AFL grab taxes WA loyalty
AFL grab taxes WA loyalty

The WA government needs to get itself involved in the AFL conversation on equalisation and it needs to do so now.

As it stands, the model the league is proposing to introduce, amounts to WA taxpayers subsidising Eastern States based clubs who are failing to compete financially.

As clubs in the competition, West Coast and Fremantle might have to accept responsibility for helping sustain those clubs. But last time I checked, our State’s taxpayers didn’t sign up for being part of a Western Bulldogs, North Melbourne, St Kilda, Port Adelaide and Brisbane bail out.

But they will be if this is allowed to stand. How? Because our football clubs are the beneficiaries of the best stadium deals in the competition and those deals come at the expense of the WA taxpayer.

West Coast has accumulated almost $40 million in cash reserves due in no small part to that stadium deal. In fairness, the Eagles plan to invest about half of that in their new training facility at Lathlain Park. Twenty million dollars is a huge investment for an AFL club to make but the Lathlain Park project is the type of investment that you accumulate reserves for.

Fremantle, heavily in debt in 2001, are over $10 million in the black now and will be until they commit about half of their reserves to funding their new training facility at Cockburn.

But when parent body - the WA Football Commission - needed its $10m debt on Patersons Stadium reduced – it had to turn to the State government who committed $3m in its recent budget for that purpose. In WA football, the kids have outgrown the parents who are now State government welfare cases. And our cashed up kid clubs are about to become welfare providers, to the tune of about $800,000 per year between them, to clubs in other States who would send themselves broke without help.

There are a few lessons to learn here. On George Orwell’s Animal Farm all animals were equal but some were eventually more equal than others. And it is the same in the AFL where the Victorians appear a little more equal than the rest of us.

I wonder how the Victorian Government would feel if it were asked to stump up $5-$10 million a year to make sure that Melbourne, St Kilda, North Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs stay around. After all, the grand final is pre-ordained to be in Melbourne and that event alone is worth, according to some figures, more than $40 million annually to the Victorian economy.

And I also wonder what the Victorians would say if West Coast and Fremantle put the offer of a few years ago back on the table: To pay clubs like North Melbourne, the Bulldogs, Melbourne and St Kilda $600,000 a game to play home games here.

If the Bulldogs for example played two home games here it would represent $1.2 million in revenue, not to mention them not losing the money they would if they played the game at Etihad Stadium. Of course, we couldn’t have that because that would mean the Eagles and Fremantle would get 14 games at home. But hang on a minute, don’t Collingwood already play 14 games at the MCG, their home ground? And don’t Hawthorn play 11 there this year plus another three in Tasmania, their home and away from home?

You don’t get many opportunities to rock the status quo in the type of situation in which West Australians find themselves in the Victorian-centric AFL. You best consider the building of a new stadium and the striking of new financial deals around that stadium, as good a chance as you are going to get.

It is pointless striking a stadium deal that makes our AFL clubs richer than their competitors if they are going to be taxed to help eastern States clubs because of it. And who can stop it? The clubs will do as they are told.

The WAFC will fall into line as well, lest they upset the mighty AFL. The government needs to make sure the interests of taxpayers and supporters are addressed. And it is time for someone who doesn’t fear the wrath of the swords and suits at AFL house to ask: If we are going to pay to keep eastern States clubs alive, what are we getting in return?

A warm fuzzy feeling for helping Victorians in need? I had such a feeling once. Turned out to be gastro.

The West Australian

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