Community-endorsed ACT Independent Senate candidate, David Pocock, is calling on the Australian Government to start giving the nation’s capital its fair share of infrastructure funding following decades of neglect.
“The practice of pork-barrelling marginal seats at the expense of genuine needs-based investment in so-called ‘safe’ seats like Canberra has got to stop,” David said.
“No matter who wins government at the next federal election, I will be up there fighting to square the ledger on what has been a massive under-investment over decades, and the past nine years in particular.
“The ACT is receiving an unacceptably tiny fraction of the $110 billion federal infrastructure investment pipeline and our local businesses are paying the price in lost opportunities for economic growth.”
David said a joint Territory and Australian Government commitment to a new National Convention Centre and Stadium complex was needed as a priority nation-building project after years of prevarication on the proposal.
“We need stronger collaboration between the Territory and Australian Governments and a long-term plan to start catching up, transforming the capital into a powerhouse of social and economic opportunity for the local community and the nation more broadly,” David said.
“We are about to see billions roll out the door in the Federal Budget. Canberra was conceived as a meeting place, we need the infrastructure to enable us to renew our place in the world.
“Senator Seselja saying this needs to be ‘driven by the Territory’ is a cop-out. We are talking about a major piece of infrastructure for Australia’s capital city – and the federal government should be taking the lead as it has been more than happy to do elsewhere.
“Canberra is the least known capital city in the developed world, and it’s no wonder when our facilities are beyond the end of their useful life and no longer fit for purpose.
“We can’t host a lunch for more than 1,000 people, our indoor entertainment capacity maxes out at 1,800 and we have nothing approaching the sort of world-class facilities needed to attract major sporting, business and cultural events.
“The National Convention Centre in Canberra is the most dated in the country, having been constructed in 1989 and receiving the least investment in refurbishment in the intervening years.
“Before COVID-19, the Convention Centre was missing out on upwards of $20 million in bookings per year due to capacity restraints.
“The business events industry in the ACT supported around 7,200 jobs, directly contributing $1.12 billion to the economy with an additional value add of $539 million.
“Now is a time for leadership and vision to seize the opportunity to build back stronger and create a more resilient economy.
“I’m well-aware of the strains on our federal budget position and the need for fiscal responsibility but we must balance this against the enormous hit our business community, and the CBD in particular, has taken over the past two years and the urgent requirement to ensure a lasting recovery.
“Other governments facing similar or worse fiscal circumstances here and around the world have shown that it can be done, and that it will pay dividends.
“We need certainty and commitment on a path forward around key pieces of infrastructure so we can attract private sector investment. These projects have been talked about for too long, it’s time to take action and make them happen.
“Talking to Canberrans they feel ignored, overlooked and deeply frustrated that no one has gone into bat for them on projects that will transform our city’s future.
“The lack of investment over a long period means that government will now need to spend taxpayer money on band-aid solutions to get us through until longer-term solutions are delivered. This is not an efficient use of precious resources.”
The ACT has only three projects listed on the Infrastructure Australia priority list out of a total of 149 projects: the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge Upgrade, AIS modernisation, and Canberra Public Transport improvements. By comparison, Tasmania has seven, NSW thirty-seven, and WA twenty-two.
The ACT’s share of $15.2 billion in federal infrastructure funding for FY2021-2022 is $166.5 million, made up predominantly of Light Rail Stage 2 funding. Of the overall $110 billion federal infrastructure pipeline, the ACT’s share is around $1.2 billion, or just over 1 per cent which is not proportionate to either need or population size and compounds longstanding underinvestment in the territory.
Mr Pocock is backing the major infrastructure project as part of the first plank in his Making Canberra Count policy suite outlining a long-term vision for the nation’s capital for which he will seek joint Territory and Australian Government commitments if elected.
National Convention Centre and Stadium in the City
The current National Convention Centre does not have the capacity to attract or host major conferences and exhibitions.
Canberra Stadium in Bruce has reached the end of its useful life and is no longer fit for purpose. It is incapable of hosting major sporting events and is a poor home for Canberra’s beloved Raiders and Brumbies.
Over the past decade we’ve seen significant investments in other capital cities around the country and indeed around the world to modernise their convention centres and stadia. Sydney, Perth, Townsville, Geelong, Christchurch, Wellington, Auckland – Canberra needs to be able to compete.
A new shared Stadium and Convention Centre Precinct on the site of the old Civic pool with strong connections to Commonwealth Park will provide a premiere sporting and conference experience for locals and visitors.
It will revitalise a CBD hit hard by the pandemic and re-orient the city, so it no longer has its back towards one of its best assets, Lake Burley Griffin. It will create a venue for major live music concerts and create new opportunities to bring major events to Canberra.
The longer this project is delayed, the more it will cost to deliver and the higher the rising tally of lost opportunities will be.
The existing Stadium site at Bruce could offer an important sale and redevelopment opportunity, especially for much-needed infill housing.
Construction of a new stadium will take time and upgrading a venue like Viking Park could provide a temporary home ground for the Brumbies and Raiders as a viable interim solution that will enhance the player and spectator experience. Demountable stadium seating and increased amenity can be employed quickly and cost-effectively to increase the venue’s current capacity.
Examples of the economic benefits this type of nation-building investment can deliver abound.
The new Townsville stadium hosted 30 major events in its first 18 months of operations, welcoming over 417,000 patrons. Of those events, five sporting matches alone generated $37.9 million and some 10,000 job hours according to a local economic analysis.
At a much larger scale, but still indicative of the economic multiplier effects from this type of infrastructure investment, the rebuilt International Convention Centre in Sydney generated $510 million in direct expenditure for NSW and led to 981,445 overnight stays in Sydney and 2,806 local jobs being created in 2019/20, despite losing four months’ activity due to the pandemic.
Image and concept design credit: GHDWoodhead