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Macquarie Point Stadium

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 29 March 2023

Tags: Stadium, Macquarie Point

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Goodness me, what a performance.

Mr Deputy Speaker, we will be supporting the motion because we do not support a $1 billion stadium for our beautiful city. We do not believe Tasmania can afford it. Our constituents overwhelmingly do not support it. The island certainly cannot afford it. I am not going to make an extensive contribution on this private members time as our private members time is on a very similar subject, although we affirm in our notice of motion for private members time that this House supports Tasmania having an AFL and an AFLW licence.

It is disappointing that the Premier cannot see why debating the stadium is an important debate. He does not seem to understand that the stadium and that misplaced priority is the lens through which Tasmanians see that this Government is failing them across multiple social, economic and environmental metrics. It is farcical to suggest that the only way we can keep people in work and tradies in work is to build a $1 billion stadium.

How about spending the half a billion dollars we would have to borrow in order to construct that stadium on new homes for people? You want to talk about intergenerational opportunity, Mr Deputy Speaker, give every Tasmanian kid a secure home. Make sure Tasmanians are not leaving this island because they cannot find somewhere to live. There is no question that we deserve a team. Of course, we deserve a team. We have been sending some of the best and brightest to the AFL for decades.

We had a strong and unarguable case for a licence without a stadium. Then something happened early last year and the then premier, Peter Gutwein, folded to Gill McLachlan. It is like Gill McLachlan is running this state. Instead of having the backbone, once he became Premier, to say to Gill McLachlan, 'Actually no, you will look at our case on its merits', Jeremy Rockliff folded.

From the Greens' point of view, one of the most disheartening aspects of this debate and this issue is that we feel we were misled. We feel that our trust has been betrayed. We made it really clear in our discussions with the Premier, we made it really clear when we were talking to the chair of the AFL Taskforce, Brett Godfrey, that we did not support a stadium. We wanted to get behind an AFL and AFLW teams in 2027 but we were not going to sign up to a stadium because we are here for people who want a decent home, who want a health system that serves them, who want schools that are properly resourced with teachers who are supported.

We were crystal clear with the Premier that our support for the tripartisan push was not based on a stadium being a prerequisite. What do we get from Kim Evans in the Public Accounts Committee last Friday? He certainly belled the cat. It was an unusually unguarded response from Mr Evans, who has been around for decades and I have always thought was one of the more unctuous senior bureaucrats in his capacity to get around the questions, but this was surprisingly straight-talking from Mr Evans. He said in our discussions -

Both through directly with the Government and the taskforce to the AFL, it's fair to say the AFL has said that a new stadium, through discussion, through negotiations, is a prerequisite. They have not changed the rules. They were their rules from day one.

A couple of things have come out of that, of course. We have a Premier and a Government that is letting the AFL and Gill McLachlan set the rules.

We also have a Premier who was not truthful with the Greens or the Opposition in securing our support for a tripartisan bid. The reason that the AFL task force said the bid needed tripartisan support was so that there was no sovereign risk to the deal. We have been lured into supporting something we feel passionately about, Tasmania's right to join the National League, in order to minimise sovereign risk. Now we discover that we were misled by the Premier through those negotiations, in the exchange of letters, in the question that Ms White asked in parliament last September where the Premier said the stadium is not part of the bid. It was, according to Kim Evans, part of the bid from day one.

We would like to understand why this state has allowed itself to be treated differently from, for example, teams that got licences, most recently the Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney. There was no requirement on those teams to build a brand new stadium; they upgraded existing facilities. We have existing facilities. We have Bellerive and York Park. In the AFL task force report they are very clear, you can upgrade your existing facilities. They flag the potential for a new stadium down the track but they certainly do not say it should be a prerequisite.

This is the biggest own-goal of Jeremy Rockliff's political life. He had an opportunity when he became Premier to say no to Gill McLachlan and to the AFL's bullying. He caved in because he is a pleaser, because he was not brave enough to take them on. It is going to cost him and it is going to cost the Government he leads at the next election. I have no doubt about that at all. In the last year or so since this brand spanking new stadium first reared its ugly head I reckon I have two emails now from people who are calling on the Greens to support a new stadium. Two. We do know, overwhelmingly, in north, south, east, west and central Tasmania, people do not want this stadium. They think it is a waste of money. They see the crying need in our public health system. They recognise that family and friends, people they care about, cannot afford the rent. It is a folly.

