Premier blasts crit­ics: ‘I won’t sit on my hands on sta­di­ums’

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - - Front Page - ANNA CALD­WELL IN GUANGZHOU

GLA­DYS Bere­jik­lian has hit out at crit­ics of her more than $2 bil­lion over­haul of Syd­ney’s sta­di­ums — vow­ing do­ing noth­ing is not an op­tion and she isn’t go­ing to shy away from “think­ing big” be­cause of naysay­ers who would rather she “sit on her hands”. “It’s eas­ier not to do any­thing, and not to build any­thing,” the Premier said while on a trade mis­sion to China. “But you can’t make de­ci­sions (only) think­ing about be­ing a premier for this year. It’s got to be for the next decade.” The com­ments are her first in-depth re­sponse to op­po­si­tion to bull­doz­ing and re­build­ing ANZ and Al­lianz sta­di­ums.

“We can (af­ford) this,” she said, promis­ing the money will not com­pro­mise health and ed­u­ca­tion spend­ing.

GLA­DYS Bere­jik­lian says she’s will­ing to be pil­lo­ried in the short term over her de­ci­sion to spend $2 bil­lion-plus re­build­ing Syd­ney’s ma­jor sta­di­ums since lead­er­ship is about “mak­ing the right call”.

“It’s eas­ier not to do any­thing, and not to build any­thing. But you can’t make de­ci­sions think­ing about be­ing a premier for this year and next year. It’s got to be for the next decade and be­yond,” she told The Daily Tele­graph in an ex­clu­sive interview. “There is al­ways noise around what gov­ern­ment does. You need to make sure — in your gut — that what you’re do­ing is in the in­ter­ests of the state and no other rea­son.”

On a trade mis­sion to China and the Philip­pines, the Premier spoke in depth for the first time since com­ing un­der sus­tained po­lit­i­cal at­tack over the plan to bull­doze and re­build ANZ and Al­lianz sta­di­ums.

The scale of the spend di­vided her cab­i­net, and has also seen back­benchers grap­ple with con­cerns from their elec­torates as vot­ers seize on La­bor’s call for the $2 bil­lion to be spent on health and ed­u­ca­tion in­stead. Ms Bere­jik­lian said she heard the mes­sage “loud and clear” about health and ed­u­ca­tion, which were her top pri­or­i­ties. She said she could fo­cus on them yet still build sta­di­ums be­cause she had “so much on the boil at one go”.

“We can do this,” she said, adding the gov­ern­ment had the bud­get to pay for its plans and “you have to think big”. She also fore­shad­owed more spend­ing on sports in­fra­struc­ture at a lo­cal level in the fu­ture. “We wouldn’t be hav­ing this con­ver­sa­tion if we hadn’t brought the bud­get to what it is,” she said.

“The nub of it is (peo­ple are wondering) does she un­der­stand we want her and her gov­ern­ment to fo­cus on health and ed­u­ca­tion and the things that mat­ter to us. My re­sponse is I hear you loud and clear.”

She urged vot­ers to put the sta­dium spend in a broader con­text of the state bud­get, out­lin­ing how $20 bil­lion was be­ing in­vested in hos­pi­tals in the west alone, and $200 bil­lion on health and ed­u­ca­tion while the sta­di­ums were be­ing built.

Ms Bere­jik­lian said she would have come un­der greater pres­sure if she’d failed to act on the sta­di­ums, adding that Al­lianz would be un­us­able af­ter 2019 and ANZ wasn’t built for mod­ern sports needs.

The gov­ern­ment’s case was that tourism, jobs and rev­enue would be lost if the venues weren’t re­built and that Syd­ney “needs to be hon­est with it­self” that tourism is one of the short list of things the city is truly glob­ally com­pet­i­tive in.

“Imag­ine the crit­i­cism I’d face if I didn’t do any­thing. How would I be judged? Sit­ting on your hands and do­ing noth­ing is the worst op­tion,” the Premier said. “I don’t ex­pect ev­ery­one to see the ben­e­fit of some­thing when we an­nounce it. It’s our job to ex­plain our­selves.”

As a for­mer trans­port min­is­ter, Ms Bere­jik­lian re­called hav­ing to live through the hard sell on big projects like the north­west metro and the light rail, and was proud of “stick­ing to her guns”. “I keep re­mem­ber­ing the time I got pil­lo­ried for start­ing a metro sys­tem in the north­west. Peo­ple said how dare you,” she said. “I got pil­lo­ried … I don’t care. It doesn’t bother me. If you want to be a good leader and make a dif­fer­ence for peo­ple, you’ve got to do what’s right.”

Gla­dys Bere­jik­lian and Brad Haz­zard re­act as the Premier is pre­sented with a gift por­trait in Guangzhou. Be­low: Meet­ing Chi­nese of­fi­cials.

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