Rockhampton: A tale of two stadiums
DOES Rockhampton really need two stadiums or could the money for one of them be better spent elsewhere?
This is one of the glaring questions to arise from the 2020 Queensland Election campaign in Rockhampton.
After decades of efforts seeking to secure a stadium, within a fortnight in September, Rockhampton was showered with riches with the Federal Government and State Government committing funding for two rival stadium proposals.
After promising a feasibility study examining a stadium upgrade for Rockhampton’s “spiritual home of rugby league” Browne Park in the lead up to the 2017 State Election, Rockhampton MP Barry O’Rourke endured a frustrating three year wait to see whether his government would take the next step with a funding commitment.
In a move that surprised the community, the Federal Government stole a march on the Queensland Government, announcing it would pay for the entire $23 million Rocky Stadium proposed for Victoria Park – with both Capricornia MP Michelle Landry and One Nation leader Pauline Hanson claiming they were instrumental in securing the commitment.
Not to be outdone, the Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk touched down in Rockhampton 10 days later, promising if she was re-elected, the $25 million first stage of Browne Park Stadium would be built.
The Morning Bulletin quizzed the Premier when she visted the region last week on the necessity of Labor pushing ahead with Browne Park given the Federal Government’s commitment to pay for Rocky Stadium in its entirety, and whether that money would be better spent on other projects such as the South Rockhampton Flood Levee or Great Keppel Island revitalisation.
She resolutely defended her party’s decision to back Browne Park Stadium.
“Browne Park is absolutely vital. The investment into (the) Browne Park upgrade is very much welcome by the community,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
“What Barry O’Rourke does is he actually listens to the community and that is where the community wants the upgrade to happen.”
The Morning Bulletin asked the candidates contesting the seat of Rockhampton what their thoughts were on the city’s two-stadium conundrum.
Katter’s Australian Party’s candidate for Rockhampton Christian Shepherd
Mr Shepherd said the “completely superfluous” stadium announcement pushed by the Labor candidates for Rockhampton and Inala was “quite clearly a last-ditch effort by a Queensland Labor Party with its back against the ropes – desperate to appeal to the masses but woefully out of touch on how to do so”.
“Losing the Rockhampton seat would be a very big problem for Labor and when major parties have a problem, they only know how to do one thing: throw money at it,” Mr Shepherd said.
“Ms Palaszczuk admitted on video that she has no idea of the economic projection of an upgraded Browne Park, but it’s election season and desperate times call for desperate measures.
“The major parties are feeling the pressure as minor parties like the KAP show them how real, localised representation is done and they’re simply trying to panic buy votes with a treasury they’re no longer in control of and failed to produce a budget for.”
He said what was being seen from Labor was the absolute apex of fiscal irresponsibility and contempt for voters’ intelligence.
“Labor could have pledged that money to GKI infrastructure instead. I have made it publicly known that I and Katter’s Australian Party support the construction of marine infrastructure on Great Keppel Island to allow for extensive tourism development. That is, a breakwall, barge ramp and pontoon – not walking trails and picnic tables,” he said.
“If the money for Browne Park actually exists and had to be spent within the Rockhampton electorate (not on GKI), I would like to see it spent on other sports projects.
“Rather than upgrade one grandstand we could construct, revitalise and modernise at least a half dozen other sports facilities. For example, the netball community is screaming out for a professional grade arena and additional outdoor facilities.”
He said Gracemere had room enough for sporting grounds and could boast several rectangular pitches for league, union or football carnivals.
“I have a good location in mind for an indoor netball stadium but we’ll have to see what happens after the election before I put that idea to paper,” he said.
One Nation’s candidate for Rockhampton Torin O’Brien
Mr O’Brien said Rockhampton had an approved and paid for (in the federal budget) stadium for a total of $23 million being built.
“For that reason alone we should not be even thinking about a second stadium especially one with the issues of Browne Park,” Mr O’Brien said.
“(The) $25 million pledged by Labor isn’t real money, there is no budget and the Premier has even said its only if they’re re-elected making it another empty promise.
“We also are still having the feasibility study hidden from us and with the $25 million only being stage one how do we no this isn’t going to be a $100m blow out of reckless Labor spending.”
On top of that, he said it had been revealed a very important shovel ready multi-sport precinct at Rugby Park had been canned in order for them to have enough cash to get Browne Park over the line.
“We can hardly fill one stadium let alone two, Barry has not actually achieved this by the Premier’s own admission it’s “if re-elected” and all this while our other sporting codes rot away.”
The Greens candidate for Rockhampton Mick Jones
Mr Jones said these stadium plans had become a political football – the kind of football we don’t want in Rocky.
“Both majors need to drop the partisan posturing, and work together, listen to the community, and sort this out, then we can see what kind of budget is suitable,” Mr Jones said.
“Proper consultation is vital before we begin any large project. What’s important is that it’s planned and placed well, based on what the public needs.
“Our plan is for free sports memberships for all QLD kids, and millions in grants for clubs to upgrade. That’s a much better approach to getting kids active, and building up our clubs.”
He said the Greens were proposing a new wind turbine factory for Rockhampton.
“Are we planting a flag and insisting it be built where we say it should be, like Labor, and the LNP are insisting with their plans for a stadium? Of course not,” he said.
Legalise Cannabis Queensland’s candidate for Rockhampton Laura Barnard
Ms Barnard said there must be due consideration to existing infrastructure, and tourism capacity of the region.
“Public transport, disability accessibility, suitable parking facilities, footpaths, larger scale event waste management; in my opinion we are ill-prepared for the expectations that these stadiums are projecting,” Ms Barnard said.
“Many residents are quite distressed at the lack of feasibility studies presented for either proposed developments.
“In order to make an informed decision that truly is the best benefit for our community, these must be presented and respectfully considered for the most optimal outcome achievable.”
She said there was also a big call from the community for additional funding to be allocated for upgrading the Rockhampton Showgrounds.
“Doing the right thing by the Rockhampton community and doing what is best for our economy fall hand-in-hand.”
Informed Medical Options Party’s candidate for Rockhampton Yvette Saxon
Under the current economic climate, Ms Saxon said the two competing stadium pledges seemed “a little over the top”.
“Getting our youth employed in a flagging economic climate would be preferable considering we are still trying to manage COVID social distancing restrictions,” Ms Saxon said.
“Building employment for all in our community, I would think, should be the focus.”
Mr Doblo said he was opposed to money being spent on the Browne Park Stadium preferring to see the Rocky Stadium built.
“There’s no room for expansion at Browne Park. What you see is what you get. When are they going to start buying up the (surrounding) roads and houses?” he asked.
He wanted to see the Browne Park Stadium money put towards building a highschool at Gracemere and agriculture boosting projects.
Labor’s candidate for Rockhampton Barry O’Rourke responds on the stadium issue
Mr O’Rourke said he was thrilled to have been able to secure the funding for stage one of the Browne Park redevelopment.
“I gave a commitment to voters last election to work on this and we have now delivered the funding so work can get started early next year. It’s fully funded. It’s happening and it’ll be great for Rocky,” Mr O’Rourke said.
“Everyone knows where I stand on the Rocky Stadium proposal but if they can build it for $23 million and can guarantee ratepayers won’t be lumped with maintenance and clean-up costs then good luck to them. We’ll see how they go.
“As for the constant stream of whinging and lies from One Nation and their affiliates, I’m just not interested in giving them the time of day, except to say it's a lot of rubbish.
“This is the party that took Queensland to court to try to force open our borders, called for the old and sick to be locked away and have had nothing to offer in CQ beyond childish name-calling. People can see through it.”