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Tasmanian AFL Team

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 29 March 2023

Tags: AFL, Stadium, Macquarie Point

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I was very much hoping that you would use your casting vote to save Hobart and Tasmania from the stadium, but no such luck.

Mr Ferguson - You are reflecting on the Chair, and that is disorderly.

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes, I am reflecting on the Chair. It is also disorderly, I might point out to you Mr Deputy Speaker, for the Deputy Premier to be wandering around the House heckling.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - I am dealing with the matter that I am speaking to you about that is very disorderly - reflecting on the Chair.

Mr Ferguson - It is very poor. The Chair cannot defend themselves.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order, Mr Ferguson. Thank you.

Ms O'CONNOR - Mr Deputy Speaker, I can indicate that we will be seeking a vote on our notice of motion.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I move -

That the House -

(1) Supports an AFL and AFLW team for Tasmania.

(2) Does not support any deal for a Tasmanian AFL and AFLW team that requires State or Federal money to be spent on a new stadium.

Mr Deputy Speaker, you are about to hear many of the arguments you already have heard against a billion-dollar stadium on Hobart's waterfront. I like to think - and I am sure it is the case - that many Government members agree with the Greens on this issue. This island does not need, does not want and cannot afford a brand-new stadium at Macquarie Point.

There are some very interesting politics here. Something happened early last year, when we went from being in a strong position, where we had an unarguable case to be granted the 19th AFL licence, with no prerequisite attached other than that we make a funding contribution - to a situation where suddenly, as Gill McLachlan said, 'No stadium, No team'.

What happened? There was an excellent article in The Examiner newspaper on 17 January this year by Mr Rob Shaw. Outstanding journalism. I would like to read some of it into the parliamentary record::

March 1, 2022 will go down as the date that Tasmania dealt the AFL a 'get out of jail free' card. Before then, the state looked on course to land the competition's 19th licence with no strings attached, but in the stand-off between Peter Gutwein and Gillon McLachlan, the Tasmanian blinked first and the mainlander seized his chance.

Possession of public support changed hands and the wily McLachlan has not looked like handing it back since.

Prior to that date, Gutwein was playing hard ball, refusing to entertain renegotiating the lucrative Hawthorn and North Melbourne deals until the AFL gave a guarantee that a Tasmanian licence was forthcoming.

The majority of Tasmania and even the big island appeared to support his standpoint, delighted to see someone with a rare upper hand over the all-powerful AFL.

But on Tuesday March 1, while holding all the aces, Gutwein handed McLachlan the trump card. In his state of the state Address, Gutwein said:

This has been an incredible 30-year pursuit for our own AFL licence and I have never been more confident that Tasmania will ultimately be successful.

But then came the bombshell announcement that his Government was proposing to build a $750 million 'major entertainment sporting and events stadium with 27 000 seats and a retractable roof in Hobart'. He explained that a new southern stadium was first proposed by the AFL taskforce in 2019, but the change of tack surprised many - not least, Greg Hall and Ivan Dean, former members of the upper House. Since leaving parliament, the pair were part of a working group which examined Tasmania's long overdue case for a team in the AFL. I will end on this quote:

Never in any of our deliberations and agreed positions was a new stadium ever discussed.

Paul explained:

We thoroughly support former Geelong president and AFL consultant, Collin Carter's public statement, 'I don’t think a licence should be contingent on a new stadium which is why in my report I didn't actually say that it was'.

Who would have thought someone could push around Peter Gutwein, but Gill McLachlan did and Peter Gutwein folded. Then when he left and we had a new premier who had an opportunity for a reset, we had another premier fold to the AFL. That was in April of last year.

Then the negotiations began with the Labor Opposition and with the Greens. It was made very clear to us that our support was a pre-requisite for Tasmania to be considered for the 19th AFL licence. The Labor Party support was a pre-requisite, the Greens support was a pre-requisite because the AFL wanted there to be tripartisan support and no sovereign risk.

