NSW Labor leader Michael Daley has picked a fight with some of Sydney’s most prominent figures as he attempts to revive his signature election issue.
Mr Daley said he did not care if he made “powerful enemies” as he told broadcaster Alan Jones that he would sack the powerful Sydney Cricket Ground Trust’s board if elected.
In a fiery exchange with Jones yesterday, Mr Daley said if Labor wins he would sack the majority of the board, including Jones, because it had “colluded” with the Berejiklian government to fund the $730 million rebuild of Allianz Stadium.
Labor has said it would not use public money to fund the rebuild and instead would force the trust to repay a government loan.
Its key election slogan is “schools and hospitals before stadiums”.
The board immediately hit back at Mr Daley’s threat, with the trust’s chairman Tony Shepherd saying the trustees did not appreciate the Labor leader’s “disparaging remarks”.
“I was very disappointed by the comments because we are a serious organisation made up of a diverse, competent group of people,” Mr Shepherd said.
“The trustees are appointed by the government and we have no personal interests other than what is in the public interest.”
Mr Shepherd was appointed to the board by a Labor government.
Another board member, prominent businessman Maurice Newman, said he was considering legal action after Mr Daley claimed in the interview that the board had “ripped” the sprinklers out of Allianz Stadium “under the cover of darkness”.
“There were never any sprinklers in Allianz to rip out. And I see this as a clear defamation of my reputation. I reserve all my options,” Mr Newman said.
Former prime minister Paul Keating threw his support behind Mr Daley’s stance, saying he “is right to put the sword through this organisation – notwithstanding it is decades late”.
Mr Keating said the trust’s sole objective was to “build an outsize Roman style arena” in an area far from Sydney’s geographic centre despite only attracting “modest” crowds.
“Yet, Titus-like, the Sydney Cricket Ground Trust, drunk with its gladiator complex, is determined to build the monolith whether the public supports it or not,” Mr Keating said.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian labelled Mr Daley’s move “hot-headed” and accused him of making a “decision on the run” as she reaffirmed her support for the SCG Trust.
“I would say, is this person fit to be the premier of NSW? It is not good enough to make a rash decision under pressure during a morning interview,” she said.
But Mr Daley said it was not a snap decision and he broke the news to Jones “face-to-face as courtesy” because they “always had a good relationship”.
Along with Jones, those facing the sack under a Labor government would include former News Ltd chairman John Hartigan, former NSW premier Barry O’Farrell and Rod McGeoch, who led Sydney’s 2000 Olympic bid.
“I’m going to stick up for ordinary people come hell or high water … I don’t care what enemies I pick around town … regardless of the peril it puts me in,” Mr Daley said.
Labor has long signalled its eagerness to overhaul the SCG Trust.
In March 2018, Labor’s spokeswoman for sport Lynda Voltz called for the SCG Trust to be merged with Venues NSW, which manages other major state-owned venues such as ANZ Stadium and the new Parramatta stadium.
But Mr Daley indicated he would retain the board, saying he would keep two elected trustees, as well as former Test cricketer Stuart MacGill.
Mr Daley said the board sent him a letter in December outlining their arguments for the rebuild, including the lack of fire sprinklers and issues with emergency exits.
Instead of winning him over, the letter convinced him that stopping the demolition was the right thing to do, he said.
“Some of the [claims] were about safety and compliance, that the stadium wasn’t built for today’s standards and it was unsafe,” he said.
“Well I make this point – the ladies’ stand and the Members’ Stand at the SCG are made of wood. They don’t comply with today’s standards either. I don’t see people rushing to try and knock them down.”