GOVERNMENT sponsorship of sport is good public policy. Academic literature is full of evidence about the benefits of children who grow up involved with sport.
However, in the ACT recent events indicate that government support for sport is somewhat haphazard.
A few weeks ago this column questioned the disproportionate expenditure of half a million taxpayer dollars on beach volleyball. Hardly was the column in print when news broke of the impending demise of the ice hockey team the Canberra Knights, which has been playing for decades in the Australian Ice Hockey League at the Phillip ice skating rink.
There had been some support from the ACT government for the Knights, but for two Canberra businessmen coming to its rescue, renaming it CBR Brave, the team would have been out of the competition.
Contrast this struggle with the immense financial support the Canberra Raiders are seeking through the redevelopment of Braddon Oval.
The redevelopment proposal simply rips off ordinary Canberrans. As with all property in Canberra, the oval is leased rather than owned. The lease was granted for a specific purpose – as a sporting and club facility to support their sport. The attempt to change the lease to allow commercial or intense residential to be built on the site immensely increases the value of the land compared to its value as a club and sporting facility. It would be a considerable windfall gain to the Raiders if allowed to proceed.
This gain from changing the purpose of a lease belongs with the Canberra community – not with those who happen to own the lease. The incentive for the Raiders to sell this land for another purpose is simply financial.
Each time a similar thing happens the community loses more green space and more sporting facilities. Such a precedent means that the sporting clubs that happen to have the advantage of holding prime leases, wind up with totally disproportionate community support for their particular code.
In principle, if the full value of the windfall gain on the change of lease is taken by the government it can be more evenly distributed across a wide range of sporting codes or other government needs. If the government really wishes to have the site redeveloped it has the option to purchase the lease from the Raiders at its current value and put the land to auction, an approach that would make a level playing field!
The language the Raiders used in a letter to its members was to have the land “de-concessionalised”. It tells a story. They have the land on a special concessional lease. It has not been assigned to them for development so that they can make a motza windfall gain that genuinely belongs to the rest of the community.
If this sort of development is allowed to proceed in this manner it begs the question: where will it end? Think of the “concessional” leases owned by some of the private schools and the churches around Canberra.
There simply should not be a financial incentive for the Raiders. Financial support for our sporting clubs should be distributed in an equitable manner through a transparent system.
Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health. He and his son were ice hockey players and Canberra Knights fans.