Everything is falling into place for the powerful SCG Trust led by Tony Shepherd, Alan Jones, Maurice Newman et al. First they got a bridge over Anzac Parade, the Albert Tibby, at a cost to the taxpayers of New South Wales of $38 million, a mere $15 million over budget. Then they kept mum while the election was in progress. Now that the election is done and won, we find out the real plan — we are in for a brand-new stadium. Of course, the trust’s dreams are far bigger than its existing patch of territory. No worries — invite the right people to the trust box, whisper in the right political ears, and that wonderful piece of public land known as Moore Park is theirs for the taking. A bit inconvenient that it’s actually public land that it is treasured by many thousands of people that live around it. But who are they to stand in the way of progress, of dreams for a decent car park for members, a giant new stadium where those useless old fig trees stand and where mums and dads picnic and kick a ball with the kids?

In March, when news sneaked out that the land grab was on for Moore Park, the then-environment minister, Rob Stokes, picked his words carefully. I am “not aware of any proposal” from the SCG Trust to gain parts of Moore Park, he was quoted as saying in The Sydney Morning Herald. That’s strange. Because two years earlier, the SCG Trust had released a cliche-soaked video of its expansionist master plan (“a stage for our heroes”, “a place where dreams are made”,”world class”, “electric with emotion”, and on and on and on).

While the video has now gone from the SCG website, it’s near impossible to believe that a NSW minister didn’t know about it. That master plan included a take-over of virtually all of Moore Park, all the land bordered by Moore Park Road, South Dowling Street, Cleveland Street and Lang Road. It included the closure of Driver Avenue, two big new car parks for at least 4000 cars, a museum of sporting excellence, a new public square and pedestrian plaza, an indoor cricket facility and a health and fitness facility. What remarkable monetisation of what is now public land.

Moore Park has always been in public hands. Governor Lachlan Macquarie proclaimed the land as the Sydney Common in 1811, a place for the people of Sydney to share and enjoy. For free. It is now managed by the Centennial and Moore Park Trust, and there has never been any suggestion that they do not do a very good job. There’s also no suggestion that they don’t provide sporting grounds of the highest standard for elites sports teams such as the Sydney Swans, the Roosters and NSW Waratahs, all of whom enjoy long-term deals to use the fields. And when those elite groups are not there, and that’s 86% of the time, they are free for public recreation and the many small community sporting groups to use.

If the reports this week are true that a deal has done by the NSW government and the SCG Trust to haul in public land for commercial use, there are many questions that must be answered. Do the people of this growing metropolis not count? The 30,000-plus people of Green Square, plus the terrace dwellers of Paddington, Redfern and Surry Hills, for whom Moore Park is their only real backyard? Is there not enough space at Olympic Park in Sydney’s geographic centre for more commercial sporting space? Is it right to attract evermore cars into congested inner-city roads? And does absolutely everything have a price, even the lungs and heart of Sydney?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey