The NSW State Election Will Be A Battle Worthy Of A Stadium

The knock down rebuild of Sydney Football Stadium will be a flashpoint for the March NSW State election.

A 30-year-old, much loved, award-winning stadium, built on public parkland, will be knocked down with unprecedented speed and replaced with a new gold plated $730 million stadium.

The issue is much deeper than the opposition’s very effective “schools and hospitals before stadiums” argument, and strikes at the heart of what is wrong with NSW: where power lies with a disproportionate few who have friends in high places.

The SCG Trust is the only sporting body left to remain standalone after all others were subsumed into Venues NSW. It has the only wholesale land exemption from planning laws in the state which allows it to build whatever it likes without a development application.

An architectural render of the new Sydney Football Stadium (Image: AAP)
The Liberal Government's stadium policies have proved controversial.  (Image: AAP)

Both major parties blocked my bill to remove this exemption. Permissible development on SCG land was expanded to include commercial and residential.

The state government spent $38 million in cost blowout, slammed by the Auditor General, on the infamous SCG Trust supported Tibby Cotter Bridge, which fails to serve pedestrians or cyclists but mysteriously links Moore Park west where the trust wanted a car park at the time with the stadium.

We know the trust has its eyes on the Entertainment Quarter and there are pushes to change current restrictions.

$38 million Albert 'Tibby' Cotter pedestrian walkway. (Image: NSW Government)

What is often forgotten is that this is public land which was originally part of Governor Macquarie’s 1811 Sydney Common bequest for the outdoor recreation needs of present and future Sydney generations.

Less than a third of that bequest remains open public land and while surrounding populations are bringing tens of thousands of new residents to the region with no private open space, the NSW Government cut all recurrent funds and supported repeated encroachments to the parklands.

Despite the erosions and encroachments, Moore Park remains special and has always attracted a strong crowd of defenders from all walks of life willing to work together.

In 2010 former Wentworth MP Malcolm Turnbull joined former Labor Premier Neville Wran and Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore to successfully stop an SCG land grab of Moore Park. Again in 2015 Clover and I were joined by Greens MP Jenny Leong and Labor MP Ron Hoenig to successfully stop a new stadium on Kippax Lake.

Parkland defenders will continue to fight to save the parklands.

NSW Opposition leader Michael Daley with Vivienne Skinner from Saving Moore Park. Daley promised the stadium projects would get no public money if Labor is elected in March.  (Image: AAP).

Of course, nothing would help Labor more at the next election than for the stadium to be knocked down during the campaign. Every step of the demolition will be met with a press conference, reminding voters about the government’s spending priorities. For example, why are taxpayers paying to replace punters’ seats with corporate boxes when the NSW’s homelessness rates is growing twice as fast as the national rate?

The Coalition’s race to demolish the stadium before a new building is approved and sign contracts with builders to lock in plans before the next election, shows a lack of regard for the community and an embarrassing desperation to give the SCG Trust what it wants.

The NSW Department of Planning has approved the first stage of Allianz Stadium’s $730m redevelopment, with demolition to officially start in January. (Image: Getty)

If Labor is elected, they plan to renegotiate the project and provide it with no public money. The Coalition government could beat them to it by revisiting the refurbishment proposal as is being done with ANZ Stadium at Olympic Park.

In saving some of the stadium’s seats and respecting the widespread community concern about the project, the government could save some of their own seats at the next election.