Sydney Stadiums saga shows infrastructure decisions are not reflecting community priorities

The NSW Greens have called for a public inquiry into the State Government’s approach to major infrastructure decisions following the release of a Parliamentary Committee’s report into the Government’s Sydney Stadium Strategy.

The inquiry was established in April this year to inquire into and report on the stadium strategy following significant public opposition to plans to knock down and rebuild the Sydney Football Stadium.

NSW Greens MP Justin Field who sat on the inquiry said, “It is clear that the Government has got its priorities wrong. They are putting stadiums before essential public services and they are putting the male dominated corporate sports ahead of smaller sports and in particular women's sport.  

The report made 10 recommendations including calling out the Government’s use of cost benefit analysis in justifying major projects.

Mr Field said, “We see time and again major projects proceed that have significant impacts on communities and huge opportunity costs in terms of other priorities not being pursued and cost benefit analysis processes are being used to justify multibillion dollar spending.

“It was clear from the testimony to the inquiry that the assumptions that underpinned the Government’s decisions were very shaky.

“I’m glad the committee supported a Greens recommendation to refer the Government’s approach to cost benefit analysis and its use and effectiveness in major government infrastructure decisions to a public inquiry.

“Much has been made of the public benefits of the stadium investment but ultimately it benefits huge corporate sports that attract big sponsorship and broadcast deals. The two major stadiums serve about 3.5 million people a year and much of that investment comes at the expense of smaller stadiums and sports infrastructure.

“That relatively small attendance at major stadiums compares to 55 million people who visit our national parks network each year and who bring hundreds of millions of dollars into local regional economies.

“People are right to question this Government’s priorities and how they are making major decisions,” he said.

The full report can be seen here.

Justin Field’s full dissenting report is below

The NSW community deserved a public inquiry into the decision making that has led to more than $2.1bn being allocated to the building and redevelopment of major stadiums in Sydney. The public response suggested overwhelming opposition to this level of spending when so many other services and infrastructure are in need of Government investment.

This inquiry should have happened before final decisions were made or the Government should have pressed pause on planning to demolish the Sydney Football Stadium to enable the inquiry to hear evidence and make recommendations on the best way forward. The current situation means the hands of the committee were somewhat tied with the Government trying to push ahead to ensure demolition contracts are signed before a potential change of Government in 2019. This approach further risks eroding public trust in the process.

The public is right to be concerned by the process and the decision. How a Government sets its priorities for public investment is mostly a political process, but these decisions tend to be cloaked in a shroud of numbers and justifications that are drawn from an often secret business case underpinned by a benefit cost ratio (BCR) assessment.

In being able to see and interrogate the business case for the Sydney Football Stadium, it is clear that this process has significant shortcomings. The assumptions that underpinned the business case were highly subjective and based on very little solid information about the likely number of events or future attendees. Even with assumptions likely to be favourable for the Government’s case, the Sydney Football Stadium knockdown and rebuild proposal failed to meet the Government’s own target for major infrastructure investment of having a BCR of greater than 1. This process has shown significant weakness in the Government’s use of cost benefit analysis which has also been seen in other major infrastructure projects in recent years. I am glad that a Greens recommendation to refer the use of cost benefit analysis for major infrastructure to a public inquiry was supported by the committee. This should be pursued as soon as possible.

The Government and the Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Trust (the Trust) relied heavily on identified safety, security and compliance issues at the current Sydney Football Stadium to justify the rebuild proposal. Central to these claims was the contents of a Conditional Certificate of Occupancy issued in December 2016 to the trust by consultancy Blackett Maguire and Goldsmith. The legal basis of this document was the subject of significant questioning in the hearings. The document was presented by the Government and the Trust in both the inquiry hearings, submissions and in the public debate as if it had some legal basis that showed the continued operation of the facility could not be assured past December 2019 and therefore necessitated a knock down rebuild decision. This misrepresented the document. Under questioning it became clear that it was a bespoke document created for the Trust and was in no way a statutory requirement. While it may have been useful to inform the Trust of deficiencies or risks in the facility that needed addressing or mitigating, it was presented as something much more, including as signally that the venue would be unfit for purpose after 2019. I am disappointed the committee did not support stronger language in the report to reflect what I saw as a misrepresentation of the document which has skewed the public discussion about the options for the ongoing use of the existing stadium with remediation work to address its existing issues.

What we do know is that the Government intends to spend about $1.6bn rebuilding or refurbishing the Sydney Football Stadium and Stadium Australia. All up, about 3.5 million people are likely to attends events each year.

The beneficiaries of this massive spending is primarily the major male dominated sporting codes. Sports that earn tens of millions each year in broadcast rights and sponsorship deals - often from alcohol and gambling companies.

The prioritisation of these venues seems to have come at the expense of other sports. The inquiry heard compelling evidence from Netball NSW. An investment of around $50 million in a roof at the Tennis Centre at Homebush would change the future for that sport. The lack of suitable venues at the right size to maximise a paying audience makes broadcasting more games unprofitable. The cost is on grassroots sports and the ability for young girls to see their heros play on TV.

Or compare the 3.5 million who will attend an event at a major stadium next year with the 55 million people who will visit our National Parks network and who bring hundreds of millions of dollars into local regional economies. The community is right to question the priorities of this Government.

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  • Justin Field
    published this page in News 2018-09-27 14:10:48 +1000

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