The NSW Cabinet’s decision to demolish and replace the functioning Sydney Olympic Stadium and Sydney Football Stadium with two new sporting grounds at a cost of over $2 billion is an unjustifiable exercise and a betrayal of our state’s taxpayers. The expensive proposal — costing each NSW household some $720 — will get rid of two existing venues that continue to meet international standards and is unlikely to deliver returns that justify its extravagant price tag.
The new stadiums detract from NSW’s imperative to focus on crucial infrastructure that caters to Sydney’s rapidly growing population. Unlike roads and railways, sporting stadiums do not directly benefit members of the public who pay for them, yet they do deliver overwhelming benefits for the elites and moguls who own sporting teams and franchises as well as corporate sponsors.
Transport minister Stuart Ayres has nonetheless tried to justify the move, stating that “NSW has gone from being the best-placed state to host sport and major events in Australia, to just about the worst-placed state.”
This statement is at odds with the facts. Sydney Olympic stadium is only 17 years old and is already a celebrated international venue. Its replacement will seat 7,200 fewer people than the current venue. The new Sydney football stadium would seat 45,000 people – just a thousand over its current capacity.
It is hard to see how the new stadiums would make Sydney a far more coveted place for events than it already is. Sydney is already home to both Australia and the wider Oceania region’s largest urban population and sporting audience – fans who turn out nearly every week to see better games, not to sit in shinier buildings.
Moreover, multiple studies, including papers from the Heartland Institute and the University of Maryland, have found that state-owned stadiums generate a small amount of direct and indirect tax revenue relative to their expectations and despite their cost. In other words, they do not easily pay for themselves. Given that the new venues would not host many more spectators than the current ones and that the new Football stadium will not be hosting any grand finals, Bledisloe cups or even significant Socceroo qualifiers, the wisdom of trashing perfectly good, state-of-the-art venues to put up expensive replacements is bizarre.
In any event, why should taxpayers concerned more about schools, hospitals and education be forced to foot the bill for facilities that private sporting clubs and franchises like the NRL are set to profit immensely from? It comes as no surprise that these groups lobby the strongest for new stadiums.
Though government first considered the idea in 2015, it is a throwback to the Baird era in more ways than one. Like 2016’s disastrous and hastily reversed greyhound racing ban, it comes abruptly without wider public or party room consultation. It is likely to attract backlash from a community once again denied a say in their state’s affairs despite surrendering millions to our governments annually in taxes.
Although we can at least look forward to two new entertainment venues – coincidentally and conveniently scheduled for completion right before the next NSW election.
Satyajeet Marar is Director of Policy at the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance.
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