Yesterday a Crikey reader claimed LNP Leader Lawrence Springborg’s determined opposition to the $60 million Carrara Stadium redevelopment state handout, had less to do with his belief the money could be better spent elsewhere, and more to do with looking after billionaire LNP party backer, mining magnate Clive Palmer.
Palmer, a Gold Coast resident and Queensland’s richest man, is a lifetime National Party supporter, former official and now public enemy number one in the eyes of the ALP state party machine. The gloves really came off after February 25, when Palmer made good on his threat to launch defamation actions against Premier Anna Bligh and Treasurer Andrew Fraser over their claims his role as the party’s biggest donor allowed him to exercise undue business influence over party policy, or as Bligh bluntly put it “buy himself a party”.
It was a claim Bligh was hardly retreating from this week after Springborg announced he favoured overturning a current state ban on uranium mining.
She told a Monday news conference: “Today I think we see not only a very clear choice between myself and Mr Springborg on the question of uranium, we see further evidence of Mr Palmer’s influence within the Queensland National Party.”
Now following on from the linkage suggesting Springborg’s Carrara position would benefit Palmer’s ownership of new A-League expansion club Gold Coast United, the ALP was quick to pounce. Andrew Fraser has claimed that in the space of a few hours on Monday, Springborg had ensured Palmer got his wish on uranium mining: “followed by his wish to block the AFL team for the Gold Coast lest it interfere with his plans for the Gold Coast soccer team.”
Palmer has made no secret of his opposition to any level of government or council funding being provided for a Carrara or any AFL stadium development when health and education are crying out for funding. In an interview I conducted with him some time ago I put it to him that his stand was surely hypocritical when he was benefiting from that same kind of funding that had built Robina’s $160 million Skilled Park where his club and the Gold Coast Titan are resident.
“Skilled Stadium wasn’t set up for us,” Palmer argued.
“We are paying commercial rates set by the stadium operator with no discount, and no government support and we’re taking a gamble that if we don’t get enough people we’re losing money. Skilled is run by the government and they can set the rates higher and we then have to meet that higher rate.
“We don’t know that it will be a benefit yet — we have to see if we make money. It’s like saying Suncorp (Stadium) is set up for the (Queensland) Roar, but they lose money every week playing there.
“I can’t control government policy but I don’t think the council should pay $20 million towards the stadium (Carrara). Our consortium hasn’t got any money from the government.”
Palmer is right to say his club wasn’t even on the horizon when Skilled Park was built; but he can’t argue he’s been gift-wrapped a state of the art home ground built at government cost and sitting on a $20 million Gold Coast City Council land purchase. Furthermore the club will receive, along with the Titans, some council rate relief and council-funded stadium maintenance costs.
Yet the reality is Gold Coast United’s A-League season is mostly out of cycle with the AFL and NRL and is therefore less commercially threatened than Rugby League which is a direct competitor of AFL. Also fans of both these codes, while hardly likely to support one another, will have much less of a problem also committing to Gold Coast United.
Gold Coast Mayor Ron Clarke told me: “I think that’s probably true where if you go to Titans games you will stick with Rugby League, and if you follow AFL you will stick with Australian Rules. I think there is more antipathy among the oval ball codes than resentment towards the round ball.”
But the man most feeling the heat today on a drenched Gold Coast is Springborg, over his Carrara by-pass. What the Gold Coast Bulletin describes as a “rattled” Springborg, late yesterday cancelled what was clearly at the start of the campaign going to be a key Coast election platform, addressing his prime business constituency at a Combined Chamber of Commerce lunch today.
Citing the non-attendance of Anna Bligh who he thought he would get to debate instead of her deputy Paul Lucas, he saw no point in going ahead with his earlier commitment. No-one is buying that excuse as Bligh was never put forward by the organisers as accepting, and indeed his office was told was unlikely to attend.
Running scared from your own business heartland, even though they were bound to grill him over Carrara, is not a good look for a man where the most recent polls have been trending towards him and showing Bligh’s appeal dimming.
His no-show demonstrates just how badly he’s miscalculated in not getting on board the Coastal AFL train — but then he will always be welcome at Skilled Park.