Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee
Australia’s preparedness to host Commonwealth, Olympic and Paralympic Games

CHUN, Mr Matthew, Executive General Manager, Finance, Clubs and Infrastructure, Australian Football League [by audio link]

CHAIR: I now welcome Mr Matthew Chun from the Australian Football League, who is appearing by teleconference. I understand that information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses has been provided to you. Thanks very much for your time this morning. Would you like to make an opening statement, Mr Chun?

Mr Chun : That would be terrific. Thank you for the opportunity to be here today. The AFL supports the 2032 Brisbane Olympic Games and supports the redevelopment of the Gabba. That support is based on the ongoing discussions with the Queensland government about finding the appropriate solution for the Brisbane Lions during the redevelopment and the Olympics.

The Lions have been long-term tenants of the Gabba and play their home games at the ground. Seven of those games were sold out this year. The current Gabba, while providing a great viewing experience for patrons and a terrific on-field atmosphere for the players, will reach the end of its useful life ahead of the 2032 Olympics, according to the Queensland government's own Stadium taskforce report completed in 2018. There are issues around transport connectivity, disability access, broadcast access, player change rooms not being fit for purpose, and significant back-of-house and other issues that make it a difficult venue to operate. The Brisbane Lions have been a Gabba tenant since 1993, and the club has been a driving force behind various Gabba redevelopments, including the final stage 6 redevelopment completed in 2005.

Since 2000, the Lions have won three men's premierships and this year almost added another one. It has also added a women's premiership and become a fixture on the Brisbane sporting scene. It now has 55,000 members and is on track to pass 60,000 in 2024. Importantly, this year the Lions sold out seven games at the Gabba, including the two finals. Even more importantly, the preliminary finals saw 15,000 interstate supporters buy a ticket, with those supporters injecting money into the local Brisbane economy through accommodation, pubs, restaurants, taxis, shopping et cetera. It reinforced the importance of Lions games at the Gabba being a significant long-term economic enabler for the Brisbane and wider Queensland economy.

Studies show the club has a positive annual impact of $80 million per annum through AFL fixtures, with every Brisbane home game creating employment opportunities for up to 1,500 people. The Lions also employ 100 people in Queensland, with a further 100 employed by the AFL across game development, which resulted in a record 68,000 Queenslanders playing AFL or taking part in Auskick programs.

We believe the Gabba redevelopment will bring benefits to the wider community in terms of urban redevelopment, improved transport connectivity, and the delivery of new commercial and residential precincts, inclusive of affordable housing opportunities. It will also deliver a larger and more modern venue to meet the demands of the Lions' growing fan base, which continues to increase through team success, the ever-growing Brisbane population and support for the Lions, which is bolstered by the record growth of the code at grassroots level.

Over recent months, the AFL and the Lions have been in constant dialogue with Queensland government representatives and have undertaken a contingency venue feasibility exercise with Stadiums Queensland, to model the impact of the Gabba being unavailable to the Lions. Naturally, a displacement of four-plus years represents a major upheaval to tenants, which include the Brisbane Lions. I am pleased that the Queensland government also understands the impact displacement will have. This collaborative process has sought to thoroughly investigate the suitability of contingency venues as they relate to financial returns, such as memberships, corporate hospitality and sponsors, ticketing, fan experience and demand, and team performance impacts such player retention, recruitment and legacy outcomes.

This exercise compared four venues, selected in conjunction with Stadiums Queensland: Brighton Homes Arena in Springfield Central; RNA show ring at Bowen Hills; Queensland Sport and Athletics Centre at Nathan; and Heritage Bank Stadium at Carrara. While the Queensland government has yet to decide, the AFL is strongly of the view that the RNA show ring, with a capital upgrade, is the best displacement option, given its central Brisbane location, public transport connectivity—by Cross River Rail, and existing train and bus connections—and capacity potential. An upgrade for the venue would deliver a legacy asset as well as many benefits for local business and the community leading into the 2032 games. That is a view we continue to share with the Queensland government through the Department of Tourism, Innovation and Sport and Queensland Savers as we work to find a suitable resolution while the redevelopment is completed. Thank you. I'm happy to answer any questions.

