A column about design process, design policy, design and politics.

They can stick it up their bum.Jacquie Lambie, on the proposed AFL stadium in Hobart.

The Tasmanian state election is far from settled, but there are already significant lessons for architecture and design.

Stadium as a political killer

Stadia are a huge stumbling block for our state governments.

In 2017 the LNP’s new NSW premier, the now discredited Gladys Berejiklian, made the foolish first move to continue previous premier Mike Baird's silly idea to entirely replace the Sydney Football Stadium, rather than upgrade it. Cox (Qld) was hired to replace Cox (NSW). More corporate boxes, more toilets, more facilities. Blander but better. Was the money best spent?

By the time it was finally demolished and rebuilt, Labor had hammered the ‘waste’ and additional costs, along with missing commuter car parks and a host of rorts. The LNP lost the election.

Queensland is hosting the 2032 Olympics. Usually a cause for celebrations and a shiny new stadium. But it seems to have been the final straw for premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, as arguments raged over whether the Gabba should be refurbished or rebuilt. Steven Miles takes over, commissions a report which recommends a new stadium, which he then ignores in favour of doing up three inadequate existing venues  - QE11, the Queensland Sports and Athletics Centre (QSAC), Suncorp Stadium and the Gabba.

Good for sustainability, not to sustain the Labor government. Expect it to fall spectacularly in October’s elections. Was it indecision on the stadiums, or housing? See below.

To Tasmania, where the AFL blackmails the Liberal government into signing a contract for a $715m (soon to be $1bn) for a new roofed oval stadium on Macquarie Point in Hobart, before they can be ‘awarded’ an AFL team. This is the same AFL that has ignored Tasmania, an Aussie Rules bastion, for the last 30 years whilst building ersatz teams on the Gold Coast and Western Sydney. In one week 150,000 Tasmanians signed up to be members of the Tasmanian Devils. They want the team, not the stadium.

Despite plenty of warnings in history, the Rockliff Liberal government in Tasmania walked right into the morass. Calling an election 12 months early, for stability, he lost 25% of his vote, and will most likely be in a minority government with independents that repudiate the stadium (see JLN quote above). Seems he was as politically deaf as the AFL administrators.

But the real lesson in all of this is the massive change in sustainable design. It’s moved, and how. Pivoting from bright, shiny, brand-new, star-rated monoliths by starchitects, to all the R’s: reuse, recycle, repair, repurpose, rebuild. Embedded energy and materials demand a complete rethink on sustainability. Queensland could be onto a winner there, and teach Tassie a better way.

Housing as a political killer

What a difference a year doesn’t make. Turns out housing is an even bigger election issue in Tassie than it is on the mainland. More than a stadium.

In just 10 years Tasmania burnt through its long history of modest houses that gave it Australia’s most affordable housing, to having the least. Now stratospheric in cost relative to the island’s lower wages, it was the topic du jour in the election. All political sides (there are three – see below) offered different housing policy solutions; none are practical, workable or likely to be successful.

We’re yet to see who will take government, but it doesn’t matter for Tassie’s rocketing homelessness problem – whoever it is won’t change anything. The same inaction that has characterised the Federal Labor Party’s refusal to address negative gearing and capital gains discounts will be echoed by state’s minority government’s inability to build decent social housing.

They’ll claim they are too broke ($18bn and climbing), but still have enough for the bread and circuses of a stadium.

Learning Ternary

Who were the winners on Saturday night? The independents. The losers? Anyone watching the coverage on the ABC. All the politicians were appalling: risible in their hubris and ineptitude. No sense of occasion or decency. I got drunk. I’m not an alcoholic, I just had a stiff drink every time Eric Abetz appeared.

My greatest beef is the continued assumption that our elections are binary: two party preferred etc. The esteemed Anthony Green falls for the trap, even given Tasmania’s Hare Clark election system of multi-member electorates (as on those two islands to the east), which favours independents.

We are in the era of the ternary, a term I adopted from computing to describe a third dimension. It marries with the triple bottom line. But it seems we are reluctant to adopt it in both politics, design and housing. Or indeed in supermarkets, where Colesworth reigns.

In politics it reflects the third of voters with a first preference to someone other than the LNP or Labor. It is apparent in all the recent elections and by-elections, states and federal. Ignored by the federal Labor government at their peril, as they slide into minority in May 2025. Time to talk to the Greens like adults.

In housing it refers to a third rail in supply: the private market, the state, and now, the rapid rise of philanthropy and the not-for-profits. In design it refers to a middle way between suburban freestanders and high rise. Buildings that are low and close in the missing middle.

Both are particularly pertinent in the charming cities of Hobart and Launceston.


Just over twenty years ago a major black armband culture war broke out over the history of aborigines in Tasmania. Keith Windchuttle maintained it was overblown. Robert Manne edited a fine volume of ten writers in reply, saying “Oh no it wasn’t”. Important to remember about a state once said to have no indigenous survivors, now that we are searching for true design sources.

Signs Off

The principal cause of the rise of economic activity in Tasmania and, inter alia, its housing crisis.

Next week

How three storey brick walk-up flats are the past, and the future.

Tone Wheeler is an architect /adjunct prof UNSW / president AAA. The views expressed are his.

These Design Notes are Tone on Tuesday #201, week 13/2024.

Tone on Tuesday columns here. A&D Another Thing columns here.

You can contact TW at [email protected]