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Macquarie Point Proposed Stadium Project of State Significance

Vica Bayley MP

Vica Bayley MP  -  Thursday, 19 October 2023

Tags: Stadium, Macquarie Point, Planning

Mr BAYLEY (Clark) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise tonight to contribute on the motion to advance the stadium into the Project of State Significance process. The Greens will not be supporting the motion. The stadium is demonstrably contrary to the interests and aspirations of the Tasmanian people. It is unnecessary, it is unpopular, and it is unsustainable. The stadium represents a significant risk to the Tasmanian taxpayer, not only in its initial so-called cost envelope of $715 million but in the fact that the Premier, seemingly without the advice of Treasury and without the endorsement of his Cabinet, has committed the taxpayer to cover every single dollar of cost overrun on the project. Worse, taxpayers get penalised for delays in its completion - an inevitability, given the current competition for labour and resources, and given the capacity of Government to manage time lines for the commitments it makes.

Consider here the Government's capacity to close the Ashley Youth Detention Centre. Here is a facility condemned by experts, exposed as abusive, contravening both the rights of young people and our collective expectations of how we treat them. A facility long mooted for closure, with a commitment by the former premier to do so by 2024, now pushed out beyond 2026. No matter how hard we try, and how strongly we push the minister and the Premier, we have no concrete time line for closure. If only the Government displayed the same zeal and ambition for closing Ashley as they do for the stadium those good kids would be out and in proper therapeutic care today - yesterday even.

The point I make is that no one believes the project can be delivered for the $715 million price tag and we, the taxpayer, are on the hook for the blowouts.

When it comes to the stadium, it seems the Government has managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. We all agree that Tasmania deserves its AFL teams. We have a long proud history of AFL football and there is no argument that we deserve teams in both the men's and women's competitions. The Greens and our members support this. A couple of weekends ago at our state conference, our members reiterated support for the teams but highlighted strong and ongoing opposition to the stadium. The teams should not be contingent on the stadium.

This was the view of former Geelong president, Colin Carpenter, who authored an independent report into the viability of the team and expressed the position that a team should not be conditional on the construction of a new stadium. He said, 'Tasmanian grounds are regarded as perfectly adequate for playing AFL football at the moment'. Those are his words and that is the position of the Greens. Indeed, that was the position of the Premier, articulated just over a year ago and still up today on the AFL's website under the headline 'Premier confirms new stadium won't be part of Tassie's bid'.

Premier, in August last year, you are quoted as saying 'the stadium is not part of our bid'. Supposedly, it was not going to be part of the proposal that went before the AFL and its presidents. We had a strong, historical, moral, sporting and community case for a team that would play its game in two very suitable stadiums we already have in Tasmania. Senior level games have been played in each of them for many years. But, for whatever reason, be it naivety, negligence, indifference or simply being bullied by the power and influence of the AFL, a deal was done in secret and an AFL team was hitched to a stadium that the Tasmanian Government alone cannot deliver.

Worse, it has to be a Macquarie Point stadium and it has to have a roof. It has to have 20 000-plus capacity and it has to be delivered within only a handful of years. How did the AFL pull it off? They achieved what they wanted either way. They either get to access a significant new asset for a very minor investment or they do Tasmania out of a team, knowing it will never get built and never really wanting to give us a licence in the first place.

I lay this out for the House tonight because what we have before us, in essence, is a planning motion. We are being asked to send this stadium into the POSS assessment process, a lengthy, costly process that will not only chew up taxpayer dollars, the Government being the proponent, but in the operations and assessments of the planning commission. Worse, just like the pulp mill, Ralphs Bay and so many other hare-brained pipedreams, it will eat up the time, energy and cohesion of the Tasmanian community. It already is.

What a way to do planning. We let a multi-million-dollar corporate entity dictate to us what to do with public money on a prime brownfields site ripe, indeed overdue, for development, in another case of Government snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. I doubt there is a person in the state who does not want to see Macquarie Point rehabilitated, redeveloped, rejuvenated and transformed into something we can all be proud of. Certainly, we Greens do. Macquarie Point is probably the premiere inner-city brownfields site in the country. It has immense potential for our city and state, and it has been planned for and consulted over to death. I will not go too deeply into the long, complex and slightly tortured planning consultation and rehabilitation process conducted over the last decade or so. It was long, it involved a lot of people, it reached a community consensus and it offered massive potential, not only for urban renewal but for jobs creation, reconciliation, small business, housing and more.

