Why in a sports-mad nation, with football as an overarching religion divided into different denominations, has the promise of two new stadiums been such a vote loser?
Born without a sporting gene — a pathology I analysed in my recent memoir, Run for Your Life — I was advised by experts to be seen at the football. “The mob have got to see you there,” they would say, as if the electorate was a boofheaded rabble judging politicians on the colour of their scarves and the joy or agony writ on their features depending on the fate of their teams.
I never took their advice.
Gladys Berejiklian, with no evidence of a more passionate love for football, committed a year ago to a $2.2 billion stadium splurge to keep football lovers happy. High hopes. The latest poll shows 52 per cent of voters opposed and only 37 per cent in support. It is bleeding Coalition votes. Her dopey decision has brought new Labor leader Michael Daley to the threshold of government.
The electorate — not to be dismissed as “the mob” — has a high enough civic IQ to know the Premier was talking rubbish when she said a week ago that we “can have it all”. That had been almost as fatuous as her observation about a million dead fish that in a choice between people and fish, she had chosen people. They know budgeting is always a choice and think schools and hospitals have more urgent claims, especially when stadiums look more or less viable and one was thrown up as recently as the Olympics. Are we now to replace them every 20 years? When schools might wait 100 years for a total rebuild?
The electorate is telling the insiders on the Sydney Cricket Ground Trust that they simply don’t believe their invented arguments about safety and competitiveness.
To much of the public, these bigshots on the trust are the same self-perpetuating boardroom habitues who gave us the banking scandals — the business elite who vote themselves huge salaries, confining struggling Australia to stagnant wages or aged-care rip-offs, battling through cities because of the over-ambitious immigration targets forced by the business lobby. In fact, the chair of the trust, the amiable business blowhard Tony Shepherd, is perfectly cast. He chaired something called the Migration Council, set up by business to fight for a 40-million population, and WestConnex, the behemoth set up by Berejiklian to force through gruesome tollway options. He headed Abbott’s razor gang calling for assaults on low-income earners branded “rent seekers” while being paid $1500 a day.
On both stadiums and roads, for the government that appointed him he has served up only excrement bruschetta. That not a single transport project has been opened in Sydney in eight years of Coalition government makes the promise of a surge of finalised works ring pretty hollow, especially as half a million people look with horror each day on the wreckage of a Sydney light rail costing more than $2bn, now in court and likely to generate $600 million in compensation — and entirely unwanted by eastern suburbs residents.
By taking on Shepherd’s stadium trust, Daley has tapped into the same sentiments as Bill Shorten. If this is populism, let’s have more.
Bob Carr is a former foreign minister and the longest-serving premier of NSW. He is director of the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney.