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Proposed Stadium Development Select Committee

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 28 September 2022

Tags: Macquarie Point, Stadium

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Deputy Speaker, the Greens will be supporting this motion. We think parliament should have a look at a proposed project of this scale and expense. Another opportunity here possibly, if this motion does not succeed, is for Labor to refer it to the Public Accounts Committee where I believe it has enough numbers to get it up.

There is an episode of the comedy program Utopia that I suspect some Liberal members have seen. It is called 'Then we can build it', and the precis reads:

Concerned that Tasmania's infrastructure needs have been overlooked, Jim sends Tony and the team south for a series of public forums'.

This whole episode of a program called Utopia was about building a stadium in Tasmania. I am curious to know whether that is where this idea has come from. It is possible that whichever Liberal member or minister was watching the show did not realise it was satire. It is not a documentary, as Dr Broad said.

We support this committee inquiry on principle. We are talking here about a project which has an initial price tag of $750 million which, in all likelihood given the experience from interstate and what we know about escalating costs, would cost much more than that to build, potentially double that much to build. To have a parliamentary committee examine it would enable the facts to be laid on the table. It would also be an opportunity for Tasmanians to present before the committee and express a view because, to date, as Ms White said, there has been no consultation or discussion.

The land at Macquarie Point does not belong to the Liberals in government. In the first place, it belongs to Aboriginal people and it was taken from them without truce or treaty. It is public land and for the past 12 or 13 years there has been an ongoing process of engagement with the community about the future of Macquarie Point and the site. Along the way, some promises have been made. We were promised a community, commercial and science precinct. Aboriginal people were certainly under the strong impression that at that site there would be a truth and reconciliation park. Developers who signed contracts to develop on The Escarpment had a view of what that site was going to look like in the future and what its public use would be.

There has been a range of discussions along the way. I am trying to be helpful here to government, but in and around nipaluna/Hobart there is a very strong desire for that space to be a broad community space where you have mixed use but it is a place that is diverse in its uses and is open to the community. Then the Saturday before last we were told there is going to be a stadium there. It is really poor engagement and disrespectful to the people who live in and around this city. That is before we get to the issues of where else you could put that capital money that the state will contribute.

How many homes could you build, for example, with half a billion dollars? What could you do in your health system to improve the facilities with half a billion dollars? Certainly, the teachers and school support staff who rallied on the lawns this morning will be looking at that promise from Government to give us a stadium and wondering about the Government's priorities.

I have been in this place long enough and have watched the Premier in here and genuinely believe he has a big heart. I genuinely believe he thinks this is the right thing to do. In fact, there was some commentary I read somewhere in the media with quotes from the Premier about how people will look back, once this stadium is built, and they will see that it was the right thing to do. I do not want to allocate malign intent, because you do not make a promise to build a billion-dollar stadium knowing it is going to be a political hot potato, unless you genuinely believe it is the right thing to do, and I accept that.

However, we are talking about very large sums of money and I am still waiting to get an email or a written letter - which occasionally still arrive - in support of the stadium. I have not had a conversation with a single constituent or stakeholder in my community or outside of it. We were on the east coast over the weekend where there was nothing but condemnation of this proposal and genuine bewilderment that this could be a priority of Government at this time.

Having a committee established which has representation, at least, from the three parties is a good step forward. I know because of the numbers in here - and we will not be able to sort that out until after the next election - the membership of committees is necessarily confined, but we need to move to a space where it is not just dominated by the parties in here. We have a Clark independent in Ms Johnston. We have a notional Labor independent in Mr O'Byrne, and I am sure they would love to be invited onto a committee like this because they could feel that they could make a strong contribution. I encourage all parties in here to consider how we might make the committee process more openly inclusive at the start because I believe we will get better inquiries, better outcomes, and potentially more opportunities to collaborate and find whatever common ground there can be.

However, I do not think there would be much common ground on a stadium. I do not know what the federal Albanese Government's position will be on stumping up money for this stadium. I do not know if there have been discussions between Tasmanian Labor and the federal government about funding for this stadium because it is a very significant sum of money.

We are also, potentially, going to be asking the federal government for money to throw towards Marinus Link. Not that the question about the money has ever been answered in relation to Marinus Link as, ultimately, we believe Tasmanians will have to pay out of their pockets. The case for Marinus Link, as it is, has not been made. So too here we have embarked on a process with a project where we will be expecting the federal government to pay half, or so. If the Prime Minister came down here and stood on the waterfront at the proposed site of this stadium and cast his eyes east, what he would see is a big stadium on the eastern shore. That would give him pause to reflect about whether it was a good investment of taxpayer's money to pay for an island of a bit over half a million people to have another stadium.

