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Look beyond the Crows - the park lands are in the sights of an interstate corporate

Opinion

If the Crows win their bid to build their new headquarters in the park lands, it will be tantamount to handing public Adelaide land to a deep-pocketed interstate corporate, writes Andrew Stock.

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Holden owners found out last week just what foreign ownership and control means when US company General Motors killed its Holden brand for good.

But few South Aussies realise the Adelaide Crows are similar: a brand 100 per cent owned by one interstate shareholder – the AFL Commission based in Docklands, Melbourne.

The Crows rely on AFL cash to operate. In 2018, the Crows received $12 million, more than 20 per cent of their revenue, from the AFL.

The AFL is a very profitable money machine with an operating surplus of nearly half a billion dollars, and free cash flow after all expenses and capital of $80 million. It pays no company tax.

Yet the Adelaide City Council appears to be contemplating privatising by long-term lease, part of Adelaide’s iconic parklands to the AFL Crows subsidiary. The long-term lease model is one that has been used for other AFL club major facility redevelopments.

The AFL Crows want to set up a commercial enterprise for its own use: a head office, administration centre and private training facility.

The land alone, on the site of the Adelaide Aquatic Centre, reportedly has a value of $40 million, if it were to be put out for sale.

While some claim that such a long-term lease is not privatisation, that is precisely the method the Olsen Government used to sell off ETSA.

Adelaide residents and pool users from less privileged northern and western suburbs, who have no nearby public pools, object to this public asset privatisation. Proponents choose to label them.

Yet imagine the outcry in Melbourne if the AFL wanted to build its admin HQ in Treasury Gardens, or Perth if the West Coast Eagles wanted to build their administration centre in Kings Park.

The Adelaide park lands are a unique public asset, and many in the community are rightfully concerned about permanent private encroachment.

When did Adelaide City Council-provided community services and amenities like this pool, libraries and child-care become profit centres?

The city council seems to believe that the Adelaide Aquatic Centre is old and run down. Yet the main pool was completely re-lined and re-tiled late 2014, a brand new family leisure area completed in 2015, and a new roof installed.

The AFL Crows intend to demolish it all and build something much smaller to leave room for their large corporate facilities. The current centre hosts 720,000 swimmers a year from all over the metropolitan area.

The council says the centre runs at an annual loss of $700,000. When did Adelaide City Council-provided community services and amenities like this pool, libraries and child-care become profit centres? And where will those 720,000 swimmers go if the pool area is downsized by more than 80 per cent, as indicated by the, albeit poorly defined, Crows proposal?

It’s not remarkable that other councils around Australia and this state see that ratepayer support for aquatic centres is part of their core business. For example, the approved investment case for the new Parramatta aquatic centre in Sydney’s growing western suburbs sees it run at a similar deficit, as does the ARC Swim Centre at Campbelltown in Adelaide.

What is remarkable is that Adelaide’s city council believes its aquatic centre should be a profit centre.

Adelaide City Council should get back to its core business. It should maintain and enhance the iconic Adelaide park lands and operate community facilities for the amenity of its ratepayers and the wider Adelaide metropolitan community, rather than chase dollars from deep-pocketed interstate tax-exempt corporates making a land and development grab.

We welcome interstate investment, just not in usurping Adelaide’s park lands for private use.

Andrew Stock is a former Origin Energy senior executive, an Enterprise Professor at the University of Melbourne and a North Adelaide resident of around 10 years.

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