At no point during any of the discussions that Dr Woodruff and I had with the Premier was it made clear to us that a stadium was a locked-on part of the bid. We were not told that the AFL had said, according to Kim Evans, from day one, that a new stadium was a pre-requisite of being granted an AFL licence. No other team that has been given a licence has been treated so poorly, with such contempt by the AFL.

GWS and Gold Coast got their licences without a demand for a $1 billion stadium. We have stadiums. Everyone in this House has been to games and events at Bellerive or York Park. Publicly funded, high-quality sporting facilities that have hosted Hawthorne and North Melbourne games going back many years. With a bit of investment, it would create jobs too. We could refurbish, do whatever needs to be done to those two stadiums to make them match-ready for when our AFL and AFLW teams run out onto the field in 2027. But no, we have blokes in suits telling us how it is going to be. We have Gill McLachlan swanning into town and saying, 'No stadium, no team'. We have a delegation of blokes in suits up in Canberra today, as I understand it, the top-end of town, the same faces, we all know who they are, up there, lobbying the Albanese government, snouts in the trough for public money for a stadium we do not want, we do not need.

The hide of Gill McLachlan and the AFL to come into this town, drive past people sleeping in tents at the Domain and tell us we must have a new $1 billion stadium in order to be even considered for what we deserve, what we have deserved for decades. We have given the AFL some of our best and brightest. We deserve to join the national league. The case stood on its own, yet the former premier shafted us on the stadium. His successor has done no better. They both have let the AFL dictate terms when our case stood on its own merits. It demeans us all.

Most of all, decisions like this demean people who are struggling to find an affordable home. People who cannot afford to pay the rent. Whose kids are going into classrooms with stressed-out teachers who cannot get the support they need. Who are turning up at overcrowded emergency departments, waiting hours and hours and hours in pain to be seen. Who are waiting seven hours and then dying for an ambulance. Who are waiting, ramped at the Royal, sick, needing medical help.

That is what a decision like this is all about. That is why we bring this on for debate. It is about choices. Poverty is a political choice. Homelessness is also a political choice. Kids who cannot get the education they deserve is the political choice of Government. Allowing ambulances to ramp for hours outside our public hospitals, that too, is a political choice.

We had a debate in here last week on a supplementary appropriation bill for almost one-third of a billion dollars in extra spending, while our Budget is bottoming out because we borrowed money during COVID-19 when it was basically free to borrow and now the interest payments are kicking our Budget in the guts. We have a parlous financial situation and a Government that is prepared to go into even more debt to build a flash new stadium because the AFL demanded it. At some level the AFL does not want to give us a team. Why do they not just admit that, instead of treating us like dirt, moving the goalposts again and again.

The hide of this Premier to say that we need this stadium. Who pays for this? The Tasmanian people pay for this. Who would pay for the Albanese Government's contribution? The Australian taxpayers. And who will benefit? The AFL, Foxtel and Murdoch. If you want to know why the Mercury newspaper has been so gushingly supportive of this new stadium, look no further than Rupert Murdoch and Foxtel.

This is not about delivering benefits to the people of Tasmania. It is simply not. You could lift so many people out of poverty with half a billion dollars. You could build so many homes. It is shameful. That disgusting lunch that PW1 a couple of weeks ago. The top end of town, there they were again, snorting antibiotic-soaked salmon, swilling champagne, and being told by Gill McLachlan of his vision of an island where there is a footy in every hand, a footy in every home. This from a guy who sold his last home for $8 million. So out of touch with this island and its people who deserve so much better.

We did not know how grievously and deviously we had been misled until the secretary of State Growth appeared before the Public Accounts Committee last Friday. What a performance. Sort of slithered around a bit, on the AFL Taskforce report, which, at page 15, says:

A clean stadium changes the game. Redeveloping UTAS Stadium as the initial primary football venue but seeking a longer-term Hobart CBD based roofed stadium in an appropriate entertainment precinct would mitigate much of the financial risk of government modelling, and precedence suggests the potential elimination of the need for any state support post implementation.

There was no recommendation that we require a new stadium.

If we want to talk about public money, I will get to the business case shortly. But we heard very clearly from Kim Evans last Friday. He said:

We were very fortunate to get a very high-calibre group of people to put their mind to the business case for an AFL licence. They have gone straight to the need for adequate infrastructure, they have established the need for a new stadium. That is there in their report.

No it was not in their report, as the chair, Ruth Forrest, pointed out. Then Mr Barnett said, 'It's a prerequisite'. It is only a prerequisite because our former premier and then his successor caved in to Gill McLachlan.

I hear you huffing and puffing over there, failed Racing minister. What I said just then is a statement of fact.

Then after Ms Webb, the member for Nelson, said, 'No, it is not a prerequisite', Mr Evans, further belling the cat, said:

To be fair, it's irrelevant. The taskforce is laying out their business case for a successful team. They don't make the rules. The Government and the AFL make the rules. The AFL taskforce gives us advice.

So, a bit of backtracking there. The AFL taskforce did not say a new stadium was necessary. Then Mr Evans says:

In our discussions both through directly with the Government and the taskforce to the AFL, I think it's fair to say that the AFL has said that a new stadium, through discussion, through negotiations, is a prerequisite. They haven't changed the rules - they were their rules from day one.

Again, it begs the question: why are we letting ourselves be bullied by the AFL? They know we have a case and deserve to be in the national league.

The business case is nauseating, shallow, it would be laughable if it was not so serious what they are seeking to impose on this island. However, the case makes clear that the stadium would lose $306 million over 20 years. That is not money the AFL loses, it is not money Rupert Murdoch loses - it is money the people of Tasmania lose. We would be stumping for the cost of the stadium then our budget would be haemorrhaging $306 million over 20 years. It is a net negative benefit, pretty clearly a loss of $306 million.

In defence of this, the business case report analysis claims that social infrastructure such as stadiums rarely return a benefit cost ratio above one. For a start, it is arguable that a stadium is social infrastructure. Affordable housing is social infrastructure. We cannot find any comprehensive list of stadium business cost ratios but there have been a number of business cases for stadiums that had business cost ratios around the one mark. So, we think it is a forgone conclusion that it is actually a worse picture than that painted in the business case.

The assessment of social benefits is really something else. They claim that a three to four per cent increase in the price of housing in the immediate area is a social benefit. I do not know what planet these people are not but it is not Planet Tasmania, where we have 5000 people on the public housing waiting list, rent is up 50 per cent in the past five-years and we have the highest increase in homelessness in the country. To argue that an increase in house prices is a social benefit when young people have basically given up on owning a home tells you that this is about elitism. It is psychopathic.

They claim health benefits because, 'those who attend sporting events are 33 per cent more likely to indicate a higher level of self-rated health.'. As well as ignoring the rule of correlation not being causation, it is also a self-rated score from one study in Japan. It ignores the fact that sporting event attendance is not contingent on a stadium and attending a sporting event does not make you healthier because you are not actually playing sport.

They also talk about local pride in a stadium as a benefit. I am not hearing from people who like, support or would be proud of a stadium on Macquarie Point. This is a site where the people of nipaluna/Hobart and, more broadly Tasmania, have been made many promises over many years of a public space; a shared scientific and cultural precinct; and, most importantly, a truth and reconciliation art park for the palawa pakana people. The first they heard about their space being pushed to the sidelines was after the stadium appeared on the front page of the Mercury. That is insulting.

Also in the report, where they talk up alleged benefits, they discuss psychological benefits of sports viewership despite, again, sports viewership being widely available. You do not need to have a stadium at Macquarie Point to watch the Hawks playing at the MCG or anywhere else. You can turn your TV on, or you can turn the screen on.

There is also a claim that the stadium will address disadvantage by creating jobs. Anyone who would count increased property prices as a social benefit does not know anything about disadvantage. It also ignores the impact that increased visitation is likely to have on rental prices. This is in the context of a story on the ABC at the moment, where one landlord has an application in to Hobart City Council to put six terrace homes onto short-stay accommodation, and the first the tenants knew about it was when there was a notice put on their fence.

Ms Haddad - Shame.

