From Crikey’s loungeroom perspective,last week’s Melbourne Grand Prix seemed to be pretty successful. Or was it just a case of good spin and hype? Save Albert Park’s Diana Burleigh is having nothing of that.

Fraud by the Grand Prix Corporation is being perpetrated on the citizens of Victoria. The Government is a co-conspirator and they are aided by a media whose idea of journalism is re-printing press releases. The Grand Prix Corporation and its Big Business supporters are so keen to extend the contract to run a race in a public park that they are promoting a major campaign to convince Victorians that the event is of value. Much of what they say is lies.

Should we be surprised? The entire saga of the introduction of this race to Victoria is based on falsehood. Remember the first promise? The race would invade Albert Park “for only 4 days a year”. We know there is a legislated 17 week period when the AGPC can set up and dismantle the infrastructure. This period is regularly exceeded. The restoration of sports fields and parkland takes even longer.

There will be no permanent infrastructure. The western side of the park is dominated by the massive pits garage; the roads are dangerously configured as a race track and are lined by unsightly viewing mounds.

“The race will make a profit.” It has never even broken even. Each year Victorians have had to top up the loss by around $3 million. Ron Walker said last week that this would be “as good as it gets” while admitting that if it was held on permanent track it would turn a profit of $4 million.

“Support grows every year.” Over the first 4 years grandstand seating was reduced by 13,000 because they could not sell them. This year (2000) there are 11 fewer corporate facilities and 7 major sponsors have dropped out.

“Ticket sales are up.” Despite Ron Walker’s prediction in 1986 that the Sunday of the Grand Prix would be attended by half a million people, the first race could only draw 400 thousand over 4 days (their estimate). Believing that the Grand Prix attendance figures owed more to fiction than fact, Save Albert Park began a count which over the last 3 races has demonstrated that attendance is considerably lower than officially stated. In 2000 the actual attendance is 100,000 fewer than claimed – a grand final sized crowd which has gone missing!

It is worth noting that when the 400 thousand was claimed for the first race, it was stated that this was a disappointing figure but that protesters were supposed to have kept attendance down. This race is now considered the benchmark and the boast is of a “near record” crowd.

Self interest is obviously fuelling those who invent the lies. It is puzzling why Steve Bracks should endorse them and raises speculation how much he is in the thrawl of the big end of town.

And if Diana’s words don’t give you a clear picture, this is what SAP’s Keith Wiltshire told listeners to 3CR the day after the race.

Beyond The Barricades

By Keith Wiltshire
Talented Community Radio Broadcaster

Curiously, the week’s news on the Albert Park GP ended as it began: with talk and more talk of the extension of the contract with Bernie Ecclestone for another five years to 2011. The mood was set by the reports on 7th of the Premier’s poaching of the Heineken golf tournament from Perth to Melbourne from 2002: The Australian reported that Bracks and Ron Walker “refused to divulge the total cost of financial incentives offered”.

“Openness and transparency”: still a key ALP policy. But the crap-detectors of some media commentators were sometimes on the alert this week. An analysis of the Kennett-Walker-Bracks obsession with collecting sports events came from Rupert Guinness in The Australian: “Many sports marketers believe that the buying of the golf classic is merely a book-balancing exercise. They need the extra profit to pay the heavy financial burden of the F1 GP. We’ll hear the once-bankrupt state (not true of course) boast to the world that the richest flora in the Garden State is the money that grows on its trees”. So that’s why 1000 were felled in Albert Park and Victorian forests are under such threat. The lead-up stories to the race produced the usual hype, though there was a mild send-up (The Age 7th) of GP promotion in the media: “All TV footage must include the sound of roaring F1 cars; always shout; avoid discussing ducks and swans, road-kill, hearing loss or angry residents…”

Patrick Smith (The Age 9th) gave space to a pitlane protester, noting that “SAP demonstrators may have lost the fight (we haven’t) and the keys to their handcuffs (for lock-ons) but they have not lost their zeal”.

In the same issue an article by Alan Attwood on Ron Walker made good use of some issues raised by SAP. Walker repeated the myths about the state of Albert Park before the GP, wrongly referred to it as “the home of motor racing in Australia” and to “$100m being spent across Albert Park”. (Only a tenth of that sum went to already planned Park improvements). But he seemed “prepared to concede” SAP’s continuing argument that a temporary track makes the race a financial lemon.

The most cheering reference was to “the venom in Walker’s voice when he talks about SAP people”; the more toxic his view of us, the more are we honoured. Mr Walker also talked about having to “endure” what he called “the pain and anguish of the protesters, many of whom had nothing to do with Albert Park, but were disparate groups that came in to join the cause”. We can think of no other person less capable of understanding “the pain and anguish” of concerned human beings, or of grasping the significance of a great public park open to all Melburnians.

The week’s edition of the local Emerald Hill Times had a fine double-page cover story on SAP, “We will survive”, including the opinion of local MP, Deputy Premier and erstwhile supporter John Thwaites that SAP has been “an incredibly hardworking and committed group”. Well, yes.

In the weekend papers, not to mention TV and radio, the glossy PR took over. Saturday’s Age noted that the ex-Premier had been invited by his successor to the government’s corporate tent for sandwiches and tea. (The leader of the opposition – 3LO today – complained that 3/4 of the State Cabinet had not joined Mr Bracks and Mr Kennett to meet international “captains of industry”; no doubt regretfully, other ministers occupied other tents).

The weekend Financial Review quoted Max Mosely of FIA, who stated that with the change to institutional management, F1 now needs a “more visible structure…We need transparency, clarity, everybody to know exactly what’s going on – all the things that come with public corporations”. Memo the Premier, and copy to the Grand Prix Corporation. Greg Baum (Sunday Age 12th) wrote of the “confused morality” of the GP, with its business first and sport second; of the “inherent contradiction of an event celebrating fast cars” when the slogan of the Transport Accident Commission (a GP sponsor) is Speed Kills; and the “appropriation of a public park for what is plainly and unabashedly a private, profit-making exercise…The protesters still have a point”, he said. Alan Attwood bravely refers to what he calls the event’s “political incorrectness”, in the context of soaring petrol prices, the exploitation of almost-clad girls, and cigarette logos (with Kieren Perkins a conspicuous billboard for West cigarettes). The Monday papers reported the official attendance figures with straight faces (the Corporation’s total of 359,000 was a mere 110,000 above SAP’s careful and open count), but again the Age’s Patrick Smith maintained some journalistic dignity: “You can’t walk into Albert Park these days unless you are sponsored. And if you believe the official attendance figures, get counted twice.” Indeed.

But for SAP vigilers on race day, some of whom had achieved spectacular breaches of racetrack security, the media event was the Melbourne Workers Theatre Rapid Response Group’s brilliant spin on the tragic farce of the Grand Prix in Albert Park. Solid-gold lemons all round.