Brisbane is better positioned to take advantage of the Asian Century than Australia's other major capitals according to experts who say the city's key strength is its as yet untold story and a swelling Asian population.
Unlike Sydney or Melbourne, which have old ties with Asia, it is thought Brisbane could leverage it's relatively low-profile to gain the advantage in many of the areas outlined in the Australia in the Asian Century white paper prepared for the Gillard government by former Treasury secretary Ken Henry.
But while several home-grown success stories are featured in the paper itself, it's not all smooth sailing.
University of Queensland international business strategist Sunil Venaik says lingering memories of Pauline Hanson still raise red flags.
And Chinese Language Teachers Association president Hui Richards said Mandarin is not properly supported by the state's education system.
Still, latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show Brisbane's Asian-born population is growing. China, India, Vietnam and the Philippines are the Asian countries contributing the most new residents, though foreign-born locals are still most likely to come from New Zealand, the United Kingdom and South Africa. The combined total of Brisbane residents from the top Asian nations accounted for 3.86 per cent of Brisbane's population in 2011, compared to 2.65 per cent in 2006.
Such growth made Dr Venaik optimistic about the city's future. Speaking from personal experience – the UQ professor came to Australia from India 20 years ago, first settling in Sydney – Dr Venaik said it wasn't until moved to Brisbane a decade ago that his concerns about One Nation and the state's parochial reputation were put to rest.
“In Sydney I never thought I'd go north of the border – I was dreading it,” he said.
“But life has been much better than what I thought. I think there are stereotypes that are hard to remove, but I think working and living here has been as good as or even better than Sydney.
“Perhaps the city is kind of a new kid on the block and can in a sense upend the others that have the baggage. Brisbane can go on working with that theme that fits in with the future; the so-called Asian Century.”
However Dr Venaik said his prejudice about Indian heritage still bulwarked his progress. Even in the field of academia, he said recognition for prior learning was more readily granted to alma maters of the West's best institutions.
“We have Oxford-standard universities in India, but they're not considered on the same level,” Dr Venaik said.
“The system is not designed to value what you have, the different attributes that are there and what one would contribute that is worthwhile and unique. But from an international business perspective – every country in the world is looking at Asia now – positions long held in places like Brisbane are changing.”
Philippines Chamber of Commerce and Industry Brisbane president Connie da Cunha agreed. Her career has spanned stints within Queensland government, and Ms da Cunha still advises the state as a private business consultant with specialist knowledge of an emerging, lucrative economy currently growing at 6.2 per cent.
According to Ms da Cunha, Brisbane is well positioned to take advantage of the country's ravenous thirst for renewable energy, education and newly moneyed middle-classes.
“But Brisbane doesn't have yet a sister relationship with the Philippines,” she said.
“That's one of the things I'm pursuing because we need to look at a local level – there are strategic goals that need to be achieved.”
Seven of Brisbane's nine sister cities are Asian. In 1985, Kobe, Japan's sixth-largest city, was the first city to sign up to the Brisbane City Council program, with the Indian city of Hyderabad the most recent addition two years ago.
Since 1996, Brisbane has participated in the biennial Asia Pacific Cities Summit, which aims to promote business growth, trade, investment and economic outcomes in the region and is a focal point of the development plan released earlier this year by Lord Mayor Graham Quirk.
Just returned from a nine-day, $43,000 Asian trade mission, Cr Quirk said the Asian Pacific region should be the primary focus of Brisbane's economic future.
Unlike Sydney and Melbourne, Cr Quirk said Brisbane performed strongly in the international student market, with the Friends International program the policy initiative be believed was most likely to deliver results.
“We do those ceremonies well [and they] leave an emotional impact upon those students ... we know those students are getting online talking about how the mayor has bestowed the friendship of the city upon them – their mothers and fathers see this as an honour of their family,” he said.
“The other thing with that, importantly, is I say to these students, 'we want to have a friendship with you for life' off the back of the fact that these students will be the trade, business and political leaders of their countries in the future.”
Though true friendships require effective communication, something Ms Hui, a Mandarin teacher at Queensland University of Technology, said was lagging in the state.
Though students in the local education system were exposed to more Asian languages than ever before, Ms Richards said study of Chinese languages was well below where it should be.
According to figures from the Queensland Studies Authority, there were 1190 Year 11 and 12 students enrolled in Chinese language studies across the state school system last year, compared to 878 a decade ago.
Significantly more secondary seniors study Japanese (3255 in 2011 and 3231 in 2001), French remains more popular than Mandarin or Cantonese, growing from 1228 students in 2001 to 1690 last year.
“And there are real problems with the way Chinese language is taught at schools,” Ms Richards said.
“The language takes four times longer to learn than European languages, but the curriculum cannot cater to that need. It's not the teachers, it's the system. But parents are starting to understand the importance of learning the Asian language. We're in a golden time now too because the Chinese government is really supportive – they are giving out free books and training.
“Brisbane needs to catch up. We are already doing so well, and the city has a huge advantage – the lifestyle.”