Carnell got up for the arena, but Barr sits down

AIS Arena…deemed unfit for use.

“To her lasting credit, Kate Carnell decided, unlike Andrew Barr, that the fact that GIO Stadium was Commonwealth owned was irrelevant and what mattered was ensuring the needs of the Canberra community were met. “, writing JOHN STANHOPE.

ONE issue that caught my attention during the recent unnerving federal election campaign was the competing promises from different candidates and parties to rehabilitate the AIS Arena to a standard that allowed the Canberra Capitals to return to their rightful home.

Jon Stanhope.

As you will recall, the basketball team was forced off the site when it was deemed unfit for use. It has of course played a very useful role as a covid vaccination clinic.

Despite the obvious need for an arena makeover, so that the much-loved capitals have a venue worthy of the team’s importance and status, the ACT government has refused to commit to the upgrade. level required on the grounds that the building belonged to the Commonwealth and so it was up to Scomo to fix it and the capitals would simply have to put up with substandard facilities until the Commonwealth came to the party.

The fact that it was Canberra’s most successful and beloved women’s sports team and its legion of Canberra fans who would be disadvantaged by this macho stalemate was seemingly lost on Andrew Barr and Scott Morrison.

Politics was far more important to them than the relatively minor amount of funding required, namely a paltry $10 million or so, or the equivalent of 50 meters of streetcar. An amount whose insignificance is clearly illustrated by the comparison with the 9 billion dollars of debt accumulated by Barr and Shane Rattenbury, for God knows what, during the last six or seven years.

However, what most caught my attention was the very different approach of Labor and the Greens to the confusing conundrum of spending funds on property that one does not own versus that taken by a previous Prime Minister and Liberal government.

I’m sure those of you who were around 20 years ago remember it well. In the late 1990s, ACT Chief Minister Kate Carnell committed $45 million (that’s over $100 million in today’s dollars) for construction of the East Stand of GIO Stadium and the conversion of what was a circular athletics track to international standards, into a football stadium for use by the Raiders, Brumbies and Canberra Football Fraternity.

It is interesting to reflect on what this decision by Carnell and the Liberal Party meant for Canberra and what the consequences would have been for Canberra sport and the Canberra community had it not decided to step up and provide a facility of such central importance.

The Raiders could, if they had been able to survive, still play at Seiffert Oval in Queanbeyan and likewise the Brumbies, if they had survived, at Viking Oval in Tuggeranong. One can only wonder how many millions of fans visited the stadium because of Carnell’s actions. To her lasting credit she decided, unlike Andrew Barr, that the fact that GIO Stadium was then and still owned (for accounting purposes) by the Commonwealth was irrelevant and what mattered was to ensure that the needs of the Canberra community were met.

In one of the harsh ironies of politics, it’s also possible that Kate would still be chief minister had she not gone ahead with the project. But this is another story.

But back to the AIS Arena. The rivers of gold which we have been led to believe will begin to flow into the ACT from the coffers of the Commonwealth, now that we have a Federal Labor Government, will be welcome.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has also acknowledged that the ACT has traditionally not done well under Liberal governments, and he will ensure we receive our fair share of Commonwealth funding. Members of the ACT government who were there in 2007, when Labor last emerged from opposition, will have breathed a sigh of relief that the experience of that time will not be repeated. The first ACT-specific action by the Rudd Labor government was to drop John Howard’s $34 million funding for the Constitution Avenue upgrade.

This decision was followed some time later by a decision by the then Rudd Cabinet to refuse funding for the construction of the Majura Parkway, despite it having been recommended by Infrastructure Australia as a priority project.

Fortunately, more than four years later, Julia Gillard agreed, as Prime Minister, to fund half the cost of Majura Parkway if the ACT took the other half. I still have the gravel blowout to show for his deal.

Jon Stanhope was Chief Minister of the ACT from 2001 to 2011 and the only Chief Minister to govern with a majority in the Assembly. Read more of his columns on

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Ian Meikle, editor


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