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Fighting White Elephants: The Tasmanian AFL Stadium Protest

Every now and then, the sharpened, dedicated means of halting a monstrous white elephant before its birth can work. The wise suddenly seem in charge, conscious and aware that folly can be averted. This, however, is a rare feat indeed. In Tasmania protests of some magnitude against a proposed stadium for Australian Rules Football are starting to have some effect. These have taken place against a dark backdrop: a persistent, critical housing crisis; the presence of homelessness; concerns about food and energy security, and healthcare.

On May 13, thousands gathered on Hobart’s parliamentary lawns protesting the $715 million proposal that envisages a redevelopment of the Macquarie Point precinct, a rather disingenuous justification to build a needless 23,000-seat structure on prime real estate using public funds. The package – totalling $745 million, also envisages upgrades for York Park (UTAS Stadium) in Launceston.

A conspicuous figure present at the protests was one of Australia’s more prominent authors, Richard Flanagan. As he wrote in The Age last month, “Tasmania, and its population of 550,000 people, has two stadiums where AFL games are routinely played. Tasmania doesn’t have a stadium problem. It has a housing and homelessness problem.” Rents in Australia’s poorest state have almost doubled over the last five years; affordable properties were elusive to those on Youth Allowance and JobSeeker.

In its myopic vision and scope, the stadium could be said, argues Flanagan, to be “a symbol of government inaction on these issues that blight Australia’s smallest state. In addition to housing, it has Australia’s worst public health system, and, with 50 per cent illiteracy, a public education problem.”

Also present at the protest was federal Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie, who proved to be both colourful and agitated. “Tasmanians,” she declared in her address to the crowd, “have had a bloody gutful over the stadium and you can stick it up your bum.”

In what must surely be considered an act of self-harm, the Tasmanian Liberals also find themselves in a governing minority largely because of Premier Jeremy Rockliff’s edifice fetish. A day before the large protests, Liberal backbenchers John Tucker and Lara Alexander quit the party. As Alexander reasoned, “The proposed shady deal to build a stadium in Hobart has sharply divided the community.” While she did not often agree with her opposite numbers in state parliament – both Labor and the Greens – any amount “upwards of one billion of taxpayers’ money […] should be allocated to essential services such as health and priorities like housing.”

Alexander also took issue with the Premier’s stinginess in not disclosing the full nature of the contracts. If a raid on the public purse on such a scale was going to be done so brazenly, surely a degree of transparency was in order. “He has refused to share details of the contracts he signed with the AFL with his parliamentary colleagues, the parliament, and the community. There is zero transparency or accountability in this decision-making process.”

The two politicians also cited the government’s allergic tendency to ignore transparency and Parliamentary oversight regarding other projects, including the Marinus link and the Battery of Nation project. Be environmental, goes that theme, but go alone, without federal assistance. (By way of contrast, the as-yet-to-be-built stadium is promised $240 million by the federal government.)

Something of a vision problem has captured governments in Australia, one that has seemingly paralysed the cortex of policy making. This is evident in the opinions of the Deputy Premier and Treasurer, Michael Ferguson. While claiming to “respect that not everybody has the same opinion on these projects,” Ferguson was also clear that the government was “determined to get on with it, on the basis that we have significant federal funding which really respected, and I think demonstrated, that the business case was persuasive for Anthony Albanese, our Prime Minister.”

Miraculously, money has been found for such vanity projects as a sporting stadium being used to blackmailing effect by the AFL, for funding a yet unrealised nuclear-powered submarine fleet that will be essentially useless against any adversary. While the stadium is slated to cost under $800 million – and bound to go over – the federal government is topping that amount with $368 billion for sea vessels, all the time arguing that such profligacy will have no impact on the budget. One of the protesters’ themes summed up the indignation against these two projects superbly: “We can’t eat stadiums or submarines.”

