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Olympics – a catalyst for meeting regional infrastructure demands

9 Aug 2019, by Amy Sarcevic

A commitment to hosting the 2032 Olympic Games could spur South East Queensland to meet its existing infrastructure requirements and the future needs of the region’s growth, according to Scott Smith, CEO of the Council of Mayors, South East Queensland.

Speaking to Informa ahead of the IAQ Queensland Infrastructure Summit, Mr. Smith said that the current trajectory and “business as usual” approach to infrastructure planning and delivery will not be sufficient to keep pace with the anticipated growth of the region and unlock the full economic potential of the south-east.

“The current caution in managing Treasury balance sheets is understandable, but I don’t think it’s going to get us to where we need to go,”  he said.

“The SEQ Mayors have proposed a strong plan for the future but it needs a bold, forward-thinking and coordinated approach to delivery; one which isn’t constrained by political cycles or agendas. I believe the prospect of an obligation to host this event – and an unequivocal deadline – will be the catalyst we need”.

In response to criticism that the event may unduly constrain government balance sheets and monopolise tax funds which could otherwise be “better spent” on hospitals, schools and the like, Mr. Smith argued that very little – if any – of the required infrastructure could be considered a genuine Olympic cost.

“Never mind the legacy-driven narrative,” said Scott. “Most of the infrastructure we need to be able to host the Olympics is infrastructure already needed for population growth. There are virtually no Olympic-specific projects in the budget planning.”

With that said, Mr. Smith believes only operational costs will remain; and that, given recent efforts by the IOC (International Olympic Committee) to refine the financial modelling, these will be minimal. Factoring in the economic incentives of hosting, he says the games will be “cost neutral”.

“At one stage, the Olympics was underpinned by a strong sense of ‘one-up-manship’ between hosting nations, which saw the associated costs skyrocketing over time. But thankfully, this is beginning to subside, and we’re now seeing a more reasonable bidding process, fewer maintenance liabilities and more viable budget planning,” he said.

“These improved processes have seen billions of dollars cut from the cost of the Tokyo Games. The Paris Games will be delivered with only a small percentage of new venues, and LA will have almost none.”

But Mr. Smith doesn’t believe the hosting obligation and deadline alone are enough to ensure the delivery of infrastructure the south-east desperately needs.

“At the end of the day, we still need a mechanism that allows three levels of government to put politics aside and work together towards a long-term plan for the region,” he highlighted.

In this regard, Mr. Smith advocates the use of a City Deal – a 20-year plan by all levels of government to deliver an agreed set of economic outcomes. The SEQ City Deal promises to be the largest of its kind in Australia, and is something the Council of Mayors (SEQ) has pursued for many years.

“While Olympic Games investigations and the SEQ City Deal negotiations are taking place alongside each other, they are two separate but related initiatives. We’re hopeful that an SEQ City Deal can deliver the infrastructure this region needs to capitalise on its future population growth. If we do that well, than it could lay the foundation for a successful Olympic Games proposal,” he said.

The Prime Minister’s representative for the 2032 Olympic Games Ted O’Brien MP agrees that a “full Team Australia” approach to the campaign is required, with all three tiers of government and the Australian Olympics Committee (AOC) working together.

“You don’t get to host an Olympics without the strength of a united team and now with the Federal Government, the State Government, local governments and the Australian Olympics Committee (AOC) on board we’re ready to go,” Mr O’Brien said.

“There really is no time to waste.  There is no doubt the IOC is watching us closely and we need to show them exactly how much SEQ is embracing this golden opportunity.

“The governance structure around the bid team is being finalised, and we need an economic feasibility study done and master planning undertaken, including infrastructure requirements.

“The great thing is, with the SEQ City Deal, we already have a mechanism in place uniting the three tiers of government on infrastructure, and negotiations on that deal are well underway”.

Hear more from Ted O’Brien and Scott Smith on the progress of the Olympics bid and SEQ City Deal at this years’ IAQ Queensland Infrastructure Summit, due to take place 11 October in Brisbane.

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