With integrity and transparency in politics finally gaining some traction in the election campaigns of many candidates, Our Place thought it was time to examine the stadium debate through that lens.  Sadly, this prompted more questions than answers.

Q: What DO we know?

A: Not much because the whole issue was shrouded in secrecy from the start.

We now know that the Contract was signed on 3 May 2023. [Scroll to the bottom for a button that links to the Contract.]

We know that John Tucker and Lara Alexander resigned from the Liberal Party on 12 May 2023 forcing the Premier’s hand.

We know that the Contract was finally revealed to the public on Sunday 21 May 2023; that’s right, on a Sunday.

This prompted a lot of rumours on social media about whether there was a cooling-off period that needed to be exhausted before the ‘deal’ was revealed, and after which there was no going back.  We don’t know whether there was a cooling off period or not, but the secrecy surrounding the whole process, including the weeks of obfuscation by the Premier, gave rise to distrust in the electorate at large, and hinted strongly at an abuse of power.

Q: Were there any checks and balances applied throughout the process?

A: None that we can find.

The Contract states that it is between ‘The Crown in Right of Tasmania (acting through the Department of State Growth) and Australian Football League’. We are reasonably sure the Contract was drafted by the AFL’s lawyers.

One wonders whether any Minister for State Growth would have been permitted to sign the State to a ‘deal’ that burdens it financially for decades, and assumes all the risk, without reference to the Premier and Cabinet, or at least Treasury and the State’s Attorney-General. Surely the latter should have applied seeing as the Minister and the Premier were one and the same person. The Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee will be very interested in the answer to that and other questions.

Since the Contract reveal, former Attorney-General, Elise Archer, has also resigned from Parliament to be replaced by Simon Behrakis. The internal machinations in the State Liberal Party are opaque to say the least, and Ms Archer departed under a barrage of unsubstantiated claims and allegations. Nevertheless, the former State’s Attorney-General has been described as the hardest working member of Parliament and her verbal responses to questions regarding the Contract were brittle at best.  It was easy to interpret her reaction as antipathy to the ‘deal’ the Premier/Minister for State Growth had signed behind closed doors.

In Mr Behrakis, the Premier has a more likely ally, being outspokenly pro-development and less conversant with proper parliamentary legal practices.

Just before 8pm on Thursday 22 June 2023 the Premier finally confessed that the AFL deal didn’t go before cabinet in one of his last parliamentary acts before a six-week break. He had been forced by the Parliament to produce a list of documents pertaining to cabinet deliberations about the stadium which contained one glaring omission – the Contract. This confession throws into doubt many other assertions he’s made about the process.

Q: What does the Contract reveal?

A: The AFL juggernaut and its lawyers – aided and abetted by the Liberal Party – have been able to ride roughshod over the rights of Tasmanian taxpayers.

In the weeks after the Contract was revealed, the document was interrogated almost daily revealing one cost after another, mostly to be paid by Tasmanians, and risk after risk, all to be assumed by us.

Over the following months, the Government proceeded to drip feed various documents, reports and consultants’ submissions (from the list previously tabled in Parliament), some of which were so heavily redacted as to render them useless.

Currently, applicants for information under RTI legislation can face up to two years’ wait, mainly because all our transparency and integrity mechanisms have been seriously under-resourced by the Liberal Government.  This impacts the public’s ability to monitor the processes of government, further increasing its distrust and loss of faith in public institutions. And, at this point in the election campaign, it renders our capacity to discover the truth behind many of our concerns void.

What we do know is public land and public funds are being channelled into an industry in which any profits will end up in private pockets. We’ve examined the capital and opportunity costs of putting a stadium on (free) public land at Mac Point in previous posts on this site. What we haven’t really interrogated is who owns those private pockets? 

Q: Who stands to benefit most from a new stadium at Mac Point?

A: Mainly big corporate interests including gaming and broadcasting industries, are the big winners from the stadium Contract.

We know News Ltd subsidiaries own the broadcast rights, which helps explain why News Ltd’s Mercury newspaper is such a strong advocate for the stadium. 

We know the AFL Contract mandates 5G mobile network access around the stadium to guarantee spectators are able to gamble on the game from any one of many online gaming apps. 

The specifications include corporate boxes to reward sponsors. 

Finally, there’s the revenue for advertising around the ground.  The list goes on.

All these reward corporate interests in a stadium bankrolled by Tasmanian taxpayers at the cost of our health, housing and education systems.