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Scandal in Tasmania: The Edifice Sports Complex Runs Amok

Profligate, a betrayal of public service, a misspending of state goods, a fiscal barbarism. By any estimation, recent efforts regarding sport in the small Australian state of Tasmania, unmoored from the mainland, distant, and, in many ways, depressed, has become the unexpected centre of a debate: Why on earth should the public purse at both State and Federal level fork out hundreds of millions in dollar currency for a stadium for Australian Football’s newest recruit? There are, let’s face it, other handy alternatives.

Historically, Australian sport has been bosom-tied to corrupt administrative and state management. Administrators of the myriad sporting codes are typically conceited in assuming they provide a service for an increasingly obese populace. The sports personalities turn up and play; spectators turn up in their colours, pies and beers; the sporting hierarchs can then claim they are doing society a service. The logical equation that follows from this is revenue raising for the facilities – as long as the sporting body is not the one doing it.

What is being proposed in Tasmania, a state suffering from chronic homelessness, chronic indigence and desperation on the health front, is a carbuncle stadium on a waterfront at Macquarie Point, a project that promises to cost $715 million. Those attending it will not be doing so for an aesthetic appreciation of the view: they will be in the enclosed stadium itself, watching the gladiatorial performance. All of this is deemed necessary for Tasmania’s imminent welcome into the fold of the Australian Football League (AFL).

The jaundiced view from the Tasmanian Liberal government, led by Premier Jeremy Rockliff, is that having a spanking new stadium to accommodate a spanking new team at Macquarie Point is just the ticket. The suggested price tag of contribution from his government: $375 million.

In an exercise of indulgent and shameless deception, Rockliff, as the AFL’s Manchurian Candidate, has dressed the entire enterprise up as an “urban renewable project like no other that has ever been seen here in Tasmania.” Entertainment, he dreams, will be coupled with the unlocking of “potential, where we can build a world-class multipurpose entertainment and sporting where all Tasmanians can enjoy.”

From the Commonwealth, $240 million is promised in what Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is calling an “exciting project”, in addition to $65 million towards upgrading the UTAS Stadium in Launceston. Albanese has been busy fluffing up matters by claiming that this whole act of profligacy had less to do with football than a grand exercise in social redevelopment, an exercise of structural oxygenation that will produce (no modelling, evidence or otherwise is supplied) 4,200 jobs.

Attempts have been made to smooth the scandalous offer of Commonwealth funds by suggesting possible remediation work and housing for low-paid workers, such as nurses, within the precinct. “It should be seen not as a site for a potential footy stadium, but as a site for urban redevelopment that will enhance the city of Hobart and make it even better in the future, that will enhance economic activities.”

This frightful, pitiable nonsense is a persistent theme in sports propaganda, stretching back to the Olympics. Build monstrous stadia; host a tournament; and lay waste to whole stretches of the urban scape. Huge bills are justified by futuristic tallying and soothsaying accounting.

Hence we have Albanese saying that “we need to look at housing we need to look at the way that the beautiful foreshore at the Derwent operates.” Sporting facilities do not build homes, ameliorate the condition of the poor, nor improve health, but the Australian prime minister is irritatingly game to suggest otherwise.

The AFL is proving the most miserly in the whole show, offering a Scrooge-counted $15 million towards this edifice complex. And they are only doing so subject to blackmail. The sporting organisation’s outgoing boss, Gillon McLachlan, is doing every little bit to conceal the fact, stating on May 3 that the admission of Tasmania to the footy fraternity was “the result of nearly 150 years of football passion by Tasmania and their proud and passionate football community… and frankly decades of advocacy.” But do give us your wallets, please.

The opposition has been formidable, rounded, and biting. They start with the Labor opposition in Tasmania itself, somewhat perplexed by the Federal government’s money throwing exercise. The federal Liberals are none too keen either. Then come the vocal Tasmanian independents, Andrew Wilkie and Jacqui Lambie.

As Wilkie notes, two stadia of some quality – UTAS Stadium and Blundstone Arena – already exist. But most worrying to him were the 4,500 people on the housing waiting list in “the least affordable rental market in the country, a health and aged care system on the brink of collapse, chronic underfunding of education and crushing traffic congestion.”

The literature on stadia being eventually self-financing, even profitable, is not positive. In the United States, a large school of sceptical thought on the positive returns of public investment in sport has developed. It has sought to upend the usual assumption: the role of subsidies, which supposedly can be offset by good revenues from ticket receipts. Then come other fictions, including the idea that other expenditures and returns that are meant to take place in the economy outside the stadium itself.

