared to embrace daylight saving time.

The result was clear, and even the most sceptical of statisticians and psephologists admitted its conclusions.  The ‘no’ campaign won the day with over 54% of the statewide vote, with opposition to daylight saving time reaching levels of over 90% in some areas in far north and west Queensland. Interestingly, South East Queenslanders embraced the concept, unlike their regional cousins, with almost all voting districts in the South East registering overall support for the extra hour of daylight in the summer evenings.  However, their support was overall insufficient, and in March 1992 Queensland ended its last ever period of daylight saving time since.

Since 1992, a few half-hearted proposals for the reintroduction of daylight savings in Queensland have been thrown around.  A political party dedicated to the concept was registered in the late 2000s, and in 2010, a private members’ bill was introduced into Queensland Parliament to establish a separate time zone for South East Queensland that ran on daylight saving time in the summer months.  However, without the support of either major party, it was quickly defeated, and the status quo remained.  It is of note that since Goss, no Queensland Premier has advocated the introduction of daylight saving time while in office (though both Anna Bligh and Campbell Newman are on the record as privately being supporters of the concept).

So, how do you tackle a thorny issue such as this?  There’s no doubt that the state is deeply divided on it, with the far north and west bitterly opposed, and the South East generally supportive.  The status quo has seen the South Easterners surrender to the north on the issue, with year-round standard time being the norm.  However, this must be questioned when two-thirds of the state’s population resides in this area.  One is forced to question the wisdom of allowing a clear minority of the state’s population to dictate terms regarding time zones, despite the state capital and its largest tourist areas all being located within areas that would clearly benefit from daylight saving time.

The rationale behind daylight saving time in the South East is clear: in summer, sunrise occurs at approximately 4:45am EST in Brisbane, yet sunset is before 7pm.  Winding forward one hour would bring sunrise to the much more respectable time of 5:45am, and would push sunset back an hour to closer to 8pm.  While the sun would still set earlier in Brisbane than in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide or Hobart, daylight saving time would give people in the South East an additional hour of light at the end of the day.

Then of course is the time difference factor – for six months of the year, Brisbane is one hour behind the eastern states, and even half an hour behind Adelaide, despite being significantly further east.  This time difference plays havoc for business relations between Queensland and the southern states, and proves especially confusing at the NSW border.  The state border is far from clearly defined in most areas, meaning people can cross it and change time zones without knowing.  Quite literally, there are parts of Coolangatta, the southernmost town of the Gold Coast, where you can cross the road (in a dense urban area mind you) and have changed states and time zones without even realising.  This proves confusing for locals and especially tourists, noting that the Gold Coast is one of this state and our nation’s most popular tourist spots.

To reflect my objectivity, I note that the arguments against daylight saving time in the north of the state are strong too.  Cairns, for instance, is 800km further west than Brisbane, and some 1500km further north.  This means that the sun naturally rises and sets later anyway, and in summer the days do not grow longer to the extent that they do further south.  Objectively speaking, it is perfectly reasonable for people in Cairns to wish to remain on standard time for 12 months of the year.  Mount Isa also fits into this category, being even further west than Cairns, as do many other towns and cities to the north and west of Brisbane.

So, what does one do?  The politically easy option is to retain the status quo – it’s at least uncontroversial.  No politician wants to piss of the regions, nor be seen as the person splitting the state.  This is why you see people like Campbell Newman, who campaigned strongly for the introduction of daylight saving time as Lord Mayor of Brisbane, resisting any action on this front.  But that doesn’t solve the issue – it merely means the South East continues to miss out due to the minority in the north, and gives the southern states even further evidence of Queensland being a backward state that, as a resident of Brisbane, I can assure you that it otherwise does not justly deserve.

The only pragmatic solution, and the only one that gives people what they all want, is for Queensland to operate two time zones in the summer months.  Draw a line no further south than Gympie, and no further east than the Dividing Range, with everywhere south-east of that line observing daylight saving time in summer, and the rest of the state remaining on standard time.  Sure, it will have its logistical challenges at first, as any change in time zones will, but it’s the best solution to this dilemma.  We wouldn’t be the first place in the world to split a state into more than one time zone – Florida observes both Eastern and Central time in the USA (due, like Queensland, to its expansive geography), and closer to home, Broken Hill runs at a constant half-hour behind NSW time, despite being in that state.

Why don’t we trial that for a few years – please everybody for a while, and see if anyone wants to change back at the end.  Of course, if the South East embraces the change (as I anticipate they will), let them keep that time zone.  And if Gympie, or the Fraser Coast, or Toowoomba, or Bundaberg want to join in, let them wind forward too.

In my view, a dual time zone arrangement is the only realistic solution to Queensland’s split on support for daylight saving time.  I believe it can be made to work, and in my view, its implementation will be beneficial for both those involved and those who lie outside these areas.  So, Premier Newman, what are you waiting for?