The Macquarie Point Development Masterplan was finalised last year after a long and engaging process. MONA, the RSL, the regatta association, Aboriginal people, business, broader community and many more had their say on a plan for planning purposes and it was finalised. In June last year, the Premier and Mr Barnett, as minister for State Development, heralded the master plan and waxed lyrical about the benefits. I quote from their release on 20 June:

The Macquarie Point development provides a significant one-time-only opportunity for Hobart and Tasmania. The development is estimated to be worth $1 billion and will support almost 10 000 jobs during construction alone. With amendments to the planning scheme to support the implementation of the Macquarie Point Masterplan in place, and with the site now almost fully remediated, it is time to move to a new phase of full development delivery.

People agreed on the plan; there was genuine excitement. Celebration of the palawa people and their culture, Country, and place in our community was a central tenet of the vision, and we as a community had something we could rally around, embrace, support and be proud of. Let me remind the House and read into Hansard exactly what the vision was, what was agreed: The Escarpment, The Precinct, The Gateway, The Promenade, The Goods Shed, The Underground, and The Truth and Reconciliation Art Park. Contracts were entered into and developers had already released their plans for a housing component known as The Escarpment, but all that has been junked.

All that cost, all that consultation, all that consensus, and even the contracts. Not only do we as a community not get the vision we were engaged over, the plan we agreed to, and the opportunities that we were genuinely excited by, but we have to pay for the insult. In June this year, Mr Barnett revealed that taxpayers were forced to fork out $1.25 million to a Melbourne based company to not build what was agreed at The Escarpment.

So, Mr Deputy Speaker, from a planning perspective, compare and contrast the original Mac Point development plan with the draft refresh that was released this week, the Precinct Plan: a fait accompli, faux consultation, the stadium the central element with bit part elements squeezed into the margins, The Goods Shed gone, housing an afterthought and off-site, and clearly only included to attract the support of the federal government.

Perhaps saddest of all, the notion of a truth and reconciliation art park, previously central and supported, now jammed between a 40-metre tall stadium and the main four-lane road into Hobart. Now an Aboriginal culturally informed zone, one can easily understand the Aboriginal community has withdrawn any consent and wants little to nothing to do with it, and can you blame them? Who wants their story, their celebration, and the notion of our reconciliation with them to be relegated to a side note, squeezed into the shadow of a stadium and alongside the sounds and rumble of the main drag into town? Shame on us.

This is not how you plan for a capital city; this is not how you treat a community. Is it any surprise that there is now division over Macquarie Point and the Government's so-called refreshed agenda? Not only do we have division in the community, this project and secrecy it has been shrouded in has caused division in the Government and led to the defection of critical members to the crossbench. It has almost brought down the Government; it might yet.

On the community, such is its resilience and commitment, people have stepped into the void to offer up alternative proposals. People have invested their own time, money and expertise to put forward alternative visions for the site or alternative visions for the stadium. In April this year, a community group of eminent and respected Tasmanians including a former governor, Booker Prize-winning author, architects, planners and others put forward their vision for the site: housing, park land, a new state library, and a mixed-use commercial hub. To read from their proposal:

A Tasmanian vision for Macquarie Point. The Macquarie Point vision is an iconic housing development of 1,000 new homes for 2,000-3,000 people that has as its centrepiece an enhanced, nationally significant Truth and Reconciliation Park. It speaks to what Hobartians need, which is housing, and which they want, which is reconciliation with the Palawa people. It is about Tasmania's needs and values. It is about creating an iconic, internationally significant urban renewal project which answers our needs and addresses our problems. It is about hope and pride, truth, and the future. It's about our place.

The Government's response to that? Slapped down in a matter of seconds. Just this week, an ex-premier and a local property developer have proposed an alternative, more supported stadium concept that does not sit on the Mac Point site. While we Greens are yet to be briefed on it, and we would not support the $750 million of public investment and likely hold concerns about the siting, I note from public reports that both the RSL and the Regetta Association appear more comfortable with it. The Government's response to that one? Done in within a day because it does not meet the terms of the agreement signed by the AFL. We are beholden to the AFL.

