“To her enduring credit, Kate Carnell decided, unlike Andrew Barr, that the fact that GIO Stadium was owned by the Commonwealth was irrelevant and what mattered was ensuring that the needs of the Canberra community were met,” writes JON STANHOPE.
AN issue that caught my attention in the recent enervating federal election campaign was the competing promises from different candidates and parties to rehabilitate the AIS Arena to a standard that allowed the Canberra Capitals to return to its rightful home.
As you would recall, the basketball team was forced to vacate the venue when it was deemed unfit for purpose. It did, of course, serve a very useful role as a covid vaccination clinic.
Despite the obvious need for the arena to receive a makeover, in order that the much-loved Capitals have a venue deserving of the team’s importance and status, the ACT government declined to commit to the required upgrade on the grounds that the building belonged to the Commonwealth and it was, therefore, up to Scomo to fix it and the Capitals would simply have to put up with substandard facilities until the Commonwealth came to the party.
The fact that it was Canberra’s most successful and loved women’s sporting team and its legion of Canberra fans who would be disadvantaged by this macho standoff was apparently lost on Andrew Barr and Scott Morrison.
The politics was far more important to them than the relatively minor amount of funding required, namely a miserly $10 million or so, or the equivalent of 50 metres of tramway. An amount, the insignificance of which is starkly illustrated by comparison with the $9 billion of debt racked up by Barr and Shane Rattenbury, for goodness knows what, in the last six or seven years.
However, what mostly grabbed my attention was the vastly different approach of Labor and the Greens to the confected conundrum of expending funds on a property one does not own to that adopted by a previous Liberal Chief Minister and government.
I am sure those of you who were around 20 years ago remember it well. In the late ’90s then ACT chief minister Kate Carnell committed $45 million (ie, more than $100 million in today’s dollars) to the construction of the Eastern Stand at GIO Stadium and the conversion of what was an international-standard circular athletics track, into a football stadium for use by the Raiders, Brumbies and the Canberra soccer fraternity.
It is interesting to reflect on what that decision by Carnell and the Liberal Party has meant for Canberra and what the consequences would have been for Canberra sport and the Canberra community had she not decided to step up and deliver a facility of such central importance.
The Raiders might, had they been able to survive, still be playing at Seiffert Oval in Queanbeyan and similarly the Brumbies, had they survived, at Viking Oval in Tuggeranong. One can only wonder about how many millions of visits there have been by fans to the stadium because of Carnell’s actions. To her enduring credit, she decided, unlike Andrew Barr, that the fact that GIO Stadium was then and still is owned (for accounting purposes) by the Commonwealth was irrelevant and that what mattered was ensuring that the needs of the Canberra community were met.
In one of the harsh ironies of politics, it is also possible that Kate might still be chief minister if she had not gone ahead with the project. But that’s another story.
But back to the AIS Arena. The rivers of gold that we have been led to believe will begin to flow into the ACT from the Commonwealth’s coffers, now that we have a Federal Labor government, will be most welcome.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has also acknowledged that the ACT has traditionally not done well under Liberal governments, and he will look to ensure that we receive our fair share of Commonwealth funding. Those members of the ACT government who were around in 2007, when Labor last emerged from opposition, will have breathed a sigh of relief that the experience from that time is not to be repeated. The first ACT specific action of the Rudd Labor government was to abandon $34 million in funding committed by John Howard to the upgrade of Constitution Avenue.
That decision was followed up a little later by a decision of the then Rudd cabinet to refuse funding for the construction of the Majura Parkway, despite it having been recommended by Infrastructure Australia as a priority project.
Thankfully, more than four years later, Julia Gillard agreed, as prime minister, to fund half the cost of the Majura Parkway if the ACT picked up the other half. I still have the gravel rash to show for her agreement.
Jon Stanhope was ACT chief minister from 2001 to 2011 and the only chief minister to have governed with a majority in the Assembly. Read more of his columns on citynews.com.au
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