CHAIR: Thanks for that. We really appreciate the information. We're up here in Mackay today—we're actually looking out onto a beautiful oval field that has hosted, at least, AFL Women's games. You probably could appreciate that some of us up here—I'm a senator based in Rockhampton—are getting a little frustrated with the amount of money being spent in Brisbane on the Olympics. It's $7 billion and counting. Most of that money is being raised from the coal industry here in Central Queensland. Now we're hearing from the AFL—I caught up with Cricket Australia last week; we'll come back to that conversation—that there's more money that needs to be spent in Brisbane, ostensibly not for the Olympics directly but because of the indirect impacts of some of the building for Olympic venues. What do you say to the point that, for us here in regional Queensland, it's like, 'How much more can we spend in Brisbane to support major sports when we seem to be paying for it all but not getting any of the benefit?'

Mr Chun : The first point, just to be clear, is that we're the AFL. The club that's being impacted is Brisbane, which is a member based club, and we're here in support of that club, which is a long-term tenant of the Gabba and is being displaced. Like any tenant that gets removed from their tenure, there needs to be some level of compensation. So understand that it is a lot of money but, on the other side, we generally as a business support regional Australia. In fact, in regional Queensland we've supported a range of different projects. As a recent example, for the ground that you're at at the moment, we recently invested $75,000 into a grandstand there. We do that across the country, particularly in Queensland, where we have invested in over 51 projects to date.

CHAIR: Have you looked at moving games I'm not saying Mackay should be the exclusive location. You've also got Carrara, which is just down the road. Has the AFL looked at moving games away from Brisbane for this period of time? That would not necessarily foreclose any other compensation for gate revenue takings that you might ask. Could that be a cheaper option than investing in a whole new facility that requires upkeep maintenance as well as the capital expenditure upfront?

Mr Chun : We investigated a range of different things, but I think the most important thing is that the Brisbane team is in Brisbane. If it's for a short period of time, we could potentially do what you're suggesting, but this is a [inaudible] dislocation with probably another year around the Olympics as well. If we were moved a significant distance from the Gabba, it would have a significant impact on our 30,000 Brisbane based members, who would need to travel a significant way when they're already travelling every second week because they're playing in a national competition. We are of the opinion that that will be a significant disadvantage to our membership base, who are already dealing with cost-of-living issues for our families.

CHAIR: There's no doubt about that. It's just a balance here; what's more cost effective? For some of us here, welcome to our world! If we want to go to a major event, we've now got to pay ridiculous airfares through Qantas or Virgin to get there and back. But what is the cost of the RNA rebuild? Has that been costed?

Mr Chun : That's a matter for the government. We've been working collaboratively with them to give them an indication of the things that we would require at an elite AFL ground. We've given that information, and they're working through the business case. We haven't seen that.

CHAIR: You haven't got an estimate yet? How could you make a conclusion that this is the best option if you don't even know the cost of it?

Mr Chun : Work that we have done to date is about the impact it will have on our membership. By playing games at that venue with its capacity, we've modelled how many people would turn up and all those sorts of things.

CHAIR: Okay. Just to be clear: I'm not trying to be critical of you. You're obviously looking after your own organisation. But the analysis that you've done so far is an analysis of the impact on the AFL or the AFL clubs, like the Brisbane Lions, not on what's best for, say, the public. For example, you haven't done a public benefit cost exercise.

Mr Chun : We haven't done a public benefit cost. We've been focusing on what's best for our 30,000 members that live in Brisbane.

CHAIR: Sure. As I say, you're an organisation that's got to do that. We've got to try to weigh up and provide recommendations on what's best for the country. I'm just a bit concerned about the payoff for the nation to continue to invest in this. I mentioned earlier that I had a chat with Cricket Australia. They obviously have very similar infrastructure needs. You share the facility at the Gabba. They're keen on redeveloping Allan Border Field, so we're now looking at two different fields in Brisbane being redeveloped. Have you had conversations with them? Why isn't there a level of cooperation and coordination here on what's desired? What's a desirable outcome just for Brisbane, let alone the rest of Queensland?

Mr Chun : The cricket conversation is obviously one that they've having directly with government. We have met with Cricket once, and that was really just about our preference and their preference. It was never more than that.

CHAIR: I'm sure you'd appreciate that, from a government perspective and given the cost of the games already, I don't know how we would then find money to invest in two separate oval facilities almost within throwing distance of each other in Brisbane. It seems absurd. I'll leave it there and go to other senators.

