In little more than 36 hours since Queensland Premier Anna Bligh’s Carrara Stadium $60 million funding back flip, a hasty thumbs down by Liberal-National Party Leader Lawrence Springborg has delivered the government a classic campaign wedge in its battle to retain vital Gold Coast seats.

As Mudgeeraba Labor MP Di Reilly, sitting on a margin of just 2.7%, remarks with some understatement in today’s Gold Coast Bulletin: “this is a gift that goes on giving”. She was referring to the job creation and impact on tourism a Carrara redevelopment would contribute to the region’s future. But thanks to Springborg’s myopic reaction, the political dividend to Labor’s Coast election hopes is now paying off with the kind of point scoring that would do a rampaging Geelong Football Club proud.

Borg wasted little time in dismissing Bligh’s opportunist Carrara largesse as a waste of money and claiming it was straight out of the Peter Beattie playbook (which it is) — but that’s not the point. In terms of upcoming Federal Government and Gold Coast City Council shovel-ready infrastructure spending that creates jobs and will bring lasting benefits, Carrara’s a no-brainer. And it isn’t just about AFL. It can also host other big sports and major events, including becoming a possible Twenty/20 domestic franchise host, as well as being added to Cricket Australia’s international venue roster. All of this transcends a campaign stunt, even if Bligh’s conversion on the road to Carrara was a long time coming.

But following Borg’s declaration that Carrara funding is a non-starter under his leadership and possibly not worth his further attention for the rest of the campaign, Gold Coast Football Club chairman John Witheriff responded yesterday by emailing his club’s 40,000 registered supporters, most of whom have a vote, the good news:

This commitment towards construction of a new Gold Coast stadium is a significant step forward in our journey to becoming the 17th team in the AFL. It is also vitally important for the local economy.

The new Gold Coast Football Club will return economic and social — as well as sporting — benefits to the Gold Coast community through increased jobs, greater economic and tourist activity and greater opportunities for local families.

The AFL club will lead to an additional $34 million is spending each year in the local economy and the construction of a new stadium will create much needed employment for the local building and construction industry.

Congratulations to the State Government for backing this important initiative and I would personally like to thank Premier Anna Bligh and Sports Minister Judy Spence and acknowledge the hard work of our local Labor Party MPs in particular Peter Lawlor, Di Reilly, Margaret Keech, Peta Kaye-Croft, Phil Gray and Christine Smith who have contributed to this outcome.

This implicit debt of gratitude to the government and its local Labor MPs that’s helped break the Carrara funding gridlock that’s stalled the Gold Coast licence bid with the AFL Commission has now virtually guaranteed that a Bligh election win will be rewarded by the commission then voting to admit the fledgling club to the national competition.

But no sooner had Borg put on the funding blinkers than Coast candidates and MPs on all sides yesterday began pledging their support for Carrara, with the Bulletin claiming a panicked LNP’s Ray Stevens (Mermaid Beach) and John-Paul Langbroek (Surfers Paradise) are not only openly questioning their Leader’s stance, but furiously working to change his mind. The Bulletin, a traditional LNP supporter, highlights the enormous wedge Bligh has managed by today’s banner front page headline: “C’mon Borg, play ball — back Carrara so the big men can fly”.

Like everyone else outside Springborg’s inner sanctum, the paper highlights the unaffordable political risk he runs in alienating thousands of Coast voters if he sticks to his guns. If he can’t win at least some of the six currently held Coast Labor seats, he can’t win the election. Now the ALP has a ready-made partisan issue where a vote for them is essentially a mandate for an AFL Gold Coast club — while voting for the LNP will all but kill it off. Such a stark choice mocks Springborg’s political radar.

As long as Bligh stayed on the sidelines in resisting AFL overtures, his funding opposition kept the issue neutral. But once Bligh jumped, he should have been looking for his own parachute. Now, even if he does change his mind and the pressure will be enormous, he will look weak and indecisive. Either way, he’s caused his party irreparable damage with thousands of Coast voters.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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