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Save Albert Park has a very witty and talented broadcaster in the form of Keith Wiltshire who helps produce the half hour SAP segment each Monday from 6pm on 3CR. With the race almost upon us it is worth reading the transcript from last week’s version of ” Beyond The Barricades” and turning in to what he has in store for this week.
“To use the current buzzwords, the media may not be very accountable but they’re often very transparent. Press treatment of last week’s union bans at the Formula 1 Grand Prix site was as predictable as, well, a Formula 1 Grand Prix.

When electrical work on corporate facilities stopped, the front page of Friday’s Herald-Sun (which has a commercial interest) became a promo for the supposedly threatened race, with ‘organisers’ quoting very large round figures for potential losses. The PR giveaway was that the accompanying photo montage showed an expected total attendance of ‘about 400,000′, not mentioned in the reporters’ text. Grand Prix Corporation chairman Ron Walker himself claimed only 345,000 last year, and even that was almost 80,000 more than SAP counted. After learning of the bans, strongman Walker was, he said, ‘numb with fright’. The ETU’s Dean Mighell helpfully suggested that the corporate patrons could ‘just bring their own cordial and Esky and sit down with their cut lunch like the working class do’. This proletarian version of ‘let them eat cake’ was matched by his explanation that ‘We just want the corporate sector – who make the decisions in this society and employ our members – to have a bit of a think about their wages and conditions’. By a ‘bit of a think’ Mr Mighell might have been urging the bosses to meditate on the 152nd anniversary of The Communist Manifesto today (Monday 21st). Or not.

What he seems to have negotiated (Age 19th) was an effective 36-hour week and half-a-dozen more apprentices. Taxpayer funded, of course. ‘It’ll get the Premier off my back’, he said. ‘Obviously we need to give the parties a bit of a shove sometimes.’ Mr Mighell seems to have found it a fairly predictable bit of a pushover. The Herald-Sun report of the deal allowed Ron Walker to swear that he’d ‘always believed in more apprenticeships in the building industry’. The Herald-Sun credited contractors and Mr Walker with the outcome; the Age gave it to the contractors and the GP Corporation; only the Australian said the deal was brokered by Premier Bracks (also the union’s helpful opinion). Standard plot; sub-standard script. And a general lack of accountability.

One talkback caller on 3LO (18th) did point out that such problems arose ‘because it’s a temporary site in a public park’. Hockey-playing supporter of hockey stadiums in Royal Park, host Jon Faine, responded that permanent race sites such as Phillip Island also involved a lot of work for events there. Really. Even Chairman Walker said after last year’s race (Australian, 9.3.99) that it was ‘the $16.5m cost of installing and removing the race amenities – 54,000 tonnes of equipment – that would keep the Formula 1 race in the red’. Not only that, of course, but Mr Faine might check formula1.com, which recently reported that the British GP is to remain at Silverstone. A plan to remove it to Brands Hatch has fallen through ‘because of the unacceptable costs of developing a new venue compared to using an established permanent one, plus environmental issues and local council planning problems’. And unlike Mr Walker’s, the British GP is not subsidised.

Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone was briefly linked with Brands Hatch but as the Financial Review (21st) reports, he is now selling just over a third of his F1 Holding company to an investment company for well over $1B, leaving him with a mere 50%. We can be proud that our own Ron Walker played go-between in the deal, together with Brian Powers, ex-Packer man and investment company partner. Our main interest at this stage is in Mr Powers’ chairmanship of Fairfax. We’ll check reports of the Fairfax Age on the GP with special care in future.

The Review also reminds us of Bernie’s continuing troubles with the European Commission and allegations of ‘abuse of market power over TV rights’ at every venue – one simple reason why Victorian taxpayers have had to subsidise the Melbourne event so massively. The boss of the Silverstone circuit responds to what the London Financial Times (14th) calls this possible death knell for the European arm of the sport by pointing out that ‘F1 has become a global TV circus (so) it doesn’t really matter where it’s held’. True, but SAP is based on the fact that it really does matter where the event is not held – namely, in an inner city public park.

A Save Albert Park slogan for relocating the event is ‘as long as it takes’. It’s echoed in the Australian’s article (18th) and the BBC documentary (SBS 22nd) on the great ten-year McLibel case – the longest trial in British history. We’re told that the two activists against McDonald’s thought they understood the anarchist’s rule of engagement: ‘The struggle is the victory’. Well, so they did, and it’s not over yet. But after six years of its own campaign, SAP certainly understands when they say that ‘it was very much like going into a war with us defending the public interest. The more obstacles we met, the more determined we became’. Indeed.”

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Peter Fray

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