The AFL made a new stadium in Hobart a requirement “from day one” for Tasmania to get its own team, state officials say, despite the premier repeatedly saying the bid was not contingent on the $750 million waterfront stadium.
- Tasmania’s premier is championing a plan to build a stadium in Hobart that would host AFL games, at a cost to the state’s taxpayers of around $375m
- An inquiry is examining the “process” surrounding the costs, site selection and “assumptions that underpin the feasibility and sustainability” of the proposed stadium
- The inquiry has been told the AFL had said, “from day one”, the stadium was necessary for the entry of a Tasmanian team into the national competition
A Parliamentary Standing Committee of Public Accounts is undertaking a “targeted inquiry into the Tasmanian government’s process into the feasibility planning for a new sporting and event stadium in Hobart”.
The need for a stadium — and it’s completion being a requirement for the AFL to consider entry of a Tasmanian team into the national football competition — has divided opinion in the state and beyond.
On Friday, the government did not provide any documentation to the parliamentary committee about when the stadium at Macquarie Point became a requirement for an AFL licence, raising concerns of a verbal handshake agreement between the government and the AFL.
Tasmania’s AFL taskforce — a group of business and football leaders running the state’s bid to be the 19th team — also pushed back on the stadium as a requirement, the inquiry heard, but was ultimately overridden.
Department of State Growth officials fronted the parliamentary inquiry on Friday, where they were questioned about the series of events leading up to former premier Peter Gutwein announcing a stadium in March last year.
They had already undertaken a site selection process by that stage, recommending Macquarie Point, but Regatta Point was chosen, for reasons “best known to the government”.
This was later changed to Macquarie Point.
State Growth secretary Kim Evans told the inquiry that the AFL had always made it clear, “from day one”, the stadium was necessary for the entry of a Tasmanian team into the national competition to be considered.
“In our discussions, both through directly with the government and taskforce to the AFL, I think it is fair to say the AFL have said from day one that a new stadium, through discussions, through negotiations, is a prerequisite,” he said.
“They haven’t changed the rules. They were their rules from day one.”
‘Things are exchanged verbally’
The officials — along with State Development Minister Guy Barnett — did not provide a specific moment when the government agreed that a stadium was required for the AFL bid.
Labor and the Greens were initially included in a tri-partisan agreement on the AFL bid, but neither party was told that a stadium was necessary.
This agreement collapsed when the government announced the stadium, with both parties claiming this could derail the bid, and be a waste of public funds.
In September, Mr Rockliff told parliament the stadium was not part of the formal AFL bid, but that the government recognised the team would need a new stadium.
Under repeated questioning about why no documentation had been provided regarding the stadium being a requirement of the AFL, Gary Swain — the Deputy Secretary of the Department of State Growth — said verbal agreements were common.
“It’s normal in a negotiation or a discussion that things are exchanged verbally and then they are formalised in an agreement at the end of the process,” he said.
“We are now nearing the end of the process, which is why it’s being documented fully now.”
Department officials told the inquiry a similar verbal situation occurred during negotiations for the state’s NBL team, the Tasmania JackJumpers.
The inquiry also heard that the stadium could be subject to an “under and overs agreement” with the Commonwealth, which would mean the Tasmanian government would need to pay cost overruns itself.
‘Win-win for Tasmania’
In a statement, a Tasmanian government spokesperson said the stadium was “not part of our bid”.
“But it has been crystal clear, for over a year, that for [AFL] club presidents to approve our bid, the new stadium is a requirement as, without it, the team is not viable,” the statement said.
“As well as securing the team we deserve, the Mac Point project will generate massive economic benefit and create thousands of jobs.
“It’s a win-win for Tasmania and it’s about time the Labor-Green opposition got on board.”
Labor says AFL was ‘pulling the strings’
Tasmanian Labor Leader Rebecca White said the inquiry’s findings “confirmed Tasmanians had been lied to about the stadium”.
“Right now, Jeremy Rockliff has a lot of explaining to do as to why his government has signed up to the dud deal to deliver a stadium to get an AFL team when we deserve an AFL team in our own right.”
Ms White said Right-to-Information documents acquired by Labor showed the AFL “effectively drafted the letter that Premier Jeremy Rockliff sent to Gil McLachlan about Tasmania’s bid for a team”.
“In these documents it shows that the AFL have been pulling the strings in dictating to the Tasmania government for months now about our chances of getting an AFL team,” she said.
“He’s not standing up for the interest of Tasmanians here, he’s doing the bidding of the AFL.”
Stadium ‘cooked up in secret’, Greens say
Tasmanian Greens Leader Cassy O’Connor repeated her call that Tasmania “can’t afford and doesn’t need a new stadium”.
“It seems to be the Liberal way. Where there’s a bit of a billion-dollar nod-and-a-wink over a stadium, where there’s a verbal agreement between the premier on behalf of the state of Tasmania, and Gillon McLachlan.
“In our discussions with the premier about the Greens joining a tri-partisan push for Tasmania to join the national league, we sought an assurance the stadium and the bid were not contingent on each other.
“Jeremy Rockliff looked me in the eye, in April, and then again in May, last year, and said, ‘Don’t worry Cass, the stadium is not part of the bid’.
“It was on that basis [that] we agreed to sign on, because we believe Tasmania deserves to be part of the national league, and because the AFL wanted to be sure there was tri-partisan support and no sovereign risk to the licence in the future.
“We would not have signed up to the bid if it we knew a stadium was ‘a prerequisite’ set down by the AFL and Gill McLachlan, especially if we knew it had already been agreed to.”
Ms O’Connor said the new stadium was “cooked up between Gill McLachlan and Peter Gutwein, then Jeremy Rockliff, in secret”.
“The premier also told parliament last September the stadium was not part of the bid. Kim Evans indicated today it has been since the beginning.
“Who is telling the truth here? Kim Evans in sworn testimony to PAC, or Jeremy Rockliff to parliament?
Ms O’Connor said the Tasmanian Greens “remain fiercely, adamantly opposed to a new billion-dollar stadium on nipaluna/Hobart’s waterfront”.
“Tasmania can’t afford and doesn’t need a new stadium.”