The other thing that really strikes me is the lack of pride on this Premier's part, that he lets Gill McLachlan swank into town and tell him how it is going to be. Is he the Premier of Tasmania, or not? He asks us, why would you not support this opportunity? Maybe because you could work with the federal government to spend $1 billion lifting Tasmanians out of poverty. You could spend $1 billion making sure everyone has a home. You could make sure teachers have the support they need in all our classrooms. You could make sure our public hospitals were places that were not losing healthcare professionals but attracting them, and attracting the best.

It was an extraordinary answer to the question we asked the Premier this morning about the lie that was told to us, where he accused those opposed to this stadium of being anti-Tasmanian. Well, we have here the statement signed onto by Bridget Archer, MP, Senator Jonno Duniam, Senator Tammy Tyrrell, Senator Wendy Askew, Senator Jacquie Lambie, Gavin Pearce, MP, Senator Peter Whish-Wilson, Senator Claire Chandler, Senator Nick McKim and Andrew Wilkie, MP, all of whom are opposed to this stadium. We can debate their politics, we can agree to disagree on many issues, but to call that group of people anti-Tasmanian is wrong and stupid. It is insulting.

I note that there are no federal Labor members who have signed up to this statement, which is quite telling. The statement says:

Hey Gillon, here's an idea. Give Tasmania the team without making us build a stadium. Tasmania is one of the founding football states and has a long history of making rich contributions to the national game. That's why we deserve a team of our own without having to make taxpayers pay for a stadium - something no other state has had to do to get a team. We are putting politics to make this plea: give Tasmania a licence, let us have our dream, do the right thing by Tasmania, Gill.

If only Gill McLachlan was listening. But he is not.

Again, I note that federal Labor members have not signed on to this plea to Gill McLachlan to allow us to join the national league. We are concerned that Prime Minister Albanese will fund some part of this stadium. Of course, that is why the AFL board has not made the decision yet. They are waiting to see how much money can be poured out of the public trough in the federal Budget. They are waiting for an announcement from a Labor prime minister. We are very worried that the Albanese Government is not listening to their colleagues down here in Rebecca White's Opposition and is prepared to pour money into that stadium at Macquarie Point.

We understand that the Prime Minister may be making a visit to Hobart in coming days. We are worried about what that visit portends. I imagine Ms White is pretty worried, too.

Ms White - He is coming to celebrate our birthday.

Ms O'CONNOR - Is he coming to celebrate your birthday?

Ms White - Yes, 120 years of the Labor movement.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is pretty good. That is a big birthday. Hopefully, you can corner him, Ms White, and tell him you do not want a stadium for your birthday present, that what you would like to see is for his government to invest in lifting Tasmanians out of poverty and providing homes to our people.

Just before I sit down, because I am sure there is another Labor member who wants to speak to this, and we have our private members time coming up, the Premier talked about the work of Pricewaterhouse Cooper in the business case. Well, PwC is the private agency that worked on the Robodebt scam and disgraced itself when it appeared before the Robodebt Royal Commission I would not trust PwC on the numbers or on its ethics at this stage. I am thankful to have parliamentary privilege to be able to say that. PwC disgraced itself before the Robodebt Royal Commission, could not produce documents, could not point to clear numbers, no transparency, and no accountability. We do not care what PwC says about this stadium, its business case or the merits of the project. We do not support a stadium at Macquarie Point.

To be absolutely clear, the Greens passionately believe that this island deserves to be in the national league, we deserve to have an AFL team and an AFLW team running out on the field in 2027. Our case to join the league is unarguable. We have earned it. We have waited so long, we have been ignored, neglected and now bullied by the AFL. We deserve our own teams and we deserve not to be saddled with a billion-dollar stadium, a half-a-billion-dollar debt, an eyesore on the waterfront and two existing, perfectly good stadiums that become white elephants.

What else do we deserve? We deserve, as an island and a people, to have a premier with backbone, a premier who could stand up to the likes of Gill McLachlan and the AFL and say: 'Give us what we are entitled to, you know we've earned it, you know we can't afford a brand new stadium, you know we could invest in Bellerive and York Park and bring them up to scratch.' We do not have that premier with courage to take on Gill McLachlan. As Kim Evans admitted in the Public Accounts Committee: 'The AFL is making the rules here.' That is a damning indictment on Premier Jeremy Rockliff and his Government.