Mr Chun : Could I add one point there?

CHAIR: Sorry; you're free to respond.

Mr Chun : I just want to make the point that the Brisbane Lions playing games in metropolitan Brisbane delivers a significant economic impact to Brisbane, which we estimate as being $80 million a year. But that happens in every major city that we play in. It brings a significant economic impact with the stadia. Maintaining the Lions in metropolitan Brisbane will have a positive impact, and we also believe that there's a legacy impact that this stadium will deliver. We would see that we could play some games there as well.

CHAIR: To come back to my central point here: the problem is that the people who pay for that benefit are not the people of Brisbane. You're asking for the Queensland treasury to pay for new infrastructure upgrades in Brisbane, and, the way the revenue flows are working right now in this state, most of that revenue comes from regional Queensland, and we don't see the benefit of it. We understand that, and I've always been supportive of the Olympics—I believe it would be a good thing for our country—but there's got to be a limit to how much can be extracted from the regions without a corresponding benefit.

Senator McKenzie.

Senator McKENZIE: Thanks for coming. I think having the discussion about oval sports in a state like Queensland is incredibly important. You're cross-seasonal, so it makes sense, as it does up here in Harrup Park, to be playing cricket in summer and footy—as a Victorian, there's only one code—during winter on an oval field. I did want to get some clarification about the redevelopment of the Gabba. There was an article published in the Australian on 29 September that said, 'The Lions are still in the dark about where they will play home games after December 2025, when the Gabba is razed for a $2.7 billion redevelopment'. Have you got an update for the committee on whether that is still the case for the Lions?

Mr Chun : I'm not sure I totally understand the question.

Senator McKENZIE: I'm quoting from an article in the Australian on 29 September that stated the Brisbane lions were 'still in the dark about where they will play home games after December 2025, when the Gabba is razed for a $2.7 billion redevelopment to become the main Olympics and Paralympics stadium.'

Mr Chun : As we said in the opening, we've been working collaboratively with the government, but we haven't had an indication or a decision as to where we will be relocated to post January 2025, when the Gabba is due to be demolished.

Senator McKENZIE: What is your expectation about when that decision will be made? As we know, you need long lead times. It's not just rocking up to a field and playing the game when you're talking about being dislocated for the length of time the Lions will be. When are you expecting the decision to be made by the government and communicated to the Lions?

Mr Chun : We have been told on a number of occasions that it's imminent. I don't know what 'imminent' means, but we're hoping it will be as soon as possible.

Senator McKENZIE: Of course you are. How often do you meet? Is there a regular pattern of meetings on this issue?

Mr Chun : There's not. It's being led by the Queensland government. They're undertaking a business case, and we're waiting to hear the results of that business case.

Senator McKENZIE: Right. So, once that business case is completed and reported, you'll be told what's happening.

Mr Chun : That's correct.

Senator McKENZIE: What's the AFL's position on the Gabba redevelopment, particularly when the seat capacity is only increasing by 8,000?

Mr Chun : That's really a matter for the government, as I said, again, in my opening—

Senator McKENZIE: I understand it is a matter for the government's decision-making, but you're a key stakeholder. The AFL will have been consulted, I'm assuming—I'm hoping—in the design that's being put forward. Did you want more seats?

Mr Chun : We have given them the requirements we would need for a new ground. As I said in my opening as well, there are a number of issues in terms of the end of the Gabba's economic life. I don't think I need to go through all of those issues. In terms of capacity, as I said, we've sold out a number of grounds. We're comfortable that we could sell out 55,000, but, again, the number of seats is not something that we gave to the Queensland government. That was what was given back to us.

Senator McKENZIE: Were you consulted on your needs as a key stakeholder in the redevelopment?

Mr Chun : Yes, we were.

CHAIR: Can I just follow up there: did the Queensland government consult with the AFL before they made the announcement late last year that they would use the Gabba as the athletics venue for the Olympic Games? You can take that on notice.

Mr Chun : I would say—I'll have to check my notes—it would be roughly the same time.

CHAIR: That's fine. I'm happy for you to take it on notice.