Mr Deputy Speaker, we do not support the stadium project to pass into the POSS process because we believe it will be a monumental waste of time and money, and represent a clear perversion of the planning process. This is a project that, if properly assessed against the existing parameters for Macquarie Point, would demonstratively fail.

POSS is a mechanism and a process that would allow this project to be assessed even though it is demonstratively noncompliant with the planning scheme that governs the site. The Sullivans Cove Planning Scheme covers Hobart's waterfront precinct and has been written to guide planning and development and ensure it projects the unique and special values of the area. The scheme includes a number of strategic planning principles and states, and I quote:

These principles must be taken into account in the consideration of all future use and development of land in the Cove.

When it comes to the cultural heritage of the precinct, the scheme explicitly requires that:

The recognisable historic character of Sullivans Cove is not to be comprised by new development which overwhelms the historic spaces and buildings.

I cannot think of anything that will overwhelm things more than this stadium.

On urban character:

No new development or part of a development is to be individually prominent, particularly when viewed from Sullivans Cove or the River Derwent.

How do we fit this stadium into that envelope? It is impossible.

Is it a surprise that stakeholders like the RSL are opposed to this stadium development? Since 1997, this planning scheme has been in place to protect the unique values of the area. It has been written, consulted over and agreed so as to protect the sight lines from the Cenotaph; to preserve the unique character of the cove; and preserve the amenity of its users and the people of Hobart. To be clear, this scheme is valid today and applies to Macquarie Point. Indeed, it was updated in 2021 to correct an element that pertains to Macquarie Point.

On Macquarie Point, it is explicit: it has a 15-metre height limit for any new buildings. Indeed, for Macquarie Point, the planning scheme includes a specific plan: the Macquarie Point Site Development Plan. Again, this is a plan that has been well thought through, consulted over, written and agreed, explicitly to facilitate development on a site that is compatible with the broader area and the desires of the community. Consider some of the requirements of the Macquarie Point Site Development Plan. Let me read them into Hansard.

32.3 Desired future character statements

32.3.3 Not adversely impact on the cultural heritage and reverential ambience of the Hobart Cenotaph and its surrounds.

32.3.7 Require the bulk siting and height of buildings to be sympathetic to the natural topography of the headland, amphitheatre and escarpment, including the Cenotaph, and to reinforce the natural shoreline with free-standing buildings viewed in the round on the cove floor.

Not unreasonably impact on important views including from the Cenotaph towards the mouth of the Derwent River, including the flat river plan that extends to the horizon.

Go figure that and we have heard from the RSL when it comes to the impacts they believe will occur from that important site.

We do not support this project being assessed under the POSS process because all these protections will fall away. Longstanding planning rules and guidelines like the Sullivans Cove Planning Scheme and its Macquarie Point Site Development Plan, together with the protections they contain, do not follow this proposal into the POSS assessment. While they should, there is no guarantee that the guidelines against which the stadium will be assessed in the POSS, the guidelines the planning commission must establish, will include or adopt these guidelines that have been in place since 1997 - 26 years. If they did, the stadium would fail at the first hurdle. If they did, a proposal like the one before us would never make it to first base.

No sane developer, no investor using their own money, no proponent that has respect and appreciation for the process and the people it is supposed to protect, would propose such a project. To do so would be an exercise in vanity. With POSS, the planning rules get rewritten and there are no guarantees these same protections will be adopted. In fact, you can bet they will not. Why would they? If the planning commission has the ability and intention to ensure a stadium would be assessed against these longstanding guidelines, it may as well write to the Premier on day one and say, why bother? Why spend the time, money and effort to assess a proposal that will fail at the first hurdle? Why put the community through the trauma and tribulation when the project is demonstrably non-compliant? That is what we Greens say, 'why?' why put up something so grotesque, so unpopular, so non-compliant and so damned expensive?

Mr Deputy Speaker, the Planning Commissioner will not say that on day 1. It will roll out the process. It will take years. It will consume community time, energy and taxpayer money, and then it should say no. If it does not it has not done its job properly. If it finds a way to approve this proposal it would represent a significant perversion of process and the longstanding rules that apply to the site. It would raise questions of independence and of political interference and point to the process that sidelines people and players to prioritise a political agenda.

