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Proposed Stadium Development - Opposition

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 19 October 2022

Tags: Stadium, Health Crisis, Housing Crisis

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Deputy Speaker, today we are debating motion 48, standing in my name. I can indicate that a vote is required.

I move -That the House -

(1) Understands Tasmanian ambulance response times are the worst in the nation due to under resourcing and unsustainable pressure.

(2) Notes -

(a) every year thousands of Tasmanians are waiting in pain on the elective surgery waitlist for months or years longer than medically recommended; and

(b) more than 4400 people are on the Housing Tasmania waitlist, rents are soaring and homelessness is increasing.

(3) Agrees that while Tasmania deserves its own AFL team, that bid should not be connected to a new stadium.

(4) Acknowledges Tasmania has two stadiums, Bellerive Oval and York Park, that are fit for purpose and currently, successfully hosting AFL and AFLW games.

(5) Condemns -

(a) the Rockliff Government for choosing to spend more than $350 million in public funding on an unnecessary mega-stadium, over Tasmanians in need; and

(b) the Liberals for minimising the planned Truth and Reconciliation Art Park - which would acknowledge 40 000 years of Tasmanian Aboriginal culture and the atrocities of colonisation.

(6) Further acknowledges with shame the Liberals' stadium plan also requires massive Federal Government funding.

(7) Calls on the Labor Opposition to step up, put its money where its mouth is, and lobby the Albanese Government not to fund the Rockliff Liberals' mega-stadium folly.

If people need an ambulance in Tasmania right now, there is significant uncertainty about whether it will arrive in time. We have had a man die after waiting seven hours for an ambulance to reach him and that is just one story that has been made public. This is not on Ambulance Tasmania and those outstanding ambulance officers and paramedics. It is on a government that has under resourced the health system and has inflicted unchecked COVID 19 on our community. We also have nearly 4500 people on the public housing waiting list, desperate for a home. We know rents are soaring and that homelessness is increasing.

This is the context for our opposition to a proposed $700 million stadium at Macquarie Point, on the waterfront. We have signed up to a tri-partisan push for Tasmania to join the AFL, for us to have an AFL men's and women's team running out into the league in 2027, as we should. However, we were clear when we signed up to this bid that we do not support the stadium and we do not believe that these projects should be linked.

This island already had enough stadiums. It does not have enough homes but it does have enough stadiums. We have a beautiful stadium at Bellerive, an excellent stadium at York Park - places where AFL matches have been played successfully for more than a decade, almost 20 years. Those two stadiums could do a very good job, with a bit of upgrading, providing for a Tasmanian AFL and AFLW team.

Despite the assurances of the Premier and his government ministers, we believe that the state Government has rolled over to the AFL. Go back and have a look at the reporting on Fox News from June this year. The AFL CEO, Gill McLachlan, swanned into town, had a tour of Macquarie Point, as we understand it, and made it very clear that the AFL expects this island of a bit over half a million people to pay for a new stadium. It feels very much like the Rockliff Government did not have the backbone to stand up to the AFL. This is a league that is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. It made us offer them more than $10 million a year to join the league - and then it demanded we spend nearly three quarters of a billion dollars on a stadium about a kilometre over the river, as the crow flies, from Bellerive.

Since this was announced in September, I have had any number of conversations with people in all corners of the state about the stadium. I have had two verbal expressions of tepid support in those conversations and in my emails. Of the many emails I have received about the stadium, there was one criticising the Greens for being opposed to it.

I do not think this is just a question of people in and around nipaluna/Hobart resenting being told by a bunch of blokes in suits that there is going to be a stadium on Macquarie Point. I do not think the opposition to this proposal, and the resentment about the way it is being done, is just in the south. I am certain the bafflement about this Government's priorities is felt all over the island.

We know from the Optus Stadium, for example, that the original price tag was under a billion dollars, and ultimately it came in at $1.6 billion. We are being told by this Government that the stadium will only cost $700 million - and the state will only have to contribute $350 million. This is a magic pudding government. That is a huge sum of money. How many homes could you build for $350 million? A lot. You could provide security, stability, life opportunity for thousands of Tasmanians if you made a choice to spend that money on social infrastructure, rather than sporting infrastructure.

