State in chaos after MPs’ shock decision

Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff and Gillon McLachlan CEO of the AFL recently announced Tasmania would join the AFL. Picture: Nikki Davis-Jones

Australia’s only remaining Liberal government has been thrown into a minority after two MPs resigned, largely because of concerns over plans to build a multimillion-dollar AFL stadium in Hobart.

Two Liberal MPs — Bass member Lara Alexander and Lyons member John Tucker — have confirmed they will quit Tasmania’s parliamentary Liberal Party to sit as independents on the crossbench and renounce their Liberal memberships.

Speaking to reporters, the pair said they were concerned about “a few issues” including future debt resulting from Hobart’s $715m Macquarie Point Stadium and what they described as a lack of transparency surrounding the project.

Ms Alexander and Mr Tucker said they didn’t believe their resignations would “derail” the stadium — which Tasmania has agreed to build on the condition it will get a licence to enter a team in the AFL competition.

Premier Jeremy Rockliff has lost two of his backbenchers. Picture: Nikki Davis-Jones

The MPs added they weren’t necessarily opposed to the stadium but called for more information before they decided whether or not to support it.

“We are interested to look at what the contractors say and what the business case says,” Mr Tucker said.

“If the business case stacks up and everything looks right, I do not have a problem supporting the stadium. I suppose you could say I’m sitting on the fence with this, I want to see what the books say.”

Mr Tucker raised similar concerns about the Marinus Link, a proposed second undersea power cable between Tasmania and Victoria, saying he didn’t know if the business case would stack up.

The former Liberal backbenchers, both based in Tasmania’s north, said they knew there was “no going back” after quitting the party to become independents.

Their resignations throw the state Liberals in turmoil given the government under Premier Jeremy Rockliff, only held a one-seat majority and will now be tipped into a minority with 11 seats in the lower house.

The Liberals were re-elected in May 2021 with 13 seats in the 25-seat House of Assembly, with Labor holding 8 and the remainder held by the Greens or independents.

A concept image of Hobart's proposed stadium at Macquarie Point — the design is yet to be finalised. Picture: Supplied
A concept image of Hobart's proposed stadium at Macquarie Point — the design is yet to be finalised. Picture: Supplied

Ms Alexander and Mr Tucker’s decision could also spell uncertainty for the Macquarie Point Stadium, which has been met with controversy from residents who say the money should be spent on addressing problems with Tasmanian healthcare as well as the state’s housing crisis.

Leaked polling, obtained by The Australian newspaper last year, suggested 67 per cent of Tasmanians opposed plans to build the stadium even though they were broadly supportive of the state joining the AFL.

Late last month, Anthony Albanese announced the federal government would contribute $240m of commonwealth funds to the new stadium’s construction and then clashed with hecklers who tried to hijack his press conference about the project.

Speaking to reporters in Hobart, the Prime Minister said the funds would go towards redeveloping the waterfront location and include a private-public partnership to develop housing along the precinct – including affordable homes for “critical health workers and veterans”.

But a small group of protesters disrupted proceedings, calling for the stadium plans to be scrapped in favour of more affordable housing.

The Tasmanian Labor Party has made opposing the stadium a centrepiece of its policy platform and leader Rebecca White was notably absent from Mr Albanese’s public engagements during his recent visit to the state.

Recent analysis by Anglicare found Tasmanian rents are rising 10 times faster than income support payments, with the state still home to the most unaffordable rental market in the country.

Mr Albanese defended the Macquarie Point project on Friday, telling reporters the massive redevelopment was “not just about the stadium”.

“We now have a plan going forward which is a mix of housing, entertainment and sporting facilities, private sector activity, and upgrade of the wharf facilities, so that ferries can be used more along the Derwent (River),” he said.

“We received an application from the Tasmanian government, the budget supported that application.

“This is a project that will create ongoing economic activity and jobs as well as making the most of the urban redevelopment so that pristine sight is actually not left derelict like it has been for such a long period of time.”