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Lucas extends largesse to Adelaide Oval operators

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Taxpayers have handed Adelaide Oval’s operators more than $4 million in financial assistance since March, Treasurer Rob Lucas has revealed, but he insists “there’s no doubting their ability to operate” despite a COVID-hit year.

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Lucas first flagged a range of concessions for the Stadium Management Authority on April 1, including lifting their $3 million obligation towards an annual “sinking fund” for future infrastructure needs and a taxpayer-funded payment of its mandated $1 million annual contribution to grassroots sport.

“The Government has agreed to waive [SMA’s] $3 million payment to the sinking fund for 2020-21, which had been due in October, as well as provide ex gratia relief of $1 million to cover its annual sublease fee,” Lucas said in a statement at the time.

The sublease fee is then paid directly, under law, into a dedicated Sport and Recreation Fund.

In a recent budget estimates hearing, Lucas revealed he had since extended that assistance, with the Government paying more than $2 million into the future fund on the SMA’s behalf for the following financial year, as well as a further $1 million payment to community sport.

However, the SMA has revealed the initial $3 million wasn’t “waived” but deferred – with around $100,000 a year to be added to future repayments for the next three decades.

SMA CEO Andrew Daniels told InDaily in a statement: “We have taken a great deal of pride in meeting our legislated payments since the completion of the redevelopment, ensuring there has been no call on the taxpayer for the management and maintenance of this outstanding state asset.”

“Unfortunately, 2020 has been an incredibly challenging year – not just for us but for every major venue and event business, and so we sought relief from the State Government,” he said.

“We are extremely grateful for the Treasurer’s support as we continue to build on our recovery with an ongoing focus on stringent financial controls, working to further increase crowd sizes and our continued development of additional revenue streams.”

The Authority has also twice asked for “financial relief from its loan obligations” relating to the Oval Hotel development, after the Government agreed in 2018 to underwrite a $42 million loan – but Lucas denied that request on both occasions.

He told InDaily today the original $3 million sinking fund relief “didn’t impact taxpayers in any way”.

“Last [financial] year no money went into the sinking fund – this year they’ve got to put a million dollars in and the budget paid $2 million,” he said.

“That’s money that’s saved them in terms of their budget bottom line – it’s not money that we’ve given them… it’s relieved them of an obligation.”

He said the further $2 million of public money had similarly “relieved them [of another obligation] and it’s gone to community sport”.

“They don’t get to spend it on whatever they want to spend it on,” he said.

“Clearly their revenue’s been significantly impacted by COVID-19, as has a range of other organisations [but] I don’t think there’s any doubting their ability to operate… they’ve been making their payments as they’re required to do.”

He said the SMA had been “a good borrower in terms of meeting their requirements”.

“We have a number of other loans where people haven’t been meeting their repayments and we have to follow them up,” he said.

“There are more problematic loans that the Government have on their books.”

He declined to identify which organisations this referred to, but suggested they predated the 2018 election.

But he insisted the Government did not expect or intend to continue making annual payments on the SMA’s behalf.

“No, this is COVID – this is a COVID impact,” he said.

“We’re hoping in relation to a whole range of assistance that we’ve provided, with the arrival of a vaccine and the like and the easing of restrictions, that a lot of these organisations will get back on their operating feet.”

Labor’s Shadow Treasurer Stephen Mullighan said with the $42 million loan, the $4 million in subsidies and the $3 million removed from the sinking fund, taxpayers’ exposure to the Oval’s operation was now approaching $50 million, “and yet the Government doesn’t seem to have an extra performance management regime in place to make sure taxpayers aren’t further exposed”.

“There would be a lot of community sporting club operators who have been unable to get any financial assistance from the Government despite the challenges they’re faced this year, who would be shaking their heads at how the SMA can get $7 million worth of financial assistance,” he said.

Adelaide Oval has taken steps towards a more positive 2021, after becoming the first venue to host limited crowds during the curtailed AFL season, and later holding a range of other events including the State of Origin and Christmas Pageant.

It is set to host international Test cricket next week.

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