To this can be added the disease of sporting privilege and aristocratic snobbery. The Australian Football League has become something of a spoilt, bullying brat, dictating terms to governments and smiting those disloyal to the creed. Forget the working stadia already in place; the fact that Tasmania was receiving the 19th license to play in the AFL and AFL Women’s League necessitated the extravagance of a spanking new facility. No stadium; no team. In doing so, the sporting body has not only brought Premier Rockliff to his knees, but that of Australia’s Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese.

To that end, we can only hope that the likes of Flanagan, the other state politicians in Labor and the Greens, and those tireless representatives at the federal level, MP Andrew Wilkie and Senator Lambie, can finally make those in power see sense. But stupidity, and its occasional sidekick, blindness, remain powerful forces behind the birth of white elephants.


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  1. Keitha Granville

    Come hell or high water we will kill this stadium. Labor has already declared that it will quash the deal if elected next time.

    Remember the Franklin Dam?? They said it couldn’t be stopped. We stopped it. Marinus will be next.

    Watch this space.

  2. Kerri

    And nothing, nothing, blinds the Australian public more than football.

  3. Andrew Smith

    Overbearing influence of the AFL that has been corporatised, attached to Howard’s cliched Oz values or stereotypes, closing out other codes in regional cities, promoting WAFL (& for a time AFLX) to nullify the impact of women’s football (football offers both sexes global opps) and now knocking around with the real political, industry and media ‘elites’.

    The latter has come about with higher salaries for a generation now, not just appearing on the real estate pages, but many AFL players and administrators send their kids to private schools, which have already been showered with state subsidies (more than the past); there are often rumblings that private schools have, if not a monopoly, a strong advantage in draft system too….

  4. Andyfiftysix

    I just cant believe the blind hatred towards this development. Yes i understand tasmania has pressing needs. For what ever reasons the government has turned a blind eye to them for sure. Equatng it with the Franklin is a bit much .
    And then Lambie goes in boots and all, obviously found a new way to hit the headlines.
    I would be pressing for full disclosure before jumping on the hatred bandwagon. $750m injected into tasmanian economy is a big sweetener . It just reminds me so much of Tony Abbott, just say no. A bit of manufactured outrage, no matter the merits . I for one would like to see the whole story before jumping on any bandwagon

  5. Canguro

    Andyfiftysix, it’s not that difficult. Tasmania has pressing needs wrt housing. $750m could be better injected towards that end rather than a stadium for a bunch of boofheads to kick a pill around. The construction of said stadium will do zip to alleviate the stress currently at play within the community wrt housing issues. The citizens are rightly pissed off that the government’s priorities appear biased towards bread & circuses rather than looking after the best interests of the community. And, it’s not $750m injected into the Tasmanian economy, rather, it’s $750m directed towards a specific piece of infrastructure that does nothing to alleviate the social stresses associated with issues such as unemployment and lack of housing.

  6. New England Cocky

    @Andyfiftysix: Think about this ….. a single Mum family with two pre-school kids sleeping in a car during Hobart winter because they are unable to either find or afford suitable housing, even boarding house rent. Now multiply that by a thousand, and suddenly the whims of middle class wannabe football ”stars” employed in assorted jobs takes second place.
    The AFL has more than enough money to build and maintain each and every stadium that it uses for weekly games and associated practice during the week, but prefers to sponge off the community on the worn out myth that ”government subsidising sport is necessary to promote worker health”.
    It is time for all governments of every colour to stop buying votes of frustrated orange persons and have these over endowed sport corporations pay their full share of operating costs by buying their own stadia, and carry the necessary cost of emptiness for most of the week.

  7. Terence Mills

    Football stadiums have been used as political footballs for a long time in Australia.

    I have not heard Peter Dutton come out and say that the coalition would reverse the federal funding if or when in office – I may have missed it – it is likely that Albanese went along with this purely to neuter a coalition attack.

