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Tasmania's AFL Team - Request for Tabling of Documentation

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 10 May 2023

Tags: AFL, Stadium

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Well, Mr Deputy Speaker, we just found out who Nic Street works for, didn't we? He mentioned the Master Builders Association, the Tourism Industry Council, and the Property Council. He talked about business. He talked about what the AFL wants and needs and the kind of organisation it is, but not one word about the Tasmanian people.

Ms White - And now he has left.


Ms O'CONNOR - Not a word about his constituents in Franklin - and I will accept that interjection from the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Through the Chair, Ms O'Connor.

Ms O'CONNOR - I was doing it through the Chair. I will accept that interjection. Mr Street has now left the Chamber.

It was a notable absence from his contribution that he did not talk about the Tasmanian people who, according to the polling that has been undertaken recently, about 75 per cent of whom are opposed to this stadium and I believe that number will only grow. The resentment about this stadium that is being imposed on Tasmania will fester and grow. It will continue to grow all the way to the next state and federal elections and beyond. There is a long way to go on this one. It is the biggest own goal I have seen a Liberal government kick into its own face.

Politically, this is a catastrophic decision for them because they have lost touch with the Tasmanian people. All we heard just then was about the benefits to business and what business wants. When Anthony Albanese came down to make his announcement in front of the poo tanks with the Premier at Macquarie Point, we did not hear from Mr Street an acknowledgement that up at the Domain near the Cenotaph - which would be overshadowed by this stadium - there were tents flapping in the cold autumn morning wind where clearly people had been trying to find a place to sleep for the night. This Government has lost touch with the Tasmanian people.

I am not saying anyone in here has a full read on a population of 540 000 people, but as elected members you do get a fair sense of what the public mood is and I have never seen an issue - at least since maybe the pulp mill as it went on when the corruption became more obvious, so it was not just an environmental issue, it was a governance issue - I have not seen, or felt, or read so many emails, such a visceral response from the community about this decision. Tasmanians feel they have not been asked, they have not been heard and they are being kept in the dark. This is why we will support Labor's motion today. We had a very similar motion on the books and we have been calling on the Premier to release the contract, the business case and all the associated documents ever since it was signed.

It was interesting that Mr Street spent so much time towards the end of his contribution having a crack at Tasmanian Labor for having an apparently different position from federal Labor. I do not know if he was paying attention yesterday, but Senator Jonno Duniam got up in the Senate and asked a question about whether the Commonwealth funding would be GST exempt. Mr Street should spend a bit less time fretting over what Labor's position is - I am sure they are fretting themselves - and have a look at his own federal Tasmanian Liberal colleagues. I am genuinely surprised that Senator Jonno Duniam seems to be more in touch with the mood of the Tasmanian people than Premier Jeremy Rockliff.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I will say it again so that nobody in this place or outside of it can take a cheap political shot at us over our position on Tasmania joining the national league. The reason we signed on to the tripartisan push is because we believe the state has earned the right to have its own AFL and AFLW teams in the national competition. We earned that right years ago. Until Peter Gutwein, the former premier, came up with that mad idea for a floating stadium off Regatta Point, the AFL was not demanding that we build a brand-new stadium. The deal stood on its own and we had a strong moral argument, a just case, for being included in the national competition and being given the nineteenth licence to join the competition.

We have not seen the contract and Tasmanians need to see it, but everything that we read about it, or hear from the Premier and his ministers certainly tells me we have been had. Jeremy Rockliff has been a pushover on this one and signed a deal, secretly stitched up with Gill McLachlan and the AFL, that Tasmanians will be paying for for generations. This stadium will cost more than $715 million to build, absolutely. Optus Stadium had an $800 000 projected construction cost and the final cost was $1.6 billion. I think the state is going to be on the hook for at least $1 billion for this stadium, the associated roadworks and infrastructure repairs that need to be undertaken. Presumably there will be some public money spent activating the northern rail corridor with a cheap and nasty busway proposal, but again, that would be something that at least in part would be publicly funded. Then the people of Tasmania will, according to the Government's own business case, lose on this folly more than $300 million over 20 years.

I sat there listening to Mr Street talk about all these flow-on benefits to business and the injection of money into the economy, rah, rah, rah. Private business and private investors are going to rake it in, apparently, as a result of this massive public expenditure and the losses will be borne by Tasmanians. The CommSec data might say we are doing well nationally, but we have a health system that is in genuine crisis, we have the most savage rental market in the country and Tasmanians now increasingly cannot afford to buy a place on their own island.

The disconnect between these people on my left, who speak to and for the top end of town, and the reality of life in Tasmania for so many people, is glaringly obvious. This stadium proposal is emblematic of that rift between the reality, the lived experience, of the majority of Tasmanians and this lot on my left, who only hear, when it comes to public money, the voices of Rebecca Ellston, Luke Martin, Steve Old and, of course, Gill McLachlan.