Senator McKENZIE: Thank you. That would be much appreciated, because that is one of the questions. Matt Carroll, the CEO of the Australian Olympic Committee, stated earlier this year in his National Press Club address: 'The infrastructure at the Gabba is for AFL and cricket. The Olympics and Paralympics will use it for a month, if they could just give it a coat of paint. Those sports will be the beneficiaries of the refurbishment at the Gabba.' What is your response to that? The CEO of the Olympic Committee is saying the redevelopment isn't about the Olympics; it's actually about AFL and cricket. That was his contention at the National Press Club. Is that your view?

Mr Chun : Again, I'll reiterate the point before: the Gabba is coming to the end of its economic life. If it weren't for the Olympics, there would need to be a significant redevelopment of that oval. I can't be any clearer than that, I suppose.

Senator McKENZIE: So it's your contention—this is what I'm hearing you say, Mr Chun—that the redevelopment of the Gabba would have had to happen anyway, irrespective of the Olympics.

Mr Chun : Correct.

Senator McKENZIE: Do you have an assessment of how much the AFL will be out of pocket as a result of the redevelopment?

Mr Chun : It's challenging to answer that question until we know where we are displaced to.

Senator McKENZIE: But you will have done some preliminary costings. You will have had a range or a figure.

Mr Chun : Yes. As an absolute start, we generate about $16 million to 18 million per annum from the stadium. That's what the Brisbane Lions generate. That is a very direct impact initially, but there's a whole range of other impacts—membership declining and corporate sponsorship declining—and there's a big range in that depending on where we get displaced to. It could be doubled at the most.

Senator McKENZIE: You've done the work on it, so my question is: what are the figures? You'll have done a figure for Karara. What if you get displaced to Karara? How much will that cost you?

Mr Chun : I don't have those numbers in front of me, so we could come back to you on that.

Senator McKENZIE: That would be wonderful, so that we can get a bit of an understanding from you. AFLW has been played here in Mackay. Could you give us a feeling for, an assessment, whether it was a success here and how the facility went.

Mr Chun : I think, as you'd probably appreciate, that AFLW is still in its infancy and we've played in a range of different venues around the country. One thing about AFLW, if you go back and have a look at regional Queensland, is that since 2011, we have played 17 games in regional Queensland. So it's something we do, and have done, over our history. In terms of that game, it's too early. We're doing a review of all of the stadiums for this year, which was a different year; we trialled a whole lot of smaller stadiums in this season. We've got that preliminary final this weekend and then the grand final, and then we'll do an assessment of the success of those venues. But it is an important venue in the suite of venues that we're looking to play AFLW in, because we like playing in boutique stadiums.

Senator McKENZIE: Yes, okay. Thank you.

CHAIR: Senator Roberts, did you have any questions?

Senator ROBERTS: Thank you for being here with us, Mr Chun. You mentioned in an earlier answer that the Lions are a tenant, not an owner. Is that correct?

Mr Chun : That's correct.

Senator ROBERTS: Who are the other major tenants?

Mr Chun : At the Gabba?

Senator ROBERTS: Yes.

Mr Chun : I don't have that information, other than that cricket would be the other main tenant. Those are the two main tenants; I'm sure there are some smaller tenants who occupy retail or office buildings but, ultimately, the two main tenants who play on the arena are football and cricket.

Senator ROBERTS: Who are the owners—pardon my ignorance?

Mr Chun : It's managed by Stadiums Queensland and I assume it's a trust or a government department. That would be my assumption.

Senator ROBERTS: Does the government get involved in setting the conditions of your tenancy?

Mr Chun : We have a venue hire agreement with Stadiums Queensland and our relationship is with Stadiums Queensland. They govern how we use that stadium.

Senator ROBERTS: You're working with the government, though, on this issue about replacing the Gabba?

Mr Chun : The Gabba, correct.

Senator ROBERTS: You mentioned a number of difficulties: transport connectivity and the locality itself. What specific improvements would you receive as a result of the Gabba replacement?

Mr Chun : We don't have that level of detail. We have given them a list of things that we require, like we would whenever a new stadium is built. There are certain minimum standards that we need at any venue. We have provided all of that and they're still putting their brief together. We haven't seen that brief yet, so until I see that brief, I can't give you feedback about what we intend to receive.

Senator ROBERTS: So you don't know whether it's going to be fit for purpose for the Lions—if it will meet your needs at the moment?

Mr Chun : Not until I review the brief which, again, I've been told is imminent.

