Paul Lewis: Stadium a ploy to regain grasp on polls

By Paul Lewis

So, it's our choice then. Trevor Mallard says he wants Aucklanders to decide on the waterfront stadium or Eden Park. In a blatant piece of political manipulation, it's apparently up to us. Not.

Mallard and PM Helen Clark have been smart. Clark has distanced herself from this because of her home in Mt Eden and possible accusations of bias and also because, if the whole thing comes plopping down, she can avoid nasty sewage splashes on her shoes.

Mallard has also got his political ducks in a row. At Friday's media briefing, he lined up the Mayor of Auckland, Dick Hubbard, Chairman of the NZRU, Jock Hobbs, the ARC's Mike Lee - with Geoff Vazey and the Ports of Auckland the only duck still running around quacking independently. For the moment.

It remains to be seen whether the Government, if the Auckland councils cannot agree on this, decides to get tougher and let Mallard start filing his incisors into sharp points and send the 2011 final to Jade Stadium.

This "Auckland's choice" thing would be funny if it wasn't such a manipulative move by the Government to get the result it wants. At Friday's briefing, Jock Hobbs had his Wooden Indian look on and made it clear that the NZRU's support was dependent on whether it could be built in time.

Lee's body language made it clear that he too was between a rock and a hard place while Hubbard almost bounded around the room in joy, all droopy ears and panting like a Spaniel puppy. "A picture is worth a thousand dollars," he misquoted. Once an Eden Park man, his flip-flop to waterfront disciple was gained by the promise that his ratepayers won't be stung - as they would be under the Eden Park proposal.

That's where the manipulation comes in. The waterfront stadium can have oodles of Government help, because it is a "national stadium". Eden Park doesn't get the same amount of help because it is a "regional stadium".

This is Grade A political effluent. The motivations of Clark and Mallard are allegedly that they want to "enhance national identity" and to transform Auckland's economy by making it a truly "internationally competitive city".

You do wonder why, if we want to make Auckland such a standout place, we don't build a decent train system? Or a health system that doesn't leave people in pain on the waiting lists. Or a better education system.

It would cost $320m to get Eden Park to Rugby World Cup final standard. The waterfront stadium, after weeks of speculation that it will cost between $700m-$1.2 billion, will now apparently cost only $500m.

Oh, yeah? If they can build this thing for $500m, I'll eat Trevor Mallard's hat. With chutney. But, taking the experts at their word, let's build in a cautious 20 per cent cost overrun to $600m. That's $280m more than Eden Park. That'd buy a few trains.

A national stadium on the waterfront will not do for Auckland what the Opera House has done for Sydney. Go to the Opera House or visit its website. There are dozens and dozens of events being held every week. We have yet to hear what the "multi" in 'multi-purpose stadium' means.

The best that Mallard & co could offer was a vague reference to concerts, trade fairs and exhibitions and a ludicrous aside about tourists not having to wait in the rain while they board cruise ships.

Labour have been punished in the polls lately for tax cuts, the pledge card and other issues. It is attempting to regain its grip on the electorate. In years past, Prime Ministers have understood and exercised the electoral power of rugby. Rob Muldoon and his political polar opposite, David Lange, strolled in front of packed stands at rugby tests. They were making the tacit point that they were men of the people; that they backed rugby.

It was nonsense, of course. All they were interested in was keeping power. So are Mallard and Clark. If they were really keen on an "iconic" structure to attract people to Auckland and to give it a "global" feel, they would be building something like Stockholm's impressive kulturhuset (culture house) - a downtown structure housing all manner of the arts, theatres, a venue for rock concerts and/or the Three Tenors - a building which has a real community, identity and artistic pulse to it and used daily.

If you built Eden Park for $320 million and had $280m left over, you could build something like the kulturhuset. But there's more votes in rugby.

I cannot see how a stadium between two jetties will "transform" Auckland. But I can see how it may transform Labour.

Mallard spelled out how the waterfront option had arisen because Eden Park's costs ballooned from $160m to $320m, prompting a re-think. The result? The Government will be spending even more.

Stats provided by

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf02 at 29 Dec 2014 18:02:34 Processing Time: 1248ms