Sydney has its Opera House, one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. It graces Sydney Harbour and is a point of pride for the people of Sydney and Australia, and a wonderment to people who come to see it from all over the world. We are told we are going to have a dollop of a stadium at Mac Point. I will never believe that what happened to the former CEO of Mac Point, Mary Massina, did not have something to do with this Government's intention to put a stadium at Macquarie Point. I am not defending the way Ms Massina did her job, but the concentrated attack on her, in that short period of time before she had to leave, seemed to me to be a deliberate manoeuvre to get her out so that the newly established stadiums authority, and the former premier's former chief of staff Andrew Finch, could start moving in on Macquarie Point. I think that is what happened.

We are being told that Tasmania will only fork out $350 million in public funding for this stadium which, as we know, will displace a planned truth and reconciliation park - but we do not buy those bland assurances from Government that it does not affect that plan in real terms. Yes it does. It marginalises it to the outside of a massive stadium a kilometre over the river from one we have already paid for.

If this stadium wasto be built, what is the future of Bellerive? I can only see it becoming a massive white elephant. Fantastic, potentially, for the Clarence Cricket Club or some smaller regional AFL matches. All that sunk public money in a stadium, when we already have a stadium with a beautiful location that would do the job, which makes us proud when we watch the cricket in summer and it is being played at Bellerive, when you get those aerial shots.

We brought on this notice of motion because we want to be really sure about Labor's opposition to it. We want to understand whether there is a chance that Labor will save us from this stadium - because Labor could. That is a fact. It is a simple political fact if Ms White got on the phone to the Prime Minister and said, 'Hey Albo, this stadium is untenable. You have the capacity to deny it funding. As a state opposition we would rather you committed to spending $350 million building new affordable homes for the Tasmanian people. We would prefer that you topped up our health funding'.

What we have had from Labor is a series of regrettably mixed messages. Earlier this week, in the Greens office we were quite surprised to read Mr Winter's comments in the Mercury. It certainly was not strong opposition to the stadium. Mr Winter said:

The Government's own tender documents show that they could be continuing to remediate this site for another five years, putting the Premier's plans to build a stadium here in serious jeopardy. We are concerned about this project's feasibility, and the fact we are concerned that pouring $700 million into this site at a time when Tasmanians are struggling with the cost of living and a health system that is not working for them.

That is a different message to what we have had from state Labor to date. It is not that much different, though, from questions that were answered by the member for Bass, Ms Finlay, probably about a month ago now, when she was repeatedly asked about Labor's position on the stadium. Ms Finlay said to Seven News journalist Josh Duggan:

Tasmania Labor, always talking to our colleagues and they know the state of play here in Tasmania. They know that it is not the right time to build a stadium in Hobart and they understand the great assets that we already have in northern Tasmania. I will never apologise for standing up for the north and making sure that this Government take their promises to northern Tasmania.

Then the journalist said:

Well, probably for the fourth or fifth time you have repeated that now. Yes or no? Have you said to federal Labor, do not fund this?

Ms Finlay says:

It will be up to federal Labor to determine what they do with any business case that is presented to them. My understanding at the moment is that they have not had anything presented to them. Federal Labor, like any other government, will take a look at whatever work proposals are done and make priorities at the time. Right now, we all know that it is not the right time for a stadium in Hobart. We know that upgraded infrastructure in the north of the state, in the south of the state, is what Tasmanians expect, and we know that this Government will not be let off the hook for taking great content out of northern Tasmania.

That is a dispiritingly empty statement. Then today, with the Prime Minister in town, local journalists took the opportunity to ask him about the stadium, and we are very glad about that. It is good to have the Prime Minister on record.

This Prime Minister and his ministers will be making a decision, presumably when Tasmania goes to Canberra cap in hand and asks for however many hundreds of millions of dollars it will need to construct this stadium. The Prime Minister's response to journalists' questions was that he has not seen a business case.

This is why it is so easy to be cynical in the community about positions that Labor takes on particular issues. Out of one side of Labor's mouth it is arguing strongly, and rightly so, against another stadium for this island. Then when questioned, or pressed, it is a different answer because it is not a scripted answer that they have worked on and controlled the message over. Mr Winter crab-walked back from strong opposition to the stadium. Ms Finlay confirmed that Labor has not picked up the phone to the Prime Minister. Today the Prime Minister said he had not seen a business case. He did not say anything about whether he is being approached or lobbied by Tasmanian Labor to save us from this stadium.

I understand that Ms White will think we are just being political here. The bottom line is, this is politics. I understand why she will think that. The Greens think people should put their money where their mouth is. We want people to stand by what they say. The Tasmanian people should know whether or not Labor is just posturing over the stadium or whether or not they mean it and will do everything within their considerable capacity to stop this. It is really straightforward.

