12 April 2022

$11.4 million AIS funding a 'start' but Barr wants more certainty about precinct's future

| Lottie Twyford
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ais arena

The Federal Government has committed $11.4 million to the decommissioned AIS Arena. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr has welcomed the Federal Government’s $11.4 million commitment to refurbish and reopen the currently decommissioned AIS Arena, but says it’s nothing more than a “start”.

Mr Barr described it as “regrettable” that it had taken the Commonwealth Government so long to “spend money on an asset they own”.

“This is the Australian Institute of Sport Arena. It is a Commonwealth asset and it’s the Commonwealth’s responsibility to maintain it and they’ve let it run down over four decades, so it’s good to see some money,” Mr Barr said.

The Chief Minister refuted claims the funding delay was because his government hadn’t come to the table. He said there had been multiple exchanges, letters, and meetings over two years.

He also noted the Federal Government did not need to engage with the ACT Government on assets such as Scrivener Dam and Commonwealth Avenue Bridge, nor was it asked to half fund national institutions like the National Library of Australia or Australian Parliament House.

“So why is the Australian Institute of Sport something the ACT Government and ACT taxpayers would be funding? It’s just an extraordinary thing to say,” Mr Barr said.

However, Mr Barr said he also wanted to have a broader discussion about a revitalisation of the entire precinct, and the large parcel of land it sits on, with whatever Federal Government was in power after the election.

He hoped to see future investments which could entail improvements like a new grandstand at Canberra Stadium but also floated the possibility of using the “significant amount of land” to deliver affordable housing.

“(There’s) potentially the option to partner with the Commonwealth Government on more affordable housing to deliver a mixed-use precinct that would see that area utilised much more regularly – not just 25 weekends a year when there’s a football game on,” he explained.

Zed Seselja

Senator for the ACT Zed Seselja described $11.4 million to go towards safety upgrades at the AIS as a “win for Canberrans”. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

Liberal Senator for the ACT Zed Seselja, who announced the funding for a safety upgrade along with Federal Minister for Sport Richard Colbeck, said the arena would now be able to open for major events in the first half of 2023.

The venue has been mothballed since 2020, when it was shut down due to COVID-19, although a part of it has since been used as a mass vaccination hub.

It never reopened for major events because of concerns about its fire safety rating.

The closure of the arena meant the Canberra Capitals basketball team was left “homeless” and had to train at community facilities.

At the time of its closure, the ACT Government accused the Federal Government of letting the facility run down, while the Commonwealth said the Territory government would be required to make a contribution if it wanted to retain the facilities locally.

READ ALSO CSIRO land in Zed’s housing play has been on table for years

Mr Seselja called the funding injection a “big win” for Canberrans.

“I have been fighting for this much-needed investment, while engaging with local community organisations and sports bodies who were keen to see the AIS Arena re-opened,” he said.

“There will be many Canberrans who will be thrilled to see the AIS Arena open once more, hosting high quality sporting events, showcasing entertainment, or hosting education events.”

Works to be carried out over the coming months include fixing lighting, fire safety systems, lifts, mechanical services, and electrical systems.

Seating upgrades will also be carried out.

The funding has been allocated and is not dependent on an election outcome.

David Pocock

Independent ACT senate candidate David Pocock said the funding announcement didn’t make up for years of neglect. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Independent ACT senate candidate David Pocock, who has previously campaigned for improved sporting facilities in the capital, including a new stadium, said today’s announcement did not make up for years of neglect of the facility.

Instead, Mr Pocock said Mr Seselja was simply making the announcement because he feared losing his seat in the Senate.

“For nearly two years now – almost an entire term of Federal Parliament – the Federal Government has sat on its hands leaving Canberra without a major indoor venue,” Mr Pocock said.

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HiddenDragon6:47 pm 13 Apr 22

“…..but also floated the possibility of using the “significant amount of land” to deliver affordable housing.”

And there we have it – as with just about every other issue of note to arise in ACT politics, it turns out to be about property development and the loot to realised from that.

The irony in this case is that if Barr had resisted the temptation to weaponise the AIS issue against Sesleja, and just kept quiet until after the federal election, he doubtless would have found a willing vendor given the state of the federal budget and the fact that neither of the Prime Ministerial candidates could really care less about this Fraser-era relic. Instead, having extracted funding from a worried Seselja, there will now be the extra complication of crab-walking away from the expectations which that has raised.

Zed treats Canberrans as fools. This lazy Senator thinks they can be bought!!

Capital Retro8:03 am 13 Apr 22

If Zed has a dog I pity it because all the neighbourhood dogs would hate it too.

Well if the last few ACT elections are anything to go by, seems they can.

Finally. Funding from the Federal Government after one of their members/Senators, in this case Zed, is threatened with political oblivion. Governments need to be under leant on before they deliver anything. I just hope people see it for what it is and the pork barrelling does not reward the Government of the Day.

Amen to that, Zed is too obvious. Canberrans are smarter than that.

Hopefully Pocock knocks him off.

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