Stadiums are not entirely alien to New South Wales politics, and opposition leaders have ridden into battle against them before.
Back in the 1980s, the Sydney Cricket Ground Trust was stacked with Labor Party appointees following the Wran government’s World Series Cricket-era overhaul of the SCG’s governance. The chair was Labor party hack and former deputy premier Pat Hills, who insisted a new stand on the eastern side of the SCG be named after himself.
Hills deserves credit for starting the transformation of the SCG from dangerous pile of crap into a modern stadium. But naming a new stand not after a famous cricketer, like the Bradman Stand or the MA Noble Stand to the north, but himself, was an act of delusional arrogance and totally out of touch with Sydneysiders.
NSW opposition leader Nick Greiner promised to rename the stand when he was elected, and he duly did so when he smashed the Unsworth government in 1988. The Hills Stand, thankfully, became the O’Reilly Stand, after leg-spinner (and arch Bradman hater) Bill O’Reilly.
The SCG Trust built something else under Hills — the Sydney Football Stadium, which replaced the old Sydney Sports Ground (orientated, hilariously, east-west, so teams played looking into the sun on a winter afternoon). The SFS — which has carried multiple corporate names since then — is at the heart of current opposition leader Michael Daley’s election campaign. And if, improbably, he wins later this month, then it will have played a big role in that victory.
Of course, we’re not just talking about renaming a stand; the stakes are far higher, and run into the billions. Daley is implacably opposed to the Berejiklian government’s wasting of huge amounts of taxpayer money refurbishing the Olympic stadium at Homebush and knocking down and rebuilding the SFS despite it being barely 30 years old. NSW Labor’s message is simple — it will spend that money on hospitals and schools instead. And, along the way, sack the entire Sydney Cricket Ground Trust. Like Greiner, Daley is positioning himself as an outsider prepared to take on an out-of-touch Trust incestuously linked to the party in power in Macquarie St.
For just as the Hills-era Trust was a creature of then-dominant NSW Labor, the current Trust is plugged straight into the NSW Liberal Party and its business mates. Conservative businessman and former Business Council head Tony Shepherd is the chair. Nihal Gupta, the Liberals’ bizarre pick to chair SBS, is on there, along with arch reactionary Maurice Newman, former News Corp head John Hartigan, Barry O’Farrell and, of course, Alan Jones, whom Daley told yesterday would be sacked along with the rest of them.
Jones, of course, is everything that is wrong with the way power is used in Sydney, as the sordid business of defiling the Opera House with horse torture advertising last year demonstrated. In ostentatiously having a crack at Jones and his mates at the SCG, Daley — still relatively new to the job of opposition leader — is defining himself for voters in opposition to the current power structure.
Except, history tells us NSW Labor will simply replace one structure with another. Daley promises his SCG board “will be representative of modern day society” and have more women. But it will be Labor’s board. And we know NSW Labor has its own history of power structures populated with sordid operators, hack former pollies and mates taking care of mates.
The solution to the problem of vested interests and powerful forces using existing power structures to deliver outcomes for themselves, not citizens, isn’t replacing one side of politics’ claque of operators with the other’s, but in significantly greater transparency and the removal of conflicts of interest.
Anything less is mere politicking. But in this case, it’s clever politicking by Daley.