Ms O'CONNOR - Shame, that is right, Ms Haddad. We already have a huge problem with short-stay accommodation because this Government refuses to rein it in and give councils the capacity to prevent whole homes from going onto the short-stay market. Why is that? Two reasons: First of all, we have a Deputy Premier and a Premier who own short-stay accommodation properties. Second, Font PR, owned by the Brads - among them Brad Stansfield, former chief of staff to then-premier Will Hodgman - is the PR company for Airbnb in Tasmania. It stinks.

There is no reasonable discussion about alternatives. The notion of investing in Bellerive and York Park has just been dismissed out of hand by this Government. They have set up a brand-new stadiums authority which is a make-work scheme for former premier, Peter Gutwein's former chief of staff, Andrew Finch, who has just slid over into that job. That is one thing this Government is very good at: giving well paying significant jobs to former staffers. It is a specialty. We have a former staffer of Mr Jaensch currently in charge of the rotten-to-its-core and failed Office of Racing Integrity. Another staffer has been given a sweet job as the head of the Stadiums Authority. It all stinks and the people of Tasmania are the poorer for it.

How Jeremy Rockliff could look at this proposal and think it was good for Tasmania befuddles me. It also confuses and clearly annoys his federal colleagues Bridget Archer, Senator Jonno Duniam, Senator Wendy Askew, Gavin Pearce, MP, and Senator Claire Chandler, and, of course, the other Tasmanian representatives who signed onto this, Senator Tammy Tyrrell, Senator Jacquie Lambie, Senator Peter Whish-Wilson, Senator Nick McKim and Andrew Wilkie, MP. All have put aside politics and signed onto a plea to the AFL to just give us the team we deserve. These federal Liberals are the ones our Premier this morning called anti-Tasmanian. He is insulting his own colleagues in a desperate attempt to stand by this stadium.

I would love to know - all of us on this side of the House would love to know - how many people in the Rockliff parliamentary party room support the stadium. I would be surprised if it is more than half but you are locked in now. Your federal colleagues have seen it and, for the record, I will read into the Hansard again their plea to the AFL:

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 aside to make this plea. Give Tasmania a licence. Let us have our dream. Do the right thing by Tasmania, Gill.

I wonder if there has been a response. I do not believe so.

Jeremy Rockliff has an opportunity here. It is not too late. He has Opposition parties who are feeling bruised and misled, really cheesed-off about the way we were manipulated into signing onto a tripartisan push. He knows everyone in this House wants an AFL and an AFLW team with lutruwita/Tasmania on its chest, not an expensive, wealthy, imported team but our own team. He knows that the Labor Opposition and the Greens heard very clearly what Kim Evans said to the Public Accounts Committee last Friday, that this stadium has apparently been a prerequisite from day one. That is not what we were told. We sought assurances and Jeremy Rockliff looked me in the eye and said, 'Don't worry, Cas, a stadium is not part of the bid'. I remember. Dr Woodruff remembers the first meeting we had when we talked about the AFL bid and we made it clear we do not support a stadium. This is Jeremy Rockliff's chance because he has some very edgy participants in that tripartisan pitch. We are furious, I will tell you that. The Greens are furious. We do not like being treated like fools because we are not. What we are, probably to our own detriment, is quite trusting. When the Premier looks you in the eye and makes an assurance, the Greens are inclined to believe him. What we got from Kim Evans the other day was proof that we were manipulated and we were misled.

Jeremy Rockliff has an opportunity here to save his political skin, to save Tasmania from decades of debt that would be attached to that stadium. To save his pride so Tasmanians do not think he gets his running orders from Gill McLachlan. To save some of his colleagues' seats at the next election because there will be a political price. There will be if this Premier does not walk away from this toxic unnecessary, unaffordable, brand spanking new stadium at Macquarie Point. It is well past time Jeremy Rockliff grew a backbone and got on the phone to Gill McLachlan and said, 'No stadium. You treat us like every other team that has been granted a licence. Treat us with respect. Treat us fairly and give us the AFL and AFLW teams you well know we deserve'.