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2007 QLD Govt
research: review

Why is Brisbane
afraid of the dark?

When a faded curtain is not a joke

Hold back the night

Light without progress


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[Note to readers: This essay was written in 2002 and draws much of its poll data from the 1992 daylight saving referendum. You can find a critique of more recent research data at the
Light of Day essay: A review of the Qld government DST research report 2007. According to the 2007 research, support for a separate daylight saving time zone for SE Qld is still in the minority - 41% from SE Qld and 33% statewide. Another statewide poll undertaken for the Sunday Mail in the same month (June 2007) showed even less support - SEQ 33%; statewide 28%. Author, Light of Day, November 2008]

Dual time zone or 'Double Standard' Time?

Since its defeat in the 1992 referendum, Queensland's daylight saving lobby has set its sights on the seemingly more attainable target of a separate summer time zone for Brisbane and the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, with the rest of the state remaining on standard time.

In a nation that already labours across five time zones in summer, the confusion of adding a 'Southeast Queensland Time' would effectively create a psuedo-'sixth'. If successful, other disgruntled pro- and anti-daylight saving minorities, such as Perth in Western Australia and rural New South Wales, may follow suit - thus creating a potential 'seventh' and 'eighth'.

Still you can't keep a powerful lobby group down. Overwhelmingly driven by the Brisbane-Gold Coast business sector, the dual time zone movement sees itself as a vital player in a national economy with a demand for total time zone uniformity between the eastern capitals. Armed with the much-quoted 'majority support' for daylight saving in southeast Queensland, the idea of a dual summer time system for the state is vigorously promoted as the only solution to the problem that 'won't go away'.

Certainly, dual time systems are not new. Queensland's Whitsunday tourist resorts use daylight saving in line with southern states, while in New South Wales, Broken Hill operates on South Australian (Central) time. These minor sub-time zones have worked, or appear to work, due to their isolated geographic and economic environments. The Whitsunday tourist resorts are one-industry, island economies and Broken Hill is largely a one-company town situated in one of the world's most sparsely populated areas.

However, there is no known example, either in Australia or overseas, of a capital city putting itself on a separate time zone from the rest of its state - and with good reason. A capital city shares a complex, interdependent and central role in its state's affairs. Queensland's dual time zone movement seeks to minimise this relationship by the use of softeners, such as 'limited' or 'restricted' daylight saving. It is assumed that if a tiny percentage of the state's landmass comes under a separate time zone, this might prove directly proportionate to its social impact.

Such a hope pales in the cold light of day. With the capital city on a separate time zone, all intrastate transactions - including government administration, commercial trading, airline and transport schedules, tourist activity, TV and radio programming, sports matches and interpersonal contacts - between the Brisbane area and most of the state would have to be conducted across two time zones for part of each year.

We seem to be talking Double-Standard Time here. While Brisbane 'cannot afford' to be out of sync with southern capitals, dual time zone rhetoric assumes that it can easily absorb the social and financial cost of being out of sync with its own state.

This attitude is not only myopic, it's also redundant. Unlike the late sixties, when daylight saving first came to Australia, we live now in an era of flexible work practices, extended trading hours, 24-hour banking and worldwide telecommunication - all of which render messy clock-jiggering unnecessary. Yet the insulated, air-conditioned boardrooms of Brisbane-Gold Coast CBDs refuse to entertain more flexible alternatives to total time zone uniformity with the eastern capitals.

This is despite a largely unacknowledged preference among the general public to save daylight by adjusting business hours rather than time zones. In fact, adjustments to business hours were overwhelmingly the most favoured alternative option in public submissions to the Queensland Daylight Saving Trial Task Force during 1989-90. This option outweighed calls for a dual time zone almost three times over, but was completely ignored in the Task Force's final recommendations.

The dual time zone movement also fails to acknowledge that surveys taken since the 1992 referendum have failed to reveal an increase in daylight saving support anywhere in the state. A statewide survey in 1995 showed a slight swing against daylight saving and a 1999 Gold Coast survey could only raise a 'two-thirds support' figure among the local population (no change from its 67 per cent 'Yes' vote in 1992). In January 2005, a statewide Sunday Mail survey showed 47 per cent support; again, almost identical to the referendum result.

Even in the state's greater south-east, which contains approximately 62 per cent of the population, the daylight saving support base is lukewarm at best and dwindles significantly as soon as you leave the NSW border. The 67 per cent majority support on the Gold Coast drops dramatically to just under 60 per cent in Brisbane and just over 50 per cent in Ipswich and the Sunshine Coast. Taking in the rest of the greater southeast, from Warwick to Bundaberg, overall average support drops to below the halfway mark.

These figures tend to refute the '60 per cent' southeast Queensland support base often quoted by the dual time zone lobby. In reality, this support base fluctuates between 40 and 60 per cent, depending how far north or west you decide to put a time zone border. To preserve a 'pure' majority support base, the dual time zone border would have to be restricted to virtually the outskirts of Brisbane and only the Gold and Sunshine Coast beaches (excluding their hinterlands). For a separate internal time zone to work, however, it needs to cover a much larger portion of the state than this, in order to provide a commercial buffer zone for the capital city.

Also, considering the 'border' problems inherent in an internal dual time zone arrangement, there needs to be a strongly committed support base among the partitioned population. What we have is a lukewarm support base in Brisbane and the Gold Coast and a borderline or majority opposition everywhere else in southeast Queensland - a recipe for even more division, disruption and hostility than in the status quo.

Neither do the above figures fit the dual time zone mythology that the southeast is being held back by some kind of cows-and-curtains parochialism beyond the Dividing Range. In fact, overall daylight saving opposition in southeast Queensland is still fairly comparable to that of the immediate western and central parts of the state.

Perhaps the capital city needs to belatedly acknowledge what many Queenslanders (including roughly half the southeast) instinctively accept - that our daylight saving dilemna has always been one of latitude, not attitude. Daylight saving was originally designed by high-latitude nations to suit their gloriously mild summer days and strongly contrasting seasonal daylight variations.

By contrast, Queensland is situated between 30 and 10 degrees S - the wrong side of daylight politics. Because of our hot, humid climate and limited seasonal daylight variation, daylight saving would be of almost no benefit to the overall state and would actually impose hardship on large sections of it. This lonely fact of life is Queensland's real daylight saving dilemna, one that will only be exacerbated by partitioning off its capital city into a self-imposed twilight zone.

History has shown that partitions of any kind merely entrench existing social divisions and are ultimately self-defeating. Queensland is more than a line on a map. It's a culture, a history and a way of life - things you can't set your watch to. If we were ever to become 'two Queenslands', it would be a dark day indeed.

March, 2002 (updated 2003, 2005)

Further reading:

Daylight Saving Task Force Secretariat, Report of the Trial of Daylight Saving 29 October 1989 to 4 March 1990, Department of Employment, Vocational Education, Training and Industrial Relations, Brisbane 1990.

Electoral Commission of Queensland, Daylight Saving Referendum Statistical Returns 1992, July 1992.