    Personally I would like to see more funding coming from the AFL, the NRL Cricket Australia and other bodies who will benefit.

  8. Roswell

    I’m hooked on Australian football. It’s far more enjoyable than that game we played back home with blokes running around like padded gorillas.

    But there’s some things I prefer to see than footy. And that’s justice, a fairer society, a fair go for all, affordable housing, a good health system, equity etc etc. That’s where government funding should be going.

  9. Kenn

    When you understand the base Corporate Plan of the global parasites is the takedown of the middle class in any way possible, it makes a lot of sense that the local chapters want to deny the creation of more shelter. Using the excuse of promoting weekend sports events over a basic human right to shelter is borderline idiotic. It’s encouraging that many Tasmanians see through the sleight of hand.
    The optics of an embattled public being expected to pander to a bunch of highly paid AFL reps and their hired-to-entertain sports stars is about as shallow as it gets. But that is why the mainstream media will angle its analysis to maximize such an outcome. Killing the idea of putting roofs over heads in exchange for bread and circuses is off. The media basically hates the concept of fairness and will do whatever it takes to promote corporate advantage. At the end of the day they want a 2 tier society – peasants and parasites.
    I hope Tasmanians push these corporate shills back into the Bass Strait as that is where sharks belong. If the corporate sharks want to burn public monies on sports, they can return to Victoria and kick Melbournians around a bit more. And if they get the same response from Melbournites, good.

  10. Phil Pryor

    It all smells bad at the moment in Tassy, dark cover about legal points, little transparency, no analysis of workforce problems…for, if this big item is to be built, on a small workforce and skills base, little will be available for supporting infrastructure and transport, and none for expanding all requirements for future housing. All the nation has a poor level of skills in trades, part of a general reduction following the decline of our whitegoods and car industries. We cannot imagine doing any servicing and repair, let alone real construction inputs, in future dreams about subs or missiles. Australia is c. 60,000 jobs short of decent overall skills, trades, planning, some of this barely plugged and glued up by immigration. The car demise led to waste and shortage in education, especally TAFE, and in apprenticeships. And, if Tasmania recruits a few, where will they live and how high will rents go then? Years of conservative selfishness, wealth hoarding, greedy acquisition, non-planning, privatising of the grabbable, inwardness, has left this nation and its state and region parts behind where we should be, actually, sub-mediocre. And, if “they” say it will be c. 300$ mill., guess above 500$ mill.

  11. Andyfiftysix

    Canguro, i get the pressing needs but i find it hard to believe the two are mutually exclusive. Dont tell me its not going to generate employment. The housing issue will stay with us , stadium or not. Get real here. I see Albo has fixed housing already.
    It comes across just like Tony Abbott and you dont see the irony?:

  12. New England Cocky

    Further to football finance for stadia:
    The NRL has just settled their pay dispute with the NRLP regarding game payments and playing contracts. Part of the settlement allows the NRL to accumulate $300 MILLION OF ASSETS before the NRLP negotiates further pay matters.
    Given the $300 MILLION already includes a $25 MILLION Brisbane Claxton Street pub, there is obviously considerable space for the NRL to purchase or do a greenfield development of their own football stadia ….. WITHOUT GOVERNMENT HANDOUTS.
    The AFL likely would have a similar or larger assets base, so building the Hobart unnecessary stadium at AFL expense is a reasonable ask by Australian voters presently worrying about affording to put shelter over the heads of their family.


    blundstone oval, where afl games are currently played is 3km from the proposed site

    I attended this passionate protest; let us hope ipa/lnp listen for once

    perhaps an early election ….?

  14. Michael Taylor

    I’m excited that Tasmania is entering the national competition.

    I’d also be excited if the Tasmanian government addressed the housing crisis in their state. (And let’s not stop at them.)

  15. William Holdsworth

    I live in Howrah, just a short distance away from Bellerive’s Blundstone Arena. It can hold 20,000 people. But, as I understand it, it has never been filled to its capacity. So why do we need a third stadium with a capacity of 23.000? The population of the whole State is only 500,000 and there are two perfectly serviceable stadiums, one here and one in Launceston. The State doesn’t need any more and we as taxpayers certainly don’t want our money going to what is effectively a non-essential leisure activity, at least in terms of governmental responsibilities. This government doesn’t seem to know how to deal with any of the crises that have developed here, from the appalling literacy level to the shocking level of homelessness, from critical situations at our hospitals to out-of-control rents. Even the farmed salmon industry is on the nose here. So the stadium is being touted as some kind of legacy project, as if this will somehow distract us from what is the reality of the problems occurring here. And we all know that when they say the cost is $750 million, it will end up being considerably more. One further point – the government goes on about how this will be good for employment, but I suspect that, because of the size and expertise of the project, it will be an interstate company doing the work and they’ll be bringing in their own workers.

  16. leefe


    Let’s construct an analogy that might make it a bit clearer.
    You rent a house. It hasn’t been adequately maintained by the owners and problems start to show up. After a while, the roof leaks, your hot water service is kaput and two windows are also leaking – all this, provably, not due to anything you have or haven’t done. These are things for which the landowner is reponsible. You repeatedly ask for these things to be fixxed. They insist they can’t afford it.
    And, while still maintaining that they can’t afford to fix those essential items, they instal fancy, big, new and expensive BBQ area, garden shed and decorative pond.

    That’s why there’s so much outrage over this. It isn’t manufactured and it isn’t due to any fancy agenda other than 99% of the island’s population being well aware of the fact that there are serious issues doww here that need to be dealt with and which are far, FAR more important than a third – and only slightly bigger than those existing – AFL stadium.

    We aren’t having this proposal being pushed as well as the more important issues being handled; they are still insisting that there aren’t funds for those more important issues while they have managed to find $$$ for this.

    You like the idea of the employment generated by the construction? Think of the employment generated by ongoing public housing construction to deal with thhe homelessness crisis. Think of the employment generated by fixing our health system. Think of the employment generated by carrying out much needed upgrading and enlargement of existing public school infrastructure. Think of the employment generated by funding TasPAWS properly so all the needed track maintenance and feral plant/animal control can be undertaken.

    The AFL tried bluffing Tassie out of an AFL team and the state and federal misgovernments called the bluff; I’m fine withh the AFL being shown up, but not at the cost of the massive waste of $$$ and resources that the proposed new stadium entails.

  17. Brad

    I’ve seen this movie before, it’s called ‘Public Private Partnerships – How to Privatize Profits and Socialize Losses’.
    It’s a rubbish movie as far as the public goes but for colluding politicians and corporate shonks, it’s great.

    It doesn’t matter if the soon-to-be gift is a power station, tollway, tunnel, airport, or in the case of one of the best examples 16ha of land sitting under the Childrens Hospital in Brisbane, land offered to the private Mater Hospital for $1 – see ABC News ‘Revealed: secret Bligh deal with Mater on Qld Children’s Hospital’ – PPPs favor the corparates.
    The Premier who oversaw that sabotage, Anna Bligh, now has a plum Banking role. This is how some public servants operate, divest public assets for a song and then sit back and wait for an ‘unrelated’ bit of good luck happen.

    Cost blowouts of the Hobart stadium will likely force govt to offer the AFL a similar equity-freehold swap in the near future.
    The idea from leefe is right on. A referendum on the idea of constructing shelter/improving the medical system versus the AFL We Want Land Deal would have an obvious outcome.

    Access to shelter is fundamental and serves a public good, people running around a paddock for $ not so much.
    As a people’s nod to the AFL’s care for the future of Tasmanian sport, how about an Awards Night for the AFL Consortium – Best Snake Oil Salesman of the Year, Most Improved Politician Whisperer of the Month, Up and coming Pretend Philanthropist etc.

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