Senator ROBERTS: Thank you. The seating capacity, I have just learned, is about 42,000 for the Gabba. Suncorp has 52,500 and it can be set in a concert configuration of 60,000. Surely the Gabba has enormous site constraints—it's bolting over the road in two places! Do those site constraints make it not really suitable for a much larger stadium—those physical constraints?

Mr Chun : As I said before, we're a tenant; those sorts of questions are a little outside our area of expertise. But there are stadiums that are in inner-city locations that work, so I'm sure it is possible. But that's a more technical question that I can't really respond to.

Senator ROBERTS: Do the Lions have any funding contributions that they're expected to make towards stadium replacement?

Mr Chun : No.

Senator ROBERTS:   Our concern is that Queensland is the most decentralised state. It's the only state with more people outside the capital city than inside the capital city, and yet most of the revenue for the running of our state and our exports comes from the regions, so we want to make this a Queensland games not a Brisbane games. Can you think of any ways that you think the Lions could contribute to that?

Mr Chun : Maybe I'll answer this from AFL perspective because all of our clubs basically reinvest into their own football programs and the AFL is the one that invests into infrastructure around the country. We have 68,000 participants throughout Queensland both regional and metropolitan. There are 170 venues around the country that we have contributed to, of which 51 are throughout Queensland. Again, they're in both regional and metropolitan areas, and we've invested in each of those projects, including the 75,000.

Senator ROBERTS: Let me understand those figures—170 sites around the country with 51 of them in Queensland.

Mr Chun : Correct.

Senator ROBERTS: Thank you.

CHAIR: You mentioned earlier that you hope to place some games at the RNA showgrounds post 2032. Could you take us through what those games might be?

Mr Chun : Again, we do this around the country. AFLW is looking to play in smaller boutique venues that are well located, so I think it's reasonable to expect that there would be some AFLW games played there. You might have seen that last year we introduced a concept called Gather Round where we hold all of the games in one state. That's committed to South Australia for 2026, but the idea is we will move that around the country to various different states. That would be a perfect venue to host the smaller games. There are other pathways where we have carnivals for the emerging talent. We've held inclusion carnivals in Queensland, and those different events are perfect for a smaller venue.

CHAIR: Those sorts of events could have come to the regions, so if redevelopment were the way the Queensland government decided to go, it would necessarily mean fewer opportunities to host events and games for regional Queensland because they would be facing competition from similar sized venues in Brisbane.

Mr Chun : We have a track record of always going to the regions. We would spread those carnivals that I've talked about between metropolitan and regional, as we have done in every other state.

CHAIR: I realise that this redevelopment is happening primarily for the Olympics, but, as you said, even without the Olympics the Gabba would probably work of some kind anyway. Have there been other examples of the redevelopment of stadia impacting AFL and so causing governments to compensate the AFL during the interim? The MCG has been redeveloped over the years. Are there any other examples of redevelopments triggering a degree of compensation from government, which in effect is what you're asking for?

Mr Chun : We've never been displaced for this period of time. There have been minor displacements over various different venues. Obviously, Karara is the most recent example with the Commonwealth Games, but it was a very small inconvenience and we just relocated some games and so we didn't really need compensation. The MCG—

CHAIR: How long was that for?

Mr Chun : From memory, we had to relocate three or four games, but I can come back to you on the exact number. The MCG gets redeveloped in situ, so we've never been displaced out of the MCG other than losing some capacity. Then there are individual negotiations that take place when that happens.

CHAIR: Was there compensation in those instances?

Mr Chun : Again, that's a fair while ago now, so I'll have to go back.

CHAIR: Yes, if you can take it on notice.

Mr Chun : I'll take it on notice.

CHAIR: You probably picked up from my question that I'm sceptical, but eventually you'll get a massive new stadium that's paid for by taxpayers, so that's a benefit. Apparently, we have to stump up and compensate in the interim. It just galls me a little bit how much money we're having to throw out here while not really thinking, I think, at this stage about what's best for the country, not necessarily individual sporting organisations.

Thanks very much for your time, Mr Chun. You have taken some questions on notice. Sorry for the quick turnaround, but we are finalising our report in the next couple of weeks. If we could get your answers back by 30 November, we would really appreciate that. I do apologise for the short turnaround. Thanks again for your time today.

Mr Chun : No problem. Thank you, everyone.