In the Government's own almost laughably poor business case, there is a claim that an increase in house prices in and around Hobart of 3 per cent to 4 per cent is a social benefit. Again, that is top end of town thinking. That is the thinking that comes from people who are comfortable, who own property and who think rising house prices are good for them, because it is not good for the average Tasmanian. All the young people I talk to are super-stressed about financial security. They have effectively given up owning their own home on this island and we have a government here that bends over backwards - or forwards, whichever way you want to look at it - for the AFL at the expense of Tasmanians who are battling.

A total of 30 per cent of Tasmanian people live at or below the poverty line, and we have a government that has made a political choice to entrench that poverty, just as in Canberra last night we had a federal Labor government make a political choice to keep people on JobSeeker starving. Imagine having a $4 billion surplus and deciding the best you could do for people on JobSeeker is $40 a fortnight.

What happened to the Labor of old? Increasingly, major party governments have lost touch with the lives of people who are struggling. We had tokenistic cost-of-living relief in the federal budget last night. We hear from major party politicians often how concerned they are about the rising cost of living, but then they do really bugger-all about it when they are given an opportunity to transform people's lives.

This awful business case also has some incredible propaganda in it. Imagine thinking that it strengthens your business case to make a statement like this:

The Macquarie Point stadium will be a place for excitement and entertainment for everyone, Tasmanian aspiration, gathering, recognition and reflection.

Well certainly it will not be a place for recognition of Tasmanian Aboriginal people and reflection on the attempted genocide of them and their gutsy survival and strength in culture today, because that stadium will displace a planned truth and reconciliation park. Apparently the Macquarie Point stadium will also be a place for 'global connectivity and the pursuit of the extraordinary'. I mean, what a load of pap. I wonder how much State Growth paid for this business case which was written to prop up the Macquarie Point stadium.

They talk about looking at other locations which were just completely dismissed because there is a bit of free real estate down there on Macquarie Point. I do not think plonking a stadium on a site like Macquarie Point is the pursuit of the extraordinary. This structure, should it be built, will be a perpetual reminder to Tasmanian people of the folly of a federal Labor Government and a state Liberal Government who seem increasingly to regard public monies as their own to negotiate with and to trade away.

It is quite breathtaking to think that you could have a politician and a CEO - let us just keep it generic here - sign an effectively blank cheque with public funds and not have to be transparent about what was agreed. I mean, who does Jeremy Rockliff work for? The AFL or the people of Tasmania? His answer in here yesterday to our question about being open and transparent about the deal was really clear. He takes his riding orders from Gill McLachlan and the AFL. The business case is weak, it confirms that this will be a loss-making venture from the point of view of the public purse, and that contract should belong to the Tasmanian people. It is their money, it is their place, they elected this Government and this parliament, Mr Rockliff is ostensibly their Premier, and that contract and all the associated paperwork should be made available to the funding body, which is the Tasmanian people.

Minister Street talked about us having to have this brand-new stadium because it is a competitive and combative competition. The picture that came into my mind when he said that was dog-eat-dog. If you are battling and living in a tent and you feel like society and government has left you behind, you live in a dog-eat-dog world, where you have governments ambivalent at best about your wellbeing and your struggles. Imagine thinking that was enough justification to put a billion dollars, which is what it will be at a minimum, into a stadium that overwhelmingly Tasmanians do not want, need and cannot afford, when we have the public housing waiting list at its highest level in more than a decade, where we have massive blockages in our emergency departments and people literally dying waiting seven or more hours for an ambulance to arrive. It is sick that you would have governments, state and federal, prioritise bread and circuses when we have that kind of social distress in our community.

I will not be at all surprised if this stadium is not built, given the strength of community feeling about it. There is a long way to go yet. We know that the Government wants to fast-track it through major projects. They are going to have to find the money somewhere and that will mean massive borrowings, but the civil unrest over this stadium will grow because people are really furious. I am sure every member of this place is getting lots of emails and very few of them, under 5 per cent I would say, are supportive of the stadium. There is a simmering and seething fury about this.

I have spoken to people who have said they will never ever set foot in that stadium if it is built. This is the tragedy of what has happened here. Having our own AFL and AFLW teams could have united us in pride, but what we have, because of a Liberal Government that is deaf to people and listens only to the big end of town, is a divisive time ahead, resentment that that long held dream came at such a price and resentment about the secrecy and the twisted political choices.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I have no doubt at all that Jeremy Rockliff and most of his colleagues really are behind the stadium. I have spoken to the Premier about it and he genuinely seems passionate about it and believes it will deliver benefits to Tasmania. You have to give him that, but I think he really has misread the public mood. It is going to be quite the election, but I am absolutely certain that there will be a very heavy political price to pay for this Liberal Government at the next state election because of the stadium.

That is why it is really important that state Labor finds its spine on this. It is one thing to make statements in this place or to do media where you are literally walking both sides of the fence but it is quite another to take a strong position and stick to it.

