“Over recent years there has been a feeling among some of Canberra’s sporting organizations that federal government spending in local infrastructure has been lacking,” writes sport columnist SIMON ANDERSON†
CANBERRA is a proud sporting city. From our teams such as the Raiders, Brumbies and Capitals representing the ACT in national competitions to those playing socially on a weeknight, sport is a big part of the territory’s identity.
However, over recent years there has been a feeling among some of Canberra’s sporting organizations that federal government spending in local infrastructure has been lacking.
It’s something those organisations, and some candidates, because addressed by whoever is successful when Canberrans head to the polls next month.
Hockey ACT CEO Rob Sheekey oversees the operations of the facility in Lyneham. It hosts about 10,000 visitors every week and houses eight commercial businesses to help generate revenue.
The costs of running the facility are continuing to climb as its value depreciates, which is a challenge for a not-for-profit community sport, especially with a lack of federal support.
“What has been happening across Canberra is that the ACT government has been the major supplier of government infrastructure funding, as the territory has received very little in the way of infrastructure upgrades from the federal government’s policies,” said Mr Sheekey.
“We are the largest hockey center of any state and territory per capita and we have around $40-50 million in infrastructure.
“Over the last 10 years we received $10,000 in federal government investment for that infrastructure.
“It is not just our organisation, many sporting organizations in Canberra are struggling with infrastructure costs and we are looking for a voice to push that agenda that the ACT deserves a greater share.”
Independent Senate candidate David Pocock hopes to be that voice, given his background with sport in the ACT as a former player for the ACT Brumbies.
“So many of our sports have the highest participation rates in the country,” said Mr Pocock.
“People in Canberra are active and involved and a lot of them are crying out for more investment in facilities to be able to cope with demand.
“At the moment we have very little long-term thinking for Canberra. We don’t have the big revenue streams of some of the states so there is a real need for the federal government and the ACT government to work together.
“We have had programs like the ‘Community Sport Infrastructure Program’. Being such a safe Labor area, it is no surprise that not many Canberra clubs benefitted from that.
“We need to make sure funding is more fairly distributed on a needs basis, rather than for political gain.”
Hockey has seen this type of spending first hand, where facilities in marginal electorates across the border received more federal support than in the ACT.
“Goulburn and Queanbeyan, just for hockey, have received around $6-7 million worth of federal government funding for hockey pitches and infrastructure,” said Mr Sheekey.
“Last election, the ACT government received $6 million in total across all sports investment in infrastructure funding. That puts into scale the disparity between what we are getting and what some of our neighbors in marginal federal electorates are receiving.”
While no one is expecting millions to be poured into the ACT’s sporting infrastructure overnight, there are calls for a vision for the future to ensure facilities used across the territory remain fit for purpose and can be upgraded as required.
Looking beyond a three-year election cycle is part of the reason Pocock is throwing his hat in the ring for a political tilt.
“For me the huge value of sport is something that allows people to come together and get involved in a community and learn life skills,” said Mr Pocock.
“We see the benefits of sport for health and mental health from community sport that I think are a fundamental part of our society, but it needs to be accessible and we need to have facilities around Canberra – particularly in new areas across the territory.
“I want to see a longer-term approach to looking at the infrastructure Canberra needs over the next decade.”
As well as local sport, we can expect to see the stadium debate again feature as part of the election campaign.
After playing at GIO Stadium with the Brumbies for years, Pocock has raised the idea of a new major stadium and convention center in the city’s CBD as a need in the not-too-distant future, while upgrades to Vikings Park in Canberra’s south have been floated by Liberal Senator Zed Seselja.
Labor’s Katy Gallagher believes Canberra deserves to have major infrastructure facilities to attract tourism and support jobs just like other state capitals around the country.
“While other candidates are making commitments based on their stage thought-bubbles, the federal Labor team is having constructive discussions with the ACT government so we can consider what the best short-term and long-term solutions are for our city.”
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Ian Meikle, editor