Writing in the 1990s, Roger Noll and Andre Zimbalist did much to rain on the parade of the stadia building enthusiasts. Their analysis on the poor returns from public investment in sport stadia was pertinently devastating and, it followed, assiduously ignored. “A new sports facility has an extremely small (perhaps even negative) effect on overall economic activity and employment. No recent facility appears to have earned anything approaching a reasonable return on investment. No recent facility has been self-financing in terms of its impact on net tax revenues.”

Sport is Australia’s social lubricant and diffuser, run by a thuggish fraternity (and sisterhood) keen on ensuring that they will have a guaranteed source of income at a moment’s sneeze. It serves to distract and soften. At the core of it is a complex of suited boardroom representatives keen to provoke, tease and scold the public and its elected representatives, all in the name of receiving the funds they should be raising from private sources.


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  1. Phil Pryor

    Strayeeyaa, the lucky country, cos it’s got pies, beeer, fat food, grog, gambling, punting, betting, telly, keen profiteering media and advertising, you bloody beeeauty. But the facts are clear; We “want” this and that’s that. It’s all natural, popular, accepted. Bugger the poor, needy, not interesteds, whingers. Anyhow, a well educated, housed, employed nation might ignore the sporting grabbers…

  2. Mr Shevill Mathers

    There are far greater needs in Tasmania than a white elephant under a roof. I suppose the proponents have looked at the practical logistics of filling the stadium for any event-the airlines will be flying in 400 seats super jumbo jets, one every 30-minutes, TTLine will have extra sailings from much bigger ferries, and magically there will suddenly be thousands of extra hotel rooms available for the vast numbers of interstate visitors. Tasmania has a small population compared to the mainland states so Tasmania alone will not have sufficient numbers to even quarter fill the stadium, so how and where will the rest come from and how? If the AFL want this stadium, let them and the sports clubs fund it. We have been trying unsuccessfully for over 50 years to get a cable car to the top of Mt Welligton, of far more benefit to local and other visitors from interstate, plus the international visitors from the big cruise ships who would flockto the summit. However, a cable car is not football shaped so does not get a look-in.

  3. Roswell

    Even though I grew up on a diet of gridiron, I’m now a huge fan of AFL. I’m also excited that Tasmania will be joining the national competition (it’s about bloody time), but … I’m appalled that the governments are splashing money around when so many people live in poverty.

    I don’t see this as a national priority.

  4. New England Cocky

    I can see it now ….. homeless sports fans buying their ”seats” in the grandstand to sleep away the cold Hobart nights in winter while waiting for training runs and games.

    The new Laboral government has lost the plot ….. $368 BILLION for social housing is the required priority for voters, while the $57 BILLION to fossil fuel corporations merely add to the taxless bottom line for the benefit of foreign shareholders.

  5. New England Cocky

    Uhm ….. why should Australian taxpayers subsidise either the NRL or AFL by building stadia? There is sufficient money earned from television rights by both these sporting organisations that they could reasonably build their own stadia and carry the operating costs from media income.

    This type of wasteful spending on a smaller group than attends the state Art Galleries every week shows that football should be treated like the business it is and allowed to function under the capitalist business practices that political Treasurers advise us is how the national Budget is formulated.

  6. Harry Lime

    The Edifice Sports Complex….very good.Caesar Albanese seems to be continuing the time honoured profiligacy of public funds that was such a hallmark of previous Emperors.And we all know how well that went.There’s an opening here for some one to do a line in togas and sandals.We just jettisoned the worst government in our history,but we continue to be bombarded with brainless bullshit.Looks like the only way out of this madness is to vote Green or Independent.Not happy, Albo.

  7. Stephen Bowler

    Roman poet Juvenal (circa 100 AD) described how Roman emperors controlled the masses by keeping them ignorant and obsessed with self-indulgence, so that they would be distracted and not throw them out of office, which they might do if they realized the true condition of the Empire:

    It seems that this age old trick is still alive and well.

  8. Clakka

    Yeah, right, sport for the young to facilitate the learning of team spirit, collegiality and adherence to rules-based order, whilst at the same time focussing their otherwise wild and hormonally demented energies – and a release from helicoptering for unimaginative and otherwise predisposed mums and dads. However, that is just an easily grabbed, allegedly foundational, argument used for cover.

    The reality is increasingly a closed ecosystem of diversionary devices in a Tower-of-Babel-like framework constructed by power and glory seekers and profiteers within sports, corporations (especially gambling and media) and politics.

    Even though I’m reminded of 1980’s global economist’s prognostications of 80% unemployment for this century (and beyond) due to technological advances, automation and robotics, and the concomitant need for entertainment of those 80%, and perhaps a Universal Basic Income, it draws me to ponder whether such genii took into account matters such as overcoming the double-barrelled effects of climate change, pandemics and the promulgation of war. As well as the almost instinctive population moderation effects of more sophisticated education and the decline of the old agrarian expansion via familial workforce. I doubt it. And I think that the 80% range is just ‘invented’ as fuel for for corporate and political scare-mongers. Its arrogance seems (perhaps by design) to ignore the ability of folk to re-create dreams, to move, to self-organise and to re-acculturate, trade and thrive without the abstractions and febrile edifices of kings, pretenders and demagogues.

