Carnell stood up for arena, but Barr holds out


AIS Arena… found unfit for purpose.

“It is her enduring honor that, unlike Andrew Barr, Kate Carnell decided that the fact that the GIO Stadium was Commonwealth property was irrelevant and that it was important to ensure that the needs of the Canberra community are met. were met,” he writes. JON STANHOPE

One issue that caught my attention in the recent exciting federal election campaign was the competing promises of various candidates and parties to rehabilitate the AIS Arena to a standard that would allow the Canberra Capitals to return to their rightful home.

Jon Stanhope.

As you recall, the basketball team was forced to leave the venue when it was deemed unfit for its intended purpose. As a covid vaccination clinic, it has obviously played a very useful role.

Despite the apparent need for a makeover of the arena so that the beloved Capitals have a venue worthy of the team’s importance and status, the ACT government declined to commit to the required upgrade on the grounds that it building belonged to the Commonwealth and it was therefore up to Scomo to fix it and the Capitals would just have to make do with substandard facilities until the Commonwealth got 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 apparently lost to Andrew Barr and Scott Morrison.

Politics was far more important to them than the relatively small amount of money required, namely a miserly $10 million or so, or the equivalent of 50 yards of streetcar. An amount whose insignificance is clearly illustrated when compared to the $9 billion in debt that Barr and Shane Rattenbury, thank goodness, have accumulated over the past six or seven years.

What particularly caught my attention, however, was the vastly different approach of Labor and the Greens to the compound conundrum of spending funds on property not owned by a previous Liberal Prime Minister and government.

I’m sure those of you who were there about 20 years ago remember it well. In the late 1990s, then-ACT Prime Minister Kate Carnell committed $45 million (i.e., more than $100 million in today’s dollars) to build the Eastern Stand at GIO Stadium and the conversion of what was an International Standard Circular Running Track. was, in a football stadium for use by the Raiders, Brumbies and the Canberra Football Association.

It’s interesting to think about what that decision by Carnell and the Liberal Party meant for Canberra and what the consequences would have been for Canberra’s sport and the Canberra community if they had not decided to act and create a facility of to deliver such a central interest.

The Raiders, if they could have survived, would still be playing at Seiffert Oval in Queanbeyan and like the Brumbies, if they survived, at Viking Oval in Tuggeranong. One can only wonder how many millions of fans have visited the stadium because of Carnell’s actions. To her enduring credit, unlike Andrew Barr, she decided that the fact that GIO Stadium was then and still is owned (for accounting purposes) by the Commonwealth was irrelevant and that the point was to ensure that the needs of the community of Canberra was met.

In one of the harsh ironies of politics, it’s also possible that Kate would still be Prime Minister if she hadn’t gone ahead with the project. But that is an other story.

But back to the AIS Arena. The rivers of gold that we have been led to believe will begin flowing from the Commonwealth treasury into the ACT, now that we have a federal Labor government, will be most welcome.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has also acknowledged that the ACT has traditionally not performed 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 came out of opposition, will breathe a sigh of relief that the experience of that time will not be repeated. The Rudd Labor government’s first ACT-specific action was to forego $34 million in funding allocated by John Howard to upgrade Constitution Avenue.

That decision was followed a little later by a decision by the then Rudd cabinet to withhold 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, as Prime Minister, Julia Gillard agreed to fund half the cost of the Majura Parkway if the ACT raised the other half. I still have the gravel rash to show her agreement.

Jon Stanhope was the prime minister of ACT from 2001 to 2011, and the only one to rule with a majority in the Assembly. Read more of his columns at

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