Rockliff’s dream for Hobart AFL stadium up against strong opposition, including from his own party

With critics seemingly everywhere, Tasmania’s Premier Jeremy Rockliff is facing one hell of a fight if he’s to deliver on what has almost accidentally become his pet project — securing the island state’s entry into the AFL.

There are two main paths forward, each posing their own obstacles. 

If Mr Rockliff manages to do what looks increasingly difficult and convince the federal government that they should cough up almost half of the stadium’s cost, he’s got a huge task in getting the public onside. 

He has to turn the tide of public opinion given the only poll on the proposal, commissioned by the Labor Party, found two thirds of Tasmanians are opposed to it. 

Political blowback would also be fierce. 

In this concept image, a stadium shines brightly in Hobart under an pink evening sky.
The most recent visualisation of the proposed stadium, at the Macquarie Point location.(Supplied: AFL)

Every issue would be looked at under a new microscope — each bad outcome in health, housing or education presented as being less important to the government than delivering a new sporting team. 

And he’d also have internal fires to put out. 

Federal Liberals Jonathan Duniam, Bridget Archer and Gavin Pearce have already called on the federal government not to fund a stadium, and spend money on other priorities. 

If the public reaction switches from unenthusiastic to angry, more Liberal MPs and party members, could join them in speaking out. 

And given a Tasmanian team won’t play in the heart of the CBD until 2027, there’s lots for that public anger to grow before any benefits are realised.

Even if it does become the transformative project that Mr Rockliff says it will, he’ll have to wear lots of pain first. 

That doesn’t even factor in how much political capital Mr Rockliff would have to use to convince the federal government to fund the project.

An aerial graphic view of a stadium on the waters edge, city behind and sky
An earlier visualisation of the proposed AFL stadium at Regatta Point.(Supplied:Philp Lighton Architects)

Given federal Sports Minister’s Anika Wells’ comments that she didn’t believe getting a Tasmanian team should be conditional on a new stadium, getting them to cough up money won’t be an easy feat. 

And if the federal government, which has finally received a business case for the project, does fund the stadium, they’ll be eager to at least share the credit for finally delivering a Tasmanian AFL team. 

The second path isn’t much easier. 

That’s the one where the federal government, having viewed the business case that will likely be released publicly later this week, decides it won’t pay for the stadium.

That would leave the plan, and the push for a 19th AFL licence, in an incredibly precarious situation. 

Press conference with members of the media surrounding two men.
Jeremy Rockliff with Gillon McLachlan in Hobart in June.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Given the in-principle agreement with the AFL is contingent on a stadium, it leaves a $360 million funding hole — factoring in the AFL’s $15 million commitment — for the state government to fill, presumably from private enterprise. 

Mr Rockliff’s confident he can convince Tasmanians and the federal government that building a stadium is the right thing for the state — he’ll be desperately hoping to avoid the whole project falling over. 

Having taken the push for an AFL licence further than any other Tasmanian government, the prospect of failure won’t sit well with the Liberals, or Mr Rockliff. 

That would see every move during the campaign dissected, and every bit of public funding scrutinised, while Tasmania remains unrepresented on the national footballing stage. 

And he’d still face the same political attacks about his funding priorities. 

Two men in front of microphones on Hobart's waterfront in front of docked boats.
Gillon McLachlan with Jeremy Rockliff in Hobart in November.(ABC News: Laura Beavis)

The AFL team bid was initially something Mr Rockliff inherited when he became premier in April, following Peter Gutwein’s resignation. 

But having ploughed ahead, and moved the proposed stadium from Hobart’s Regatta grounds to Macquarie Point, there’s an argument that the outcome of the bid and whether a stadium is built, is a major turning point for both the state and his leadership. 

Mr Rockliff could easily be remembered as the premier who did or didn’t deliver Tasmania an AFL team. 

And no matter which path eventuates, he better be up for a fight. 

Leave a Comment