I do not think any premier or opposition leader has ever lost much political bark having a fight with capital 'C' Canberra. I obviously do not want to tell Ms White what to do, but because I am passionate about democracy and this island's future, I hope Ms White takes the fight up to Canberra, because the Tasmanian people admire that. They like politicians of conviction. Even if they do not agree with you, they respect you.

At the next state election, as we know, there will be a 35 seat House, which is great, and we should all be proud that we put politics aside to do that. Probably every person in this place who runs will retain their seat. However, in order to secure majority government, Labor needs to win 10 seats. That is two more seats in each electorate. That is a big mountain to climb. So, politically, you have to do something a bit brave and bit different to get up that mountain.

After the next state election, the people of Tasmania in their wisdom may deliver a balance of power parliament. The Greens may or not be in balance of power. There may or may not be more Independents in this place. It will certainly be interesting but I think that the Tasmanian people are angry enough about this stadium that they would vote for candidates and parties who have been strong on this in the public interest.

There is a rally on parliament lawns on Saturday. It starts at midday. I am getting emails from people who are saying, 'Yes, we are coming down in the car from the north-east; yes, we will be there from Launceston'. There are people coming to this rally from all over the island to be counted and heard. It is a serious and simmering political issue.

Now, maybe some Tasmanians would be comforted if they saw the deal and what the Premier and Gill McLachlan stitched up in secret. Maybe they would. I do not know, because it is still, I think, in the mind of the everyday Tasmanian, a political choice to put $1 billion into a stadium when people are sleeping in tents.

There is no mandate for this stadium. There was no public conversation. There was no consultation about this stadium. There is a master plan from Macquarie Point that was widely consulted and had public support. Part of the reason we are in this position is because in their nine years in government, the Liberals have let Macquarie Point just sit there. We are partly here because they did nothing on that site.

There is something so politically aggressive about this stadium. People are just being told, 'Here, you will have this, and you will pay for it, and you will keep paying for it for a generation; oh, but also we are not going to show you exactly what you are paying for, or for how long'. I do not think there is any justification for the Premier to keep any part of that contract secret. None at all. He did not sign that contract as Jeremy Rockliff. He signed it for and on behalf of the people of Tasmania who would be funding this. So what is the argument for not showing us the contract?

If he had any backbone, first of all he would have told the AFL, 'No, we cannot afford a stadium, we have Bellerive and we have York Park; we will upgrade them and they will be good'. He also would have said, even before that, even after that, if he said to the AFL, 'I need to be transparent with the Tasmanian people about what I am doing here, so you need to understand that I will make this contract publicly available'. What would the AFL have done then?

Who is running this state? Would it not be great if Jeremy Rockliff could just understand he is the Premier? He is arguably the most powerful man in Tasmania. Not the richest, not the best-connected, but the most powerful man in Tasmania - well, actually, there is Greg Farrell - but he could have said to Gill McLachlan and the AFL, 'I am going to show my people this contract because they are restive and unhappy. I want to be really transparent about this and I want my claims of social and economic benefit to be backed by evidence and a story that has a legal foundation that is easily read and understood by the funders, the Tasmanian people'.

We are not there yet, but the Premier needs to understand that we will not let up asking for the contract and talking about it and all the associated documents. I am sure Labor will not either, well I certainly hope they do not. This is not going to go away.

As well as the broader Tasmanian community, there are very significant stakeholders here who this stadium has also disrespected and disregarded. There is the Tasmanian Aboriginal community, who had been promised a reconciliation and art park on the site.

Then there is the Returned & Services League of Tasmania, who are still unconvinced that this stadium will not overshadow the sacred ground of the Cenotaph. When they were selecting sites, in secret, the Government and State Growth must not have thought very hard about the Cenotaph, or perhaps they did not see it, because it is not a massive site, Macquarie Point. If you are going to build a 23 000-seat roofed stadium it is going to be more compact and more vertical, which means that in all likelihood it will overshadow the Cenotaph. That is actually an appalling idea. It is appalling and it is disrespectful.

Anthony Albanese, when he arrived here the Saturday before last, another bloke in a suit telling us how it is going to be, was heckled and chased across Macquarie Point by a group of cranky local people. What was the message on their placards? 'We want homes not a stadium'. 'Look after our health first'. That is the message that Tasmanians are giving to both Anthony Albanese and Jeremy Rockliff. They can play deaf for a little while but the noise, the discontent, will get louder and louder.

It is tragic that something we should be celebrating, which is our invitation to join the national league has been so tainted by this stadium. There are people I know, friends and family - this is not a representative sample - who have a sour taste in their mouth. They have always wanted to see Tasmania in the AFL, in our own colours, singing our own song, as the Premier likes to say. However, this comes with such a monstrous folly and that has really soured the experience for them so the celebrations have been quite muted.