Speaking up for Local Sporting Venues

23 September 2020


Second Reading Debate

Ms JODIE HARRISON(Charlestown) (21:13:30):I speak on the Sporting Venues Authorities Amendment (Venues NSW) Bill 2020 with serious concern as the member for Charlestown and as a representative and resident of the Hunter region. I join my Opposition colleagues in opposing the bill. The merger of Venues NSW and the Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Trust will concentrate too much power in the hands of the trust and it will undermine local oversight of local venues. For myself and my colleagues in the Hunter this is a major red flag about the purpose and intent of this legislation. I share the concerns of many of my colleagues that the amalgamation pathway plotted by the Government will result in the Hunter missing out on events that should rightfully include our local venues, including the Hunter stadium, the Newcastle Showground and the Newcastle Entertainment Centre.

That is of particular concern to many of my constituents because, as anyone who has ever spent any time in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie can tell you, we love our sport. On game days when the Newcastle Knights or the Jets are playing, the streets around Hunter stadium are clogged with cars and filled with people. People gather to see hometown heroes battle for glory. That love of sport continues right down to the local level. Every weekend parks across both cities are packed with kids playing cricket or netball or footy of all codes or even basketballI cannot forget that; one of my staffers is a basketball tragic. Noone who was around to see it will forget the excitement and energy of the day that the Knights captured the premiership in 1997 and then again in 2001. Those wins came either side of the closure of BHP and it was a time of great upheaval and an extraordinary boon to an uncertain community.

Our Hunter sporting venues are cultural centres of our region and for many in Newcastle and LakeMacquarie it is anathema that these vital cultural venues, these centres of our community, should be managed and run from Sydney without local input. The board of any merged entity must include representation from our regional sporting centres, including Wollongong and Newcastle. In my view, those protections for local venues and local interests should be enshrined in the legislation as a matter of priority. Furthermore, the removal of the regional advisory committees, which were promised inclusion on the board, erodes faith in the ability of the board to remain transparent and to consider local perspectives. The advisory committees should be reinstated and local councils should also have representation so that communities through their elected representatives have some say.

I understand the philosophy underlying this bill: The events market for State-owned venues should be venue neutral. I agree with that philosophy when considering where to host major events. The best venue to fit the events should be the venue chosen. But the bill will allow the Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Trust, which has extraordinary political influence, to maintain that influence. The trust's power was summed up by Alexander Smith ofTheSydney Morning Herald, who wrote:

The Trust, which manages the Moore Park sporting precinct, including the SCG and the Allianz Stadium site, has a reputation as one of Sydney's most powerful institutions and exclusive clubs.

Indeed, the previous Labor Government completed a report that advised amalgamating all venues into one entity. That legislation was opposed by the then Opposition because the former Government would not accept an amendment that would allow the trust to continue to distort the market. I am also concerned that the post of chief executive officer of the new amalgamated body will become a political appointment. Enshrining in legislation that the CEO should hold office for a term not exceeding five years and should not be CEO for consecutive terms longer than 10 years is troubling. Employment of a CEO should be dealt with via an employment contract like any other employee and should not be handled by legislation.

We recently celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the Games of the XXVII Olympiad, the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. The Olympics opened Sydney to the world at the dawn of a new millennium and left our State with an extraordinary set of legacy venues. At the closing ceremony, which I remember watching very fondly, long-term President of the International Olympic Committee Juan Antonio Samaranch enthused:

I am proud and happy to proclaim that you have presented to the world the best Olympic games ever.

This is the sporting legacy of the State of New South Wales. Like the trusts that protect our parklands, the SydneyOlympic Park Authority Act was designed to protect this legacy. However, schedule 2 to the bill will amend the Sydney Olympic Park Authority Act to transfer all the Olympic park's assets, rights and liabilities by order. I am concerned about what this may mean for the future of those venues and the protection of an extraordinary part of our State's cultural and sporting heritage.

The Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Trust Act requires that proposed changes to land scheduled under the Act need to go through the Parliament. The bill will amend those provisions in the Act, allowing the Minister to change or abolish the classification of controlled or designated lands without the input of the Parliament. By removing parliamentary oversight from this process, the Government is once again demonstrating its contempt for the role of the Parliament. We are not elected to rubberstamp the decisions made by the Executive; we have been elected to hold the Executive to account. I am personally troubled by these elements of the bill. This strikes me as another land grab on the part of this Government and I join in calls for the land and assets of Sydney Olympic Park and the Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Trust to be protected by legislation. I oppose the bill as it stands and I call for the Government to agree to amendments proposed by the Opposition.