Rebecca White and Jermey Rockliff
Rebecca White and Jeremy Rockliff faced off in front of an audience of undecided voters. Image by Chris Kidd/AAP PHOTOS
  • politics

Leaders clash over stadium in final campaign debate

Ethan James March 20, 2024

Tasmania’s Liberal and Labor leaders have traded barbs over contentious stadium plans and fielded multiple cost-of-living questions during the final election campaign debate.

The island state will vote on Saturday, with polls predicting the incumbent Liberals will claim more seats than Labor but not enough to form majority government.

Premier Jeremy Rockliff, whose party has been in power since 2014, declared the Liberals were within striking distance of the 18 seats required. 

Mr Rockliff and Labor leader Rebecca White reiterated they were prepared to govern in minority but wouldn’t do “deals” with minor parties or independents to get there.

Environmentalists outside the Hobart Town Hall venue chanted throughout Wednesday evening’s debate, calling for an end to native forest logging.

A new stadium proposed for Hobart
 Tasmania’s political leaders have clashed over the cost of a stadium linked to a state AFL side. Image by HANDOUT/AFL 

The Liberals plan to open up 40,000 hectares of native trees for forestry, while Labor supports the industry but hasn’t flagged expansion.

Mr Rockliff conceded a sizeable portion of the room perhaps didn’t support his government’s plan for a $715 million new stadium at Macquarie Point in Hobart. 

The proposed 23,000-seat roofed venue is a condition of Tasmania’s licence for entry to the AFL and AFLW in 2028. 

The club launched its colours, Devils logo and inaugural jumper on Monday night and has attracted more than 100,000 foundation members.

“Maybe more people in this room, maybe 50 per cent don’t agree with the stadium,” Mr Rockliff said to the audience of undecided voters.

“But you cannot deny you know where I stand. 

“Rebecca, you’ve been all over the place on this. Trying to kill the team and the dream every step of the way, or maybe not.” 

Ms White says she is pro-team but has pledged to try to renegotiate the deal with the AFL if elected and wants a club to prove itself at existing venues first.

She accused Mr Rockliff of breaking the deal after he pledged to cap the state’s stadium spend at $375 million and seek private investment for cost overruns. 

Jeremy Rockliff and Rebecca White
 Jeremy Rockliff and Rebecca White faced questions over the cost-of-living crisis. Image by Chris Kidd/AAP PHOTOS 

Ms White pointed out the stadium was forecast to run at a $300 million loss across two decades.

She asked Mr Rockliff why the health minister hadn’t helped a constituent of hers who lives with chronic pain and faces an 800-day wait for surgery. 

“With respect … I do care a lot about the example and all Tasmanians that are waiting too long on our waiting lists,” he said. 

“We have invested significantly over the course of the last 10 years.

“In fact, our elective surgery waiting lists have gone down from a high of 12,200 to around 8000 now.”

Mr Rockliff spruiked his party’s pledge to reduce stamp duty and halve public transport fares as cost-of-living relief. 

Ms White outlined Labor’s promise to cap power prices and cover the deposits of first-home buyers under a payback scheme. 

Tasmania is heading to the polls more than a year early after the minority Liberal government failed to resolve a stand-off with two cross bench independents. 

Surveys indicate more than a third of voters are set to snub the two major parties and deliver a hung parliament. 

The Greens, Jacqui Lambie Network candidates and a host of independents are in the mix for spots on the cross bench.