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Politics of marginal seats cost Coast stadium upgrade

Insights

When it comes to which community deserves a big sports stadium, it helps if you are in a marginal seat.

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One announcement that was not included in Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s generous federal budget was a hoped-for $20 million to help pay for an upgrade to the Sunshine Coast’s increasingly popular football stadium at Kawana.

The failure to back the expansion plans came despite a promise by two local philanthropists to tip in another $11 million of their own money to pay the project bill.

It also contrasts with the government’s generosity towards Townsville in 2016, when it was only too happy to part with $100 million of taxpayer funds to help deliver the northern city a brand new stadium, now home to the North Queensland Cowboys.

Unfortunately for Sunshine Coast residents, they did not have two crucial ingredients when it comes to extracting money from Canberra – timing (the Townsville money came just weeks before a federal election) and location (the Townsville-based seat of Herbert is traditionally among the most closely fought in the country).

The Sunshine Coast seat of Fisher is held by the LNP’s Andrew Wallace, the latest in a long string of conservative MPs that have represented the area, on a margin of 12.7 per cent.

Presented with the proposal that philanthropists Roy Thompson and Rod Forrester would pledge a combined $11 million to upgrade the local stadium provided the government invested $20 million, Wallace eventually had to break the bad news that the money could not be found.

He told local media it was all about “competing obligations”.

Sunshine Coast Stadium has been attracting bumper crowds of up to 12,000 in recent years for events such as NRL matches and the women’s State of Origin clash.

The upgrade would have increased its capacity to 16,000.

Property developers Thompson, who has given a total of $14 million to the local university in recent years, and Forrester, founder of the FKP group, saw merit in the plan, as did the Queensland government, which has pledged $20 million.

The federal government’s failure to help fund the project has left Sunshine Coast Mayor Mark Jamieson livid.

“The loss of this opportunity is 100 per cent, entirely due to the inaction of the federal government,” he said.

Finding the cash to help pay for big projects like stadium upgrades has long required understanding of how the political winds are blowing.

A decade ago, Queensland communities were aghast when then Labor regional development minister Simon Crean plucked a planned upgrade of Kardinia Park football stadium in Geelong from scores of other projects competing for help and deemed it worthy of a $10 million federal investment.

The minister felt no need to explain why a stadium upgrade in a big city was chosen above the 76 other projects – many of them in small Queensland rural centres – that an independent panel had recommended were more worthy of funding under a program that was meant to encourage regional development.

But there was the little matter of the nearby seat of Corangamite, held by Labor at the time, as being (you guessed it) traditionally among the most closely fought in the country.

With a stadium he is determined to make one of the region’s top drawcards, Jamieson is undeterred. He is now doubling down, demanding that Wallace and his government colleagues now deliver the $11 million the philanthropists wanted to pay, plus the original $20 million investment.

“To get the project back on track, our council and our community will be expecting the Federal Government to cover the lost $11 million in addition to the $20 million we have sought from them for this project.

“Filling this gap should not fall onto the shoulders of our ratepayers when neither they, nor our council, created this problem.”

With a federal election perhaps before the end of the year, the Mayor knows that one of those elusive political ingredients for success – timing – may well soon be in his grasp.

 

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