An AFL Grand Final Public Holiday? It’s Just A Dumb Ruse

THAT “ONE DAY IN SEPTEMBER” — an event hard-wired into the DNA of sports mad Melbourne — is today, and as he has for the past three years puerile brat and state Labor leader Daniel “Dan” Andrews is politicising it, seeking to exploit the AFL Grand Final in a cynical grab for the votes of football tragics. This cack-brained plan is just dumb, and is so bad as to beggar belief. The idiocy of this extends far beyond the borders of the state of Victoria.

I trust readers will forgive me today, but in publishing this column over the past few years I have learnt that this is one day of the year that few people are all that interested in hard politics — whether there is much happening or not — and so I thought it an opportune time to talk about something local in Victoria ahead of the November state election that intersects with one of the great annual days in Australian sport: the AFL Grand Final.

And my remarks today, whilst deadly serious insofar as actual electoral politics is concerned, will be rather more light-hearted than is usually the case.

Each year for the past three years, the dopey fool who leads state Labor in Victoria, Daniel Andrews — whose latest “man of the people” initiative is to insist that people should now call him “Dan” — has engaged in an annual ritual of cynical populism in promising that if elected to government, the ALP will legislate a statewide public holiday for the Grand Final.

To fall the day before the game, on the Friday, to coincide with the Grand Final Parade through central Melbourne. Or, bizarrely, to fall the Monday after.

Andrews argues that the Grand Final attracts 30,000 interstate visitors to Melbourne each year, adding $40 million to the state’s economy: assertions that find common ground with the Coalition.

But the Liberals — backed by the state Treasury — have also shown that adding a public holiday would cost the state $1.6 billion in lost productivity, with an additional $200 million impost on retail, hospitality and tourism businesses forced to pay penalty rates on a day that frankly, cannot be justified being made into a public holiday at all (and I’m assuming we’re really talking about the Friday before the game; the idea of a public holiday two days after the event is even more ridiculous than the idea of having one for it at all).

In fact, let’s start with the date itself; gazetting a Saturday, other than Easter or Christmas, a public holiday makes no sense, even if Andrews thinks making this one will gift him the common touch by deifying a day many Melburnians believe is “sacred,” which is why we’re talking about the Friday prior or the Monday after.

There’s an additional problem with all three days — the Friday, the Saturday and the Monday — in that some or all of them usually fall within the school holiday period in Victoria, when many families are already off work, but never mind that. Dopey Dan never lets inconvenient practicalities get in the way of cynical politics.

There would seem little point having a public holiday two days after the Grand Final, so that makes the Grand Final Parade the only “hook” of any substance on which to hang this silly idea. A two-hour procession through central Melbourne, which disrupts inner-city traffic for several hours and wreaks enough havoc for city workers as it is, is hardly a weighty enough event to justify a holiday for it.

Dopey Dan has committed Labor to making a Grand Final public holiday a statewide event, rather than one confined to Melbourne; it’s a noble sentiment that Labor’s shadow Sports minister John Eren should suggest that “people in regional areas could have BBQs, they could have luncheons, pubs and clubs would be full” but I’m yet to find any evidence that the Parade is “event” enough for people in regional Victoria (or even in Melbourne) to have activities on a similar size and scale the very day before they do it for the Grand Final itself.

Then again, Labor is terrified that the remnants of its regional seat gains from the 2002 election will be lost in nine weeks’ time and its prospects of returning to government with them, which perhaps explains why voters in the state’s outer extremities are being promised a public holiday for something going on in Melbourne.

Labor has also tried to justify its pledge with the tacky contention that there is a “six month drought” of long weekends in Victoria between the Queen’s Birthday in June and Christmas; I’ll come back to that in a bit, but this “problem” could easily be solved by moving the Labour Day holiday to October, when it is observed in most other Australian states.

Not that you’d expect a Labor government, with its May Day rhetoric and slavering to militant unions — especially in Victoria — to ever sanction that.

But where this dumb idea from Dopey Dan can really do more damage than any cynical political benefit to Labor could ever outweigh is in the rest of the country, where the AFL seeks to grow the game, and in territory that in some cases is barely better than openly hostile.

A public holiday, limited to Victoria, for the “national game” stands to drive a lot of resentment toward the AFL — even as a state government initiative — and reinforce the perception that Australian football is completely skewed toward Melbourne which, by virtue of ten of the 18 teams being based in Victoria, it inevitably is to some extent anyway.

It might not faze those who live in the other “traditional” football states of Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania, although the AFL itself has managed to enrage many in Tasmania by trying to create a team in the boondocks of Western Sydney, where no AFL side would ever survive without the millions of dollars the League is pumping in to artificially sustain one, before admitting a Tasmanian side to the competition.

But the code schism that separates Queensland and NSW from the rest of the country when it comes to football can only be riven wider by creating the perception that Melbourne (and Victoria) continue to get ever more out of the AFL that others do not receive; in Sydney (the embarrassment of the oxymoronic Greater Western Sydney “Giants” aside), the Sydney Swans might be able to fill the tiny SCG at home games, but filling a 45,000 seat stadium in a city of 4.4 million should be child’s play.