We have been here before: think Gunns pulp mill, the Resource Planning and Development Commission, and a sad sorry saga that led to the downfall of a Premier, a Deputy Premier and ultimately the abandonment of the POSS process for a fast track one written by the proponent's lawyers and passed through this parliament. Thankfully, even that failed and led to eventual downfall of the proponent itself. That is what happens when planning proceeds under a political imperative. That is what is going on here tonight.

This stadium was not born from community consultation, deep consideration of the site, communal need and compliance of the planning rules. If it had it would have ended in the original Macquarie Point Development Plan. A stadium was an ultimatum from a mega millionaire corporation. The price the Premier signed us up to get access to what we inherently deserve: footy teams in the national competition.

The stadium has come to define this Premiership and this Government. Together they have staked their political fortunes and futures on building this stadium. They have allowed the prospect of Tasmania's AFL teams to be contingent on the stadium and now use that as leverage and political point scoring against those in this place and in the community who do not support a billion-dollar behemoth on the banks of the Derwent.

To this, I do highlight the Labor Party's position we have just heard and raise my concerns, and those of many in the community, that it seems that the wedge has worked. It looks like the wedge has worked. Despite so much time talking about priorities, asking how much the Premier will sink into the project, rightly highlighting the housing, healthcare and education a billion dollars could buy, it seems Labor is now willing to roll over and vote this project into the process.

Macquarie Point is an extremely significant site, historically and currently. Since time began it has been the home of the mounenneener people, undoubtedly a significant living place where what we now call the Hobart Rivulet flowed across the coastal hinterland and into the Derwent. The original coastline, now long lost to reclaimed land, passed directly under the proposed stadium site. This coastline, I will highlight, was explicitly identified in the Our Place Community Group vision for the site and designated sensitively to a feature of the truth and reconciliation park that was retained in their proposal for urban development on the site.

Since then, the site has been systematically expanded and put to a myriad industrial uses leaving a degraded, polluted landscape that has now seen millions of dollars spent on its rehabilitation. Of all the development sites in Tasmania, of all the proposals, Macquarie Point, until recently, held both the most opportunity and the most consensus. Until now, thanks to the imposition of a stadium the Liberal Government and AFL have turned that consensus and opportunity into a new land use conflict. A genuine vision for urban renewal for housing parklands, science, business and reconciliation has been shifted to one dominated by a stadium that we do not need, cannot afford and do not want.

It takes a special kind of arrogance and entitlement to achieve that. I note from the briefing I had yesterday, and documentation associated with this motion, the POSS declaration essentially relates to the stadium alone. The other glossy elements of the precinct plan - the complementary integrated mixed used buildings, the Antarctic facilities buildings, the hastily cooked up residential development on Crown land in front of the Regatta Pavilion, and the bus and ferry infrastructure - are not going to be assessed as part of this POSS process. I understand they are separate developments that will be progressed and assessed separately, at some point by somebody.

As has been pointed out, both in this place and outside, many of those elements remain unfunded. Indeed, putting aside the budget blowouts of the $715 million back of the envelope price tag for the stadium, neither is the stadium itself fully funded. The federal government's $240 million to the Macquarie Point precinct is at face value explicitly tied to elements other than the stadium. This includes the housing transport and wharf elements of the proposal. So, as it stands, Premier Rockliff appears short even on a $715 million said to be required to fund the stadium. Meanwhile, funding to fast track health, housing, education and urgent initiatives like the closure of Ashley go wanting.

To conclude, the Greens will not support this motion. We do not support the stadium and believe this process will cost time, energy and finances Tasmania simply cannot afford.

We deserve a team. We have stadiums in which they can play. Until very recently, we had a perfectly appropriate and supportable development plan for Macquarie Point. This stadium is divisive, unnecessary and unpopular. Pushing it into a POSS process risks sidelining the longstanding protections afforded the site and offsiding important stakeholders like the RSL and the palawa people.

The Greens will continue to support AFL teams for Tasmania but, together with the community, we will fight this stadium all the way.