    In the face of the socio-economic circumstances currently facing Oz, and particularly Tassie, without promulgation of a full and independent feasibility and VfM assessment, the Stadium and its precinct appears to be just pre-budget, expedient, sensational,Tower-of-Babel bling enfranchised by a demagogue …. or maybe pretender.

    So much for transparency and accountability. I guess we’ll just have to wait till the 9th …. maybe even then it’ll just go on dangling – like a carrot.

  9. Keitha Granville

    Excellent article !! Thanks. There are plenty of Tasmanians who don’t want it, at all. Aside from the destruction of the waterfront, which is further threatened by a proposal to build multi story housing on the other side of the Cenotaph, we don’t need it.
    Clearly NEED is the furthest thing from the minds of the excited numpties who will attend the half dozen games held in it, and those who are lathering at the prospect of an Ed Sheeran concert. Not in their lifetime. Tasmania, and always Northern Territory, sometimes Western Australia and now and then even Adelaide, won’t feature on a touring circuit because it’s too damned expensive to get here over a little obstacle called Bass Strait.
    It’s bad enough that the govt is throwing another $75 mill at the team for development and training facilities, money which they apparently can’t spare to put a roof over the head of those living in tents – maybe they could live under the stadium roof ? There’ll be planty of free time there with nothing happening.
    The AFL pulled a massive con on Tasmania with this deal. We should have fought back and said maybe a stadium could come once we have an established team pulling crowds that warrant it.

    We will not go down without a fight. We’ve got plenty of time to oppose, and a State election in 2 years to bring in an opposition that doens’t want it.

  10. leefe

    In these times of hardship, it’s no longer Bread and Circuses; the Bread has to go. You may starve or die of exposure, but at least you’ll be entertained while it’s happening.

  11. Kerri

    Well said! As an avid anti-football fan, I wonder how this sport, whose undisguised greed has gone well beyond the game and suckered the blindly faithful fans into spending beyond their means, continues it’s theft of public income to feather the obscene nests of those in the upper echelons of the AFL business structure. It chews up players and spits them out. It projects a pretence of concern over player wellbeing but only until it effects the bottom line. The AFL is a money making business pure and simple. There is no “love of the game” nor “love of the fans”. The bottom line is profit and pay. For those who top the profit pyramid.
    And let us not miss the blatant extortion the AFL has practiced upon the government and our taxes? How dare the AFL demand this stadium before it considers a Tasmanian team.
    The hubris is outrageous but apparently not enough to sink in to politicians desperate to complete the set of 7 ALP states.
    @New England Cocky nailed it!

  12. New England Cocky

    On reading this excellent analysis a second time I discovered that the ALBANESE LABOR misgovernment is busy stubbing its organisational toe once again by ignoring the needs of their Australian voters.
    The proposed stadia will likely cost OVER ONE BILLION WHEN COMPLETED ….. how many social housing units equates to that final cost?
    But the folly is ….. Tasmaniacs will not even be able to use it to watch the finish of the annual Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race on the adjacent Derwent River because of the very high surrounding and enclosing walls.

  13. leefe

    And, to heap insult upon injury, bloody Rockliff has ruled out calling the new team the TurboChooks. C’mon, you can’t get more Tasmanian than those bonkers birds.

  14. Williambtm

    This new stadium will come at great cost to the health of a great many Tasmanian persons. This new stadum came about by an agreement struck up with the wealthy AFL & this State to host a Tasmanian AFL league Fotball team. Not mentioned here is the State goverenment subsidation required in order to meet the exacting standards set by the AFL directors that may profit by the simple giving of their consent. Obviously the Liberal party State government don’t give a damn about the State’s citizens that would never see any benefit arising from this venture, except that the health of these same citizens means nothing to the Tasmanian State government. Current waiting list for surgical intervention here is 6 years. So this spells out to me the volume of the absolute neglect accorded to the people.
    Don’t you love this new State Liberal party kind of governance?
    This same Sate government attitutude is also influencing the State’s Police force & our State’s Supreme Court, also our justice system.
    The persons having the power to ignore the reason for their appointment… is rife across this & State & has been for the past 22 years.

  15. Kangaroo Jack

    Funnily enough I’ve always thought that the lower intellects can be covered off with bread and circuses.

    Not much has changed since Rome started the practice but most areas with an intellect see it a the ultimate goal.

    Give us bread and give us a circus and we’ll play happily with ourselves. Ohhhh, and here’s my wallet to pay for it..

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