01/08/2014 - 11:05

Heavy wager on Burswood build

01/08/2014 - 11:05

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The state government has a lot of political capital invested in a successful build of its Burswood stadium.

An artist's impression of the new stadium under construction.

The state government has a lot of political capital invested in a successful build of its Burswood stadium.

Colin Barnett and his sports minister, Terry Waldron, can’t afford any hiccups in the construction of the state-of-the-art Perth Stadium adjacent to the Crown complex at Burswood.

The target is to have the $1 billion-plus stadium project ready for the 2018 football season. Given that football seems to start earlier each year, regardless of the late summer heat, that effectively means by February.

But there is a political deadline as well.

The next state election is due in March 2017. That means if there is any suggestion the project is slipping behind schedule, the stadium is sure to become a major issue – yet again.

Before last year’s election, Labor leader Mark McGowan pledged that, if he became premier, the project would be shifted to Kitchener Park in Subiaco instead of the Burswood site, to which Mr Barnett was a late convert.

But the Labor plan was blasted out of the water when the two local AFL clubs threw their support behind the Liberal plan, showing politics and sport sometimes do mix.

Both sides of politics have had varying degrees of success with major projects. Two standouts from the Gallop-Carpenter Labor years were the first desalination plant built at Kwinana, and the Perth-Mandurah railway.

The massive cost blowout and delays with the Perth Arena in Wellington Street are another matter, however.

The Liberal-National government kicked a goal with the Perth City Link rail tunnel – funded with help from the previous federal Labor government – and would like the Elizabeth Quay works to finish on time. But the new Fiona Stanley Hospital at Murdoch is threatening to turn into a financial nightmare.

The massive buildings motorists see from the Kwinana Freeway are just the tip of the cost iceberg. The cutting-edge information technology system planned for the hospital has become an embarrassment. The company contracted to run big parts of the hospital has been paid millions in compensation for doing very little, and the deadline for receiving the first patients has been put back months.

In fact the situation at the hospital bears an uncanny resemblance to the ‘Yes Minister’ television series on British politics, written more than 30 years ago.

In the series, James Hacker, as minister of administrative affairs, visits St Edward's Hospital, which, while fully staffed, is missing a key ingredient – patients. Sound familiar?

The chief administrator, ‘Mrs Rogers’ showed Mr Hacker around the hospital.

“I was shown several empty wards, several administrative offices that were veritable hives of activity, and finally a huge deserted dusty operating theatre suite,” he said. “I inquired about the cost of it. Mrs Rogers informed me that, together with radiotherapy and intensive care, it cost two and a quarter million pounds.

“I asked her if she was not horrified that the place was not in use.

“’No’, she said cheerfully. ‘Very good thing in some ways. Prolongs its life. Cuts down running costs.’

“’But there are no patients’, I reminded her.

“She agreed. ‘Nonetheless’ she added, ‘the essential work of the hospital has to go on.

“’I thought the patients were the essential work of the hospital.

“’Running an organisation of 500 people is a big job, minister,’ said Mrs Rogers, beginning to sound impatient with me.”

And so on.

The surprising thing about the delays – and extra costs – at FSH is that more has not been made of it. After all, federal Treasurer Joe Hockey wants to place price signals on the accelerating cost of health services, and is being pilloried for it. Yet on our own doorstep, millions are being wasted due to what can only be explained as bureaucratic incompetence. Will heads roll? Don’t hold your breath.

Of course it’s far too late to question why taxpayers are funding a massive new football stadium. In 1962, when the Commonwealth Games were staged in Perth, new venues such as Perry Lakes Stadium and the Beatty Park pool were the responsibility of the Perth City Council. The fact that the playing arena at the stadium was not big enough to accommodate football, and it became a white elephant and was recently demolished, is beside the point.

The West Coast Eagles and the Fremantle Dockers will now be intent on expanding their already healthy membership to help fill the 60,000-seat Burswood facility. When added to the clubs’ members on game days, plans for a permanent stadium membership of 7,000 who can attend all games doesn’t leave much room for fans who are non members but simply like to attend the occasional AFL game.

After all, they are also the taxpayers who are helping pay for the stadium, like it or not.

The government will be intent on exerting pressure on the contractor to get the job done – on time and on budget. The alternative is not worth contemplating.


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