Tucked away in the football formalities at Adelaide Oval on Saturday was a pointed political lesson for state Liberal leader Steven Marshall – be bold.
It’s been a tough couple of weeks for Marshall as he comes to grips with the reality of being in Opposition after electoral victory appeared to be so close.
The prospect of remaining in Opposition for four more years is a daunting one.
Adelaide Oval, however, is an example of how you can achieve great things whether you are in government or not.
Seated at the same table as Marshall on Saturday was one of his predecessors, Martin Hamilton-Smith, Opposition Leader from 2007 through to 2009.
And when Stadium Management Authority Chairman Ian McLachlan got to his feet at the official lunch, he confirmed the depth of Hamilton-Smith’s contribution to the return of AFL to the city.
McLachlan said Hamilton-Smith’s February 2008 Master Plan for Adelaide, which proposed a covered stadium on the planned new hospital site or a redeveloped Adelaide Oval, placed the issue on the political agenda and forced others to the table.
Premier Jay Weatherill also acknowledged the Hamilton-Smith contribution – the first time the Labor Party has confirmed what those close to this saga have known for some years.
The Hamilton-Smith plan of 2008 also included associated developments in and around the precinct, made viable by the economic impact of football in the city.
The plan was prominently backed by News Ltd newspapers The Advertiser and the Sunday Mail, and public support for the proposal was strong.
At first the State Government resisted the push.
Premier Mike Rann and his deputy Kevin Foley instead announced a $100 million upgrade of AAMI Stadium at West Lakes.
“AAMI Stadium will now be capable of meeting South Australia’s needs well into the future,” Foley said on 31 May 2008.
“AAMI Stadium has served this state very well for over 30 years and a major refurbishment, at an affordable cost to taxpayers, will ensure it continues to do so.
“It’s the view of the SANFL, the AFL and both of our AFL clubs that a redevelopment of AAMI Stadium is the best result for football in South Australia.”
But that wasn’t the view of the SANFL, the AFL or both clubs.
Hamilton-Smith met with all the key stakeholders in a series of meetings throughout 2008 and into 2009.
As one of his advisers at the time, I sat in on all of those meetings.
While still bound by confidentiality, I can’t reveal the details of those meetings – but I can say that the Hamilton-Smith vision was broadly accepted. The one stumbling block was the State Government.
Then two things happened. On December 20, 2008, the $100 million AAMI upgrade deal was put on hold for three years by Treasurer Foley – part of the Government’s belt-tightening response to the Global Financial Crisis.
Four months later, on the day before the Easter break, Foley switched the financial commitment to a possible Adelaide Oval redevelopment.
Finally, on December 2, 2009, having spent almost two years bagging the concept of football’s return to the city, the Rann Government accepted political reality (within 110 days of an election) and announced it would commit $450 million to an Adelaide Oval deal.
History shows, however, that for almost eight years the Rann Government had no sense of the economic impact of a CBD-based football oval.
Ian McLachlan did. He had a chance to push his agenda when Martin Hamilton-Smith was bold enough to roll out a vision that sparked years of debate and years of change.
When the master plan speech was delivered in February 2008 The Advertiser’s most senior and respected writer, Rex Jory, described it as “the most important speech for Adelaide in 30 years”.
And therein sits the lesson for Steven Marshall.
Small target strategies and “do little, say little” policy frameworks are for the pea-hearted.
South Australia wants to know who you are and what your vision is.
You may have lost the election, but the opportunity to make a significant and lasting contribution can be made from both sides of the political spectrum.
Kevin Naughton worked for Martin Hamilton-Smith in the period 2007-09
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