By R D Wood
In 2011-12 alone, governments around Australia earned $5.5bn from gambling losses whereas $15bn ended up in ‘not-for-profit’ sports clubs and the private sector. A lot of that money came in some relationship to sport, be that at local sports clubs in NSW or through gambling on professional codes. In that same period they only spent $1.8bn on sports stadiums. It is important to have hallowed grounds we can all enjoy, but the infrastructure money spent on sportgrounds needs to come from clean sources and at a time when the economy needs stimulation. The budget crisis facing Western Australia for example, could have been avoided if there was long-term planning for life after the construction phase of the mining boom. This is not even to discuss the value of mining in the first place let alone the corporate structure that underpins this. But I do think we do need a national flagship program that speaks to who we are as a people. That is why I favour a National Precinct for Indigenous Cultures in Darwin. This would be a place for storytelling, song, dance, material culture, and heritage as well as a football stadium that brings people together. It is a project that could be built when we need to stimulate the economy again.
Northern Australia, and Darwin in particular, will play an increasingly important role in Australia’s development in the future. What that development looks like depends on national planning and on the role of special interests. In the 2015 White Paper on Northern Australia titled ‘Our North, Our Future’ the authors write:
“Many previous efforts to develop the north have floundered through a lack of foresight and the absence of markets in our region for high value goods and services … the Commonwealth Government is putting in place the right policies, at the right time, to unlock the north’s vast potential.”
They go on to state that:
“It is not the Commonwealth Government’s role to direct, or be the principal financier of, development. Developing the north is a partnership between investors (local and international investors who provide capital and know-how) and governments (that create the right investment conditions).”
However, this is quickly followed by a list of investment commitments, which not only demonstrates the hypocrisy of the self-styled infrastructure Prime Minister Tony Abbott who signed off on this paper but also the unavoidable role of government in regional development.
But this bureaucratic and political vision for Northern Australia is mired in a twentieth century idea of the frontier. They see the North essentially as a resource rather than a complex place of natural and cultural significance. In that way, not only does the Commonwealth underestimate the value of the place as place, but they also significantly undermine its autonomy as something other than a place of extraction and exploitation. That Indigenous perspectives are marginalized in favour of mining and farming interest is a symptom of how the North remains a target of a colonial mentality.
By comparison, a National Precinct for Indigenous Cultures is the flagship project for our North. It leapfrogs the easy primary industry that the government has slated due to its special interests, and instead proposes value added economies that will be beneficial to a greater number of Territorians. It is democratic, strategic and imperative for Darwin as well as Australia, and builds on the fine work of art centres, the talent of footballers and the thriving music scene all in a place that is a true melting pot of culture.
Indeed, it appears a fait accompli that stadiums are infrastructure projects that are supported by the community. Museums on the other hand have been more contested. This was especially the case with the National Museum in Canberra, which had its detractors when it first opened. But this opposition was on account of the specific design rather than the concept and as such might not be seen as reason to avoid building important cultural institutions. In that regard, the two recent Smithsonian Museums that have been added to Washington DC Mall – the Museum of the Native American and the Museum of the African American Experience – have developed into financially profitable and internationally significant sites. There is no reason why Darwin cannot follow their example, or the example of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. When coupled with a world-class sports stadium, Darwin can become a magnet for Australians seeking a gateway to the top end as well as attracting the growing middle class of Asia. Indeed, it is this latter demographic that will help Australia develop in the coming century, either through buying our produce as the White Paper is keen to ensure or by visiting our shores.
 ‘Are we spending too much on stadiums?’ http://www.theroar.com.au/2012/01/07/are-we-spending-too-much-on-stadiums/
Skoda Stadium (Sydney Showgrounds) – $20 million Metricon Stadium (Gold Coast) – $144 million Sydney Cricket Ground – $186 million Melbourne Cricket Ground (Southern Stand) – $55 million Simonds Stadium (Geelong) – $29 million Adelaide Oval – $570 million Burswood Stadium (Perth) – $700 million NIB Stadium (Perth) – $82.5 million Bellerive OVal (Tas) – $21 million (applied for) WIN Stadium (NSW) – $29.8 million Penrith Stadium (NSW) – $5 million
See also: ‘AFL the big winner from decade of investment in sporting infrastructure’ http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-09-27/kennett-correct-on-afl-investment/4983476
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