The decision to close Canberra's largest indoor venue was underpinned by fire risks so dangerous that they could lead to criminal charges after calls to upgrade made as far back as 2013 were ignored, a document obtained under freedom of information states.
A Sport Australia briefing report about the AIS Arena's financial operations sent to Federal Sport Minister Richard Colbeck states that fire risks were such that it could not be reopened "without adequate treatment of risk to the life and safety of patrons".
"To reopen would be a breach of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and, if an incident occurred that resulted in serious injury or death, could give rise to criminal charges to ASC (Australian Sports Commission) board members and senior executives," the report states.
The finding was part of an external consultant's report about the fire-safety systems and one of several about the building to "underpin" and "validate" ASC board's decision in February 2020 to close from December 2020.
The report also reveals that the ASC board ignored recommendations in 2013 and 2016 to upgrade the venue because of the financial costs and that those upgrades did not meet ASC's core functions.
The closing date of the 40-year-old venue, which was built to host training and sport before being used for various community events, was brought forward to June last year in response to Covid.
The decision to close came after a finance, audit and risk committee recommended the action following several safety-related incidents in September 2019, including two fires with electrical panels.
The ASC board approved $2 million, considered the bare minimum to keep the doors open, for works to address immediate risks prior to those safety incidents and reviews that indicated more funding was needed.
Works in the $2 million funding included partial replacement of the stadium seating, some upgrade of mechanical services and upgrades and recertification of the gantry crane.
The report states that closure was the best course of action unless more funding was provided to upgrade the venue to an acceptable WHS standard and to bring it up to an appropriate building code standard.
Another $2m was to develop a detailed business case (DBC) to re-vitalise the entire AIS site.
"To date, the DBC has not been considered by government and finalisation of the redevelopment of the site is an ongoing matter for government consideration," the report states.
It also states that irrespective of a decision to address WHS issues, the arena would continue to lose money and that the ASC's long-term priority was to focus on "core high performance infrastructure that aligns with the national high performance sports strategy", which the arena no longer meets.
As it happened
- 'Run down': Canberra's largest indoor venue closed, perhaps forever
- 'Blindsided': Canberra Capitals say Arena closure a step backwards for women's sport
- 'It's no longer central to the AIS': ACT Government told to step in for arena's future
- Audit stand-off as ACT Government requests AIS Arena details after shutdown
- 'No mucking around': ACT govt to get AIS Arena audit report
- ACT chiefs to check on health of AIS Arena
- 'Not fit for purpose': AIS overhaul a priority
- ACT Gvt rules out buying AIS Arena
- Race now on but AIS left to tread water
- 'We need the arena': Capitals want answers
- 'It's embarrassing': AIS Arena shutdown forces Giants netball out of Canberra
- AIS Arena closure fails elite women, says sports minister
A fitness-for-purpose report by Sport Australia in June 2020 found that there were "significant operational and financial implications associated with the ongoing operations" of the arena.
This week, it was revealed that the University of Canberra was planning a possible 10,000-seat indoor venue as a replacement.
The university said a "UC Arena" with 7000-10,000 seats formed part of the university's sport strategy, launched at its Bruce campus on Friday.
Vice-chancellor Paddy Nixon said the city needed a suitable indoor facility "in the next three to four years", but the proposed arena hinges on a funding injection.
The venue would host basketball, netball and community events.
The office of Minister for Sport Richard Colbeck said the $2 million for immediate works was provisional funding that was never spent.
Mr Colbeck reiterated that the arena was "not core to the functions of AIS".
"It is clear the AIS Arena is well past its used by date," he said.
"I have recently had positive discussions with ACT Minister for Sport Yvette Berry and officials about the future of the arena.
"Minister Berry and I discussed longer term options to cater for large sport and entertainment events in Canberra. We have agreed to continue our discussions."
However, a spokesperson for Ms Berry said the ACT government's request for information from the Commonwealth about its plans for the facility remained unanswered.
"The ACT government understands that the closure of the AIS Arena by Sport Australia remains indefinite," the spokesperson said.
Sport Australia has not responded to questions about the arena.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content: