The Greens, Save Albert Park and John Thwaites used to have so much in common, including their shared opposition to the Albert Park Grand Prix – how times have changed.
The Thwaites Third Column on the March

Hillary Bray reports that astroturfers for John Thwaites are busily at work in his electorate:

In Crikey’s own electorate of Albert Park, not everyone is happy. Save Albert Park, a group which has been strongly active for eight years and has made a difference in the Council and previous Victorian elections, seems to be in disarray.

Mrs Crikey, who is a member, told us that the last meeting simmered with tensions but being a loyal member would not go into details. However we hear that two high profile committee members who have worked with great dedication for many year have walked out in disgust. And that the long-term editors of the monthly newsletter have also quit.

The problems seems to be that a small but powerful group (known locally as the John Thwaites Preservation Society) is stymieing the group’s plans to use the Grand Prix as an election issue. John Thwaites, local member as well as Deputy Premier, was a member of SAP in the old days and frequently attended demonstrations. He spoke passionately against the location of the race in Albert Park in parliamentary debates and even sported a yellow ribbon on his home until the day of the 1999 election when he realised that he had a chance of being in Government. The ribbon disappeared and so did the hopes of his constituents that he would continue to work for a change of venue for the race.

This has cost him dearly in support.

His followers are desparate for him to keep his seat, which Crikey believes may be in danger because of his hypocrisy on the Grand Prix issue and changing demographics. Up-market developments in Port Melbourne have brought Liberal-leaning folk into the area.

The ploy of the rusted-on Laborites appears to be to use Greens candidate, John Middleton, as a patsy to attract primary votes with preferences flowing on to Thwaites.

This cuts across the tactics of the sub-committee appointed to develop election strategy. They were beginning to make headway with the Greens Central Committee moving towards agreeing to not declaring preferences in this seat.

And more importantly Liberal member for Monash Province, Peter Katsambanis, had promised to call a Press Conference at which he would ask for a cost-benefit analysis of the Grand Prix. To date only the more dubious economic benefit analysis has been made. Last week the Auditor General made it clear that the Grand Prix was not a good financial proposition. The 2002 race lost over $10 million and accumulated costs to the taxpayer are in the area of $150 million.

A threat of a proper financial investigation by the Liberals would have forced the Bracks Government to make a statement and put John Thwaites under pressure in his electorate. His faction has moved to prevent this happening. Rank and file members of SAP are unaware of the machivelian machinations and are expected to fall for the “Vote Green” push.

Greens Sell Out on the Grand Prix

Save Albert Park (SAP) were claiming an election breakthrough on their favourite issue – the Grand Prix after Liberal, Peter Katsambanis came out in support of a cost-benefit analysis of the Albert Park Grand Prix.

Meanwhile local Albert Park member John Thwaites has yet to comment on the proposed introduction of a cost-benefit analysis.

Indeed Thwaites has displayed many of the characteristics, which are typical of the post election Labor party: Those who were adamantly against projects initiated by the previous government, underwent a radical change of mind once they were in power. As the member for Albert Park, Thwaites has done little to achieve more transparency in the running of the Grand Prix. Indeed many can remember the days when Terry Bracks was a member of Save Albert Park and there was a yellow ribbon tied to John Thwaites front fence.

Annual reports of the Grand Prix indicate that operation losses have escalated to over $28 million. SAP also alleges that the Grand Prix received hidden subsidies from other government agencies (such as the TAC), and that the cost to taxpayers is well in excess of $100 million.

This raises the question as to why the Greens are giving their preferences to Labor in Albert Park, when Labor have extended the Grand Prix contract and further blown out the operating losses.

Any member who supports the Grand Prix in a public park should surely be opposed by the Greens.