FIVE hundred thousand dollars for a beach volleyball complex at Lyneham! This is taxpayers’ money, it’s simply extravagant and likely to be labelled as profligate spending.
The expenditure “typifies the Government’s lack of planning for urgent priorities that our sporting community needs addressed, such as the deterioration of community sporting grounds around Canberra,” argues shadow minister for sport and recreation, Steve Doszpot.
As Katy Gallagher’s Labor heads towards the 2016 election there is a political imperative to demonstrate sensible financial management. A faux pas like the half million on beach volleyball is the sort of catalyst that will bring them undone.
Doszpot has tackled the Government’s priorities and pointed out “the number of Canberrans participating is minimal compared to the diversity of sports that Canberrans are involved in”.
Canberra is known for its monuments and sports such as rugby league and union, basketball and netball.
We are hardly known for our sweeping sandy beaches or for the sport of beach volleyball, although it is the case that the Beach Volleyball Association claims 1200 players and 3700 members and is prepared to inject $250,000 of its own money into the complex.
Beach volleyball might be a better spectator sport than cricket – but $500,000 of Government money is simply extravagant.
Through the Global Financial Crisis and since, the ACT Government has kept promising to deliver a surplus down the track. However, at each Budget, “the track” seems just a little further away.
The challenge for Labor governments in Australia is to be seen to be good financial managers. It is a big ask under the spotlight of constant criticism from the conservatives that they are spendthrifts and that we must have a surplus, without which we simply become debt laden, impoverished and will head into bankruptcy.
We saw the arguments at election time, first in Queensland then in the ACT, followed by the Federal election and now the campaigns in SA and Tasmania are following the same pattern.
The Queensland Government has demonstrated how a financially conservative government can rip through the public service, devastate community groups and make life much harder for those on the socio-economic margins. There is a real fear that the same will be revealed as part of the first Hockey Budget in a few months.
The rhetoric continues about the dire financial management without any reflection on the view of all three major rating agencies that nominated Australia as one of just a handful of countries at AAA just before the last Federal election.
While the ACT has continued to maintain its AAA rating, resting on laurels is not an option for Chief Minister Katy Gallagher.
The futsal slab was a political disaster for Kate Carnell when she was Chief Minister. The slab was built at a cost of around $300,000 and located in Commonwealth Park. This white elephant is now a car park. The slab was constantly raised to illustrate incompetent financial management. Wayne Berry used the slab in debate in 1997.
“The futsal slab is a $300,000 justification for the Chief Minister’s trip to Brazil,” he said. “It has rarely been used and it is considered by most Canberrans as an eyesore and a white elephant”.
Now the shoe is on the other foot. We do not need a “slash and burn” government in the ACT – particularly at a time when we are expecting just that from Federal Treasurer Hockey. However, extravagant expenditure is the sort of catalyst that is likely to test the financial management credibility of a Labor government.
Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health.