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Just the ticket: How deal to bring rugby league to Qld put Labor in box seat

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The Palaszczuk Government will not disclose how much it paid to secure top rugby league games but has revealed the perks that came with it.

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While there has been speculation of millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded incentives, for Queensland to host games that promised flow-on benefits for local economies, the government has refused to reveal how much it cost to bring more games to the state.

The Liberal National Party used a question on notice to ask how much it cost the government to get the first State of Origin game moved from Melbourne to Townsville this year.

The government, which had also rebuffed questions from journalists, answered that it was “commercial-in-confidence and amounts cannot be disclosed to protect the interests of the State and partners, and to ensure Queensland’s competitiveness with other state and international event and tourism destinations”.

However,  there were individuals who also had an interest in the games.

Official disclosures reveal the NRL gave the Premier and her top bureaucrat Rachel Hunter tickets to the first Origin game in Townsville, in a $1,390 package that Hunter insisted would help “strengthen ties with key stakeholders such as tourism industry leaders”.

Federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese also received two tickets to the first game from the NRL.

The Premier’s interest was below the $969.95 threshold for her to register the gift separately on the parliamentary interests register, as she did for two tickets the NRL gave her for a corporate box at the second game in Brisbane.

The register shows the NRL gave Speaker Curtis Pitt tickets to the first Origin game and Health Minister Yvette D’Ath tickets to the second game.

Cabinet colleague Glenn Butcher went to the second Origin game as a guest of Tabcorp, and the third game, on the Gold Coast, as a guest of the NRL.

The Brisbane Broncos also gifted Palaszczuk a ticket for the corporate box in the NRL Magic Round in May, a week after the Queensland Reds have her two tickets for the corporate box at their Super Rugby grand final.

Separate disclosures have the Premier’s department giving tickets to the Magic Round to Palaszczuk, a media adviser, a public servant, four union officials, four members of an association, two members of a tourism body, and two university members.

The government indirectly controls Suncorp Stadium and, according to the department, it was important to use the event to “strengthen ties with key industry and sectoral leaders”.

Queensland Labor Senator Anthony Chisholm received four tickets from the NRL for the Magic Round, as well as another ticket and hospitality via the Australian Rugby League Commission, while colleague Murray Watt went to the first Origin game in Townsville as a guest of brewers Lion.

While Melbourne lost the right to host the first State of Origin due to an outbreak of COVID-19, which also cost Newcastle the third game, the continuing spread of the virus in southern states led the NRL to move all teams to Queensland for the remainder of the regular season. Any free tickets for those games have yet to be revealed.

Repeated hotel quarantine breaches have put the competition on notice, however, and again forced the government to deny sportspeople and celebrities have more freedom than other Queenslanders.

Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young had given the NRL its final warning but on Thursday said the latest breach involved “mitigating circumstances for the individual” player involved. Queensland Health continues to have concerns about hotel quarantine more broadly.

Palaszczuk will not be attending any rugby league games any time soon. She is in hotel quarantine herself, after returning from Tokyo where she helped secure the biggest sporting event for Brisbane – the 2032 Olympic Games.

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