We do not think Labor should be able to get away with double speak on this stadium. It is too important. It is hundreds of millions of dollars that will come out of the state's coffers. It is a choice that the Government and Opposition, if they do not stop this, would be making to prioritise sporting infrastructure over social infrastructure.

We want Labor to be open with the Tasmanian people about their true position on this stadium. The Premier thinks that ultimately Labor will come around to supporting it. I am wondering if they already do? It is a live question. The Premier's announcement was made on the 18 September that Macquarie Point is named the preferred location for the Hobart arts entertainment and sporting precinct. A month ago Tasmanians were told, 'This is what you are going to get. You were not asked but this is what you are going to get'.

For a month we have had repeated questions from Labor about the Government's priority. Why they are prioritising a stadium over housing. I bet they have not lifted a finger to write to the Prime Minister or picked up the phone to say, 'Do not do this, it is against Tasmania's interests', or to lobby the federal Government for funds to help us upgrade Bellerive and York Park. Increase the capacity of Bellerive, if that is what we need to do.

There is a third way here. There is always a third way, or pretty much always a third way. When you are talking about fascists there is not, but in life when you are dealing with matters of complexity, very rarely is it black and white. The path through here for Labor is to help to save us from this stadium by using their influence with the Prime Minister to reject any funding application but also to lobby the federal Government for infrastructure funds, capital funds, to help upgrade our two existing and very fine stadiums.

We are an island of around 550 000 to 560 000 people and yet we have stadiums dotted all over the island. Now we are being told we are going to get another one. I do not like playing the gender card, but on this issue it feels like a really gendered policy decision where Gill McLachlan and the blokes from the AFL have swanned into town and all the blokes have gone down there to Macquarie Point, Mary Massina safely turfed, and the blokes have sat around. You have a male Premier, a male Treasurer, a male Minister for Sport and Recreation, Andrew Finch, Gill McLachlan and they have said, 'Have this; that is what you are going to get; we have decided it is what you need. We will not ask you. We are not interested in consulting. We have decided this is what Tasmania needs'. They are telling the people of nipaluna/Hobart, 'Hey, you know that Macquarie Point site we promised would be a genuine arts, culture, commercial, residential precinct, it is not going to be that any more. It is going to have a massive fat stadium on it for sport'.

We have the infrastructure to support an AFL and AFLW team. These are the arguments: the arguments to invest more in health and housing, the argument to upgrade the facilities we have that state Labor could take to federal Labor and the question would be over. If Labor had at any point in the last month lobbied their federal colleagues not to support this stadium, we would not have had the answer we had today from the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister most definitely has left the door open to federal funding towards a new stadium at Macquarie Point.

When we first discussed doing this in our private members' time and we were sitting around in the office, there was a general view that surely Labor would have done this already? They are really opposed to the stadium. We wondered, are we doing the right thing here? They probably, possibly, have already done it. Regrettably, I am more certain than ever that they have not lifted a finger to save us from this stadium.

Dr Woodruff - Dean Winter's comments.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is right. Dean Winter's comments. Worried about the viability and feasibility of it. 'We are concerned about this project's feasibility'. You should just reinforce, if you are serious about your opposition to this stadium, your opposition to this stadium. 'We oppose this stadium'.

State Labor wants to see money going into health and housing and education and community services, though we did not hear that from the shadow finance minister. We heard a qualified statement. This is what Labor gets away with all the time - double speak. In the community right now most people would believe Labor is opposed to this stadium. What they need to know and what they deserve to know is whether Labor has the courage to do something about it. We have an Opposition Leader who, through the questions Labor has asked in this place, has tried to convince Tasmanians they are opposed to this stadium. Yet, if you look at the Prime Minister's answer today, that opposition is tepid at best. Unfortunately, I think what has happened here is that Labor has seen a political opportunity to campaign against the stadium, talk up the need to invest more in health and housing, but when the rubber hits the road, when they are given an opportunity to flex their power and stop this, they have made a decision not to. That tells the Greens that, at some level, Labor is not that uncomfortable with this stadium proposal.

If, for example, Labor wins the next election because they have whipped up a campaign around the stadium; there have been remediation works, contracts signed, tenders. You would not put it past a new Labor government to say: 'Oh, well, sorry. It is all too late. The previous government, how dare they? They have signed contracts. There is nothing we can do about it now.' That would be very Labor. We would like to hear from the Leader of the Opposition whether or not there has been any communication with the Prime Minister's office about funding for this proposal, or whether there will be, because that is the test. The test is your actions, not your words.