By Peter Maddern

Yesterday, the great Rucci revealed in the Tiser that the costs of the SMA are now going to far exceed the original $2m budget, thus reducing potential returns to the AFL clubs. By midday, adelaidenow was finally reporting that the Auditor General had questioned payments made by the Government to both the SANFL and SACA for legal and consultants’ fees that were not meant to be part of the public’s massive largesse to this oval development. (This had been commented on in other media a few days before.)

Now this morning the Infrastructure Minister, Tom Koutsantonis, says he is going to look into the structure of the SMA (which reports to him) to ensure the AFL clubs don’t miss out.

For organisations supposedly ‘on the case’ representing the public’s interest it is amazing it has taken this long, for the development of all these problems was self-evident from as far back as two years ago. (This blog raised them then and so we are not being wise in hindsight here.) Of course back then any who raised issues were hounded down – naysayers and whingers – led by the now whistle blower – the great Rucci (ah, the irony.)

First the issue of the SMA’s board constitution. In 2011, when the SACA members were voting on the redevelopment proposal, Port Power had already hit the wall and the deal that its licence and that of the Crows would be sold back to the AFL by the SANFL as part of its agreement to provide bail out funds had been done. (It should be noted that this was not revealed to SACA members at the time of the vote – thanks to a Govt compliant media.)

What that meant was the new, eventual owner of the AFL clubs, (the AFL itself) would not have a representative on the SMA whose board is made up of (only) representatives of the SANFL and the SACA. When the SMA was originally formed, the SANFL was the owner and hence the interests of those two clubs were represented at the board table and thus there would be some certainty about a fair distribution from it.

But with that nexus broken due to the financial problems of Port, the Crows and the SANFL, everyone was back in the same position they had always been – bleating about other organisations ripping money off from the AFL clubs that actually generated the revenue.

The proper solution always required that the owner(s) of the Crows and Power had equal representation on the SMA board (with the SACA.) But the SANFL would have none of it and the State Government was too weak to make it (for fear no doubt the SACA members might tweak to the problems looming and vote the proposal down) and so the AFL put nothing into the whole deal and this problem was always going to arise.

To repeat, this has been inevitable since March 2011, two months before the SACA members vote.

The second issue of the cost blow out of the SMA has also been obvious for 12 months. Mid last year, even The Advertiser trumpeted that the SMA had advertised for three high level appointments, the foremost of which was filled by Andrew Daniels. Well, these guys don’t come cheap and throw in the required infrastructure for them and the idea they could operate on a budget of $2m pa was always ridiculous. (Though the current estimate of $9m seems equally so.)

With the SMA board reflecting their own organisations’ interests, they no longer care what the impact would eventually be on the take for the Crows and the Power. Empire building was always going to be a big risk in this project when you start with the inevitable position that instead of two organisations having two CEO’s plus entourage you would now have three with the total pot of funds to draw on unlikely to be much greater.

What has brought this to a head of course is the failure of the SMA’s marketing campaign to sell its Ultimate and corporate packages. Sales of the former are understood to be less than 50%. This means to fund its own operations, instead of 12,000 people paying it $75 to reserve their right to buy a package, there are now less than 6,000 – a shortfall of around $500,000. So, guess what? The SMA is now trying to claw back more of the total pot there is and the losers are going to be the AFL clubs, not the proponents of this scheme, the SACA and the SANFL.

The problem this whole thing has and which even Premier Rann recognised back in 2009 is that there is no agreement on anything much between any of the parties. (Separate investigations as recently as this past week reveal the SACA has not even resolved within itself basic things like dual memberships and reciprocal rights.) Rann stipulated two deadlines for agreement between the SACA and SANFL and both passed with nothing having happened. Nonetheless, he went ahead with the project.

While it is with great irony that the SANFL and the SACA may be more closely aligned in their interests than ever before (to screw what they can out of the SMA and redevelopment proposal generally – at the expense of the AFL clubs they no longer will have any interest in), the fact they (through the SMA) don’t have agreement to go to Adelaide Oval next year with either the Crows or the Power is a major Achilles heel.

The bottom line is that Rann was right to insist on all this being agreed before the project started but that good idea got compromised by politics.

Now the AFL, with not a spent cent at risk and with impending ownership of both entities, can again call the shots with the very real threat that neither entity will play football at Adelaide Oval in 2014 made plain. And even if some accommodation is made now, the very real possibility of it moving the struggling Power licence to some other place in time for the next TV rights deal in 2017 just gets more likely.

With another election looming in 12 months and this show piece of this Labor Government at risk of becoming a white elephant, one can only expect the price the taxpayer will pay will be substantial to deliver the grail of ‘capital city football.’ Whether there will be anything much left of the current SMA or even the SANFL and SACA by the time the first games of football that are now currently scheduled to be played roll around remains to be seen – the fiscal screw is likely to be tightened massively.

But to be sure, the Government is to blame (including the Federal Government for going along with this state of affairs when it committed money to it as well.) No one should have expended one cent on this project (especially of public money) until all the stakeholder interests and had been resolved and locked in, including significant money from the AFL. (No glee here either for the Liberal opposition as they effectively waved the whole shambles through under ‘Invisobel’ Redmond’s inspired do nothing leadership strategy.)

But all of the local cheer leaders for the project, led by The Advertiser, should have seen this coming (as you can see from the above, it is not rocket science) instead of salivating at the prospect of showing who is boss around this town. The fact that Rucci and The Advertiser are now reporting on the problems shows how far the debate has turned against the proponents, with the new devil, the SMA, clearly established and the fans of the Crows and Port, the battlers for whom the paper will go into bat. The problem with all that is the SMA is made up of the very people Rucci and co cheered from the rooftops two years ago – McLachlan, Olsen, Wicker et al.

That the SACA had a desperate need to be bailed out of its western grandstand debt (that blew out over $47m on an original budget of $70m) and the Government needed a glittering prize finished and ready for the 2014 election should not have driven the timing.

$650m of public money and counting (given the recent legal fee largesse of Part time Pat) is now at risk of going from uneconomic extravagance to white elephant – making it very akin to that other Labor Govt triumph – the Desalination Plant.

As a very great number of those who made comments on this issue on the adelaidenow site yesterday said – ‘Don’t blame me, cos I told you this would happen.’

Leave a Reply