I have been to games at both Bellerive and York Park and they are good facilities. With some investment they could be significantly improved so that when we have our AFL and AFLW teams they will have homes in the north and the south of the state which are perfectly fit-for-purpose. This is something that the Premier should be pitching to the AFL and Gil McLachlan. You could invest in upgrading Bellerive, improving the parking, improving the access and having free ferry rides and bus travel on game days and match days. You could have a really excellent integrated transport approach to making sure as many people as possible could go to those games without taking their cars to that facility and causing a traffic jangle in and around the stadium. That is one of the issues in the broader community's mind. They look at our two stadiums where AFL matches are played and they see facilities that they know they paid for, that have done the job and they just do not understand why Government would want to build a brand-new stadium. They are not sold on it at all.

It seems pretty clear to me that the politics of this, because politics is how you implement policy even though politics can be a dirty word, but the politics of this are quite dangerous for the Government because this stadium proposal has not just bewildered people, it has made quite a few people angry. It is the cognitive dissonance in a Government that on the one hand has the housing waiting list at the highest level it has ever been and an elective surgery waiting list which is still untenably long, that is telling civil society that they are going to spend half a billion dollars on a stadium. It makes people angry.

I know that as a Government, and this is under all three premiers, Hodgman, Gutwein and Rockliff, there has been a very strong focus on the north of the state and maybe they have taken their eye off or deprioritised the wants and the hopes and the expectations of people who live south of Campbell Town. It should not be a north-south issue but if the people of southern Tasmania are told without any conversation they are going to have a brand new stadium on a waterfront that for many years they had a different picture of, many will find it completely unacceptable.

I do not know if this stadium idea was cooked up in order to strengthen our bid for an AFL and AFLW team. I do not know, and Tasmanians do not know, whether this is something that has been demanded by Gil McLachlan and the AFL, or whether this is something that the Premier and the Cabinet genuinely believe is the right approach. I suspected when the announcement was first made that we had been cornered by the AFL but I am not so sure anymore. I implore the Premier, if he gets some spare time, and I know he does not have much, to have a walk around and chat with people on the waterfront, talk to people in and around Hobart about their feelings about this stadium. It is not just that people are annoyed by it, people are appalled that this is a priority of government when we have people sleeping in tents.

A parliamentary committee would certainly be a good way to air some of the issues. The problem with the numbers of course is that should the committee be established in this form, the government of the day would not have the votes to balance out the other membership of the committee. Unless the Government is prepared to amend this motion or Labor is prepared to amend it around the committee membership, I cannot see that it would be supported almost on that basis alone by government. I also cannot see the Government supporting the establishment of this committee, but the questions that are asked in these terms of reference are the questions being asked in the community.

When they say that it is going to cost $750 million, what do they really mean? What are the ongoing costs of maintaining and operating a stadium? We have no idea. Could you put it at Macquarie Point, which is incorrectly termed 'reclaimed' land, but it is very low and close to the river. I am not sure how strong the foundations are there because, as I understand it, that is part of a whole area along the foreshore that over the years has been infilled, built out and built up. You only have to walk on the lawns of parliament after a bit of rain to know that all of the land out the front of the parliament building and the front of Salamanca was once water. It is very low lying. Having a massive stadium with tens of thousands of people in it might just not be what that place can withstand.

What has happened to the Macquarie Point Site Development Plan? It has clearly gone out the window. How does a stadium's operation help to pay for health and education? I cannot see that either, but a committee might be able to answer some of those questions.

In closing, it can be a challenge in politics sometimes, and particularly for governments, to admit you have got something wrong. On the stadium, the Premier and his PLP have it completely wrong. This will be a festering sore, certainly in the electorates of Clark and Franklin, all the way to the next election, and I do not think the resentment is confined to those two electorates. In homes where people are struggling to pay the rent and the power bills and petrol prices are about to go up, their lease is expiring, they are worried about being evicted into homelessness and they see this colosseum idea, there will be an understandable feeling of not being seen by government, that your life is not understood, and the Government is not prioritising the things that you or people you care about need to get ahead and have a good life.

Government ministers get up and say there is record spending in health, record spending in education, but every year every government makes a record spend in health and education because the costs in those two portfolios go up year on year and, at times, exponentially. It is still, in the end, a choice that this Government has made and a message it has sent to Tasmanian people that it has half a billion dollars, effectively, to spend on a colosseum on the waterfront but it will not spend that half a billion dollars, front end it for example, to build more homes for people. We can have the Treasurer argue about capital funding and recurrent funding but out there in the community it just does not pass the sniff test because, ultimately, it is all taxpayers' money.

We are comfortable supporting the establishment of this committee but if the motion does not succeed I encourage the Leader of the Opposition to refer the stadium proposal to the Public Accounts Committee for examination.