As for the 80,000 seat Stadium Australia at Homebush, where the Swans play some finals and home and away matches against bigger Victorian clubs, the AFL is flat out filling it at the best of times, and would stand no prospect of ever doing so were it not for the huge fan bases of big Melbourne clubs which are prepared to head north for a weekend to watch their teams play.

And as for Queensland…when I was growing up as a Carlton supporter in Brisbane in the 1970s and 1980s — well before God ever invented the Brisbane Bears — any admission of barracking for the Blues (or any side in the VFL, as it then was) routinely attracted accusations of homosexuality, mental retardation and the like.

I remember showing up to work at my restaurant management job three days after Carlton won the 1995 Premiership to spend the day doing stocktakes with a boss I had viscerally detested since the day he hired me; this bloke was many things (and “Mr Personality,” if you’re reading, you know who you are) but one of them was that he was football mad.

The “other” football. Rugby League. A game that never made much sense to me, but having grown up around it I treated it as white noise.

I never had much to talk to Mr Personality about — how do you talk to someone you find cretinous and objectionable in every conceivable sense? — but despite the fact I found him a loathsome creature I often tried; that Tuesday morning after the Blues won the flag, thinking football might spark conversation where nothing else had ever succeeded, was one of those times. “Hey, did you see Carlton won the flag?” I asked. “Kicked the living shit out of them!” I beamed triumphantly.

Mr Personality didn’t even look at me. “That’s a stupid game for fuckwits,” he replied.

End of conversation.

The reason I tell these anecdotes is because I don’t think attitudes in the Sunshine State have changed much; Brisbane people are great people but they are also bandwagon jumpers, which is why — when the Brisbane Lions were winning Premierships — colossal local support appeared for the Lions from nowhere, and when they stopped winning, it disappeared.

Now, the Lions struggle for members and revenue; young players desperately don’t want to be drafted there, and many of those who are leave as soon as they can; and the club has haemorrhaged millions in red ink since its last Premiership more than a decade ago.

For all the work the AFL has done trying to build the game in these hostile “frontier” markets, and for all the money it has disproportionately poured into teams in NSW and Queensland at direct cost to the traditional legacy clubs in Melbourne, Australian football will never be the pre-eminent code in those states.

But along comes Dopey Dan from Victorian Labor, with his Victorian-only public holiday for Grand Final Eve. The psychological signal this stupid idea would send would make those difficult northern markets just that bit more difficult.

If Andrews really wants another public holiday in Victoria (and assuming a Labor government would decline to reschedule Labour Day), then a more sensible thing to do would be to make the day before Melbourne Cup Day a public holiday: that Monday really is a waste of time in Melbourne each year, as half the business world shuts down and the other half shows up to twiddle its thumbs on a day that nothing gets done in Melbourne.

It would also give him a four-day long weekend to sell, and the notion of a “Spring Break” that could be used by students to freshen up for their final exams, or for families to grab a quick trip away in what is an often hectic lead-in toward Christmas.

The “One Day In September” is a day in Australian culture and folklore that rivals the Melbourne Cup in significance, or the Boxing Day Test, or even the Australian Open tennis final — not that Australians have won that, let alone dominated it, for decades now.

Dopey Dan and his public holiday for no other reason than trying to hitch the AFL logo to the ALP’s makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, and whether you follow an Australian football side or not, if you live and vote in Victoria, you should dismiss it for the joke it is.

 

AND ANOTHER THING: It wouldn’t be a special Grand Final column without some brief comment and a tip…

On one level I don’t really care who wins today; my beloved Carlton Football Club is not a participant, and that being the case I have no particular allegiance to either of the participating teams.

On another level, however, I have watched what coach Alastair Clarkson has done during his time at Hawthorn with great admiration, envy, and sometimes even awe; I think the Hawks are as worthy of being classified as one of the great football sides of the modern era as Geelong, Brisbane a decade ago, or the Carlton and Hawthorn sides of the 1980s and 1990s.

And despite living in Brisbane until I was 25, I’ve followed VFL/AFL football since I was a kid, and have no affection for interstate sides at all: unless they are playing against the hated Essendon Bombers, in which case I barrack for the interstate team on 100% of occasions.

The Sydney Swans boast a formidable playing list and some real superstars, like ex-Hawk Lance Franklin, but so they should when the AFL has shovelled millions of dollars into the club under the guise of one discretionary allowance or another that most other clubs — and none in Melbourne, except the nearly bankrupt — don’t get.

And whilst the Hawthorn list is ageing and perhaps on its last Premiership attempt in its current cycle, its glut of booming left-foot kickers and its own veritable superstars can more than hold their own against the team money, quite literally, has bought in the Harbour town.

Who do I hope will win? Hawthorn. It might be a traditionalist view, but I don’t like interstate sides winning AFL flags. Unless it’s against Essendon, of course, or Collingwood.

More seriously, who do I think will win? Hawthorn, by 28 points.

 

We’ll be back to proper politics — and our usual discussion — either later this evening or in the morning.