George Pell has got his way and won the right to close down Randwick Racecourse for his World Youth Day celebrations, but the racing industry has extracted a heavy price which you, the taxpayers, will be paying.

It will cost the nation’s taxpayers and NSW taxpayers upwards of $40 million for the “peace settlement” between the Catholic Church, the Australian Jockey Club and the racing industry, and the Federal and NSW Governments. But fear not good taxpayers, it’s an investment. NSW Deputy Premier John Watkins claims the event will rake in “at least” $150 million.

An intriguing part of the settlement is that the Australian Jockey Club, which operates from Randwick, is to get its lease over the site extended by 50 years, and, if Parliament approves, a full 99 year lease. The AJC also gets $7 million for capital works at the track, $3 million for costs associated with the closure, and a share of the $10 million for new stabling at Warwick Farm and Rosehill courses. And it might even get a further $10 million to ensure the track is re-opened in time for the 2008 spring carnival.

The new stabling and Randwick upgrades will be of long term benefit to the industry. The Randwick trainers who have to re-locate their stables for around 10 weeks will share in just under $11 million.

In a classic case of “me too-ism”, the Howard Government yesterday tipped in $20 million (one assumes it followed convention and secured the support of the alternate government), and within hours the NSW Government tipped in a cool $20 million as well.

While Cardinal Pell might not be on the Christmas card list of the Randwick trainers, the racing industry’s hardline stance had won it handouts close to its initial ambit claim. But the real winner (again) is George Pell. Costly litigation has been averted, the Church has got Randwick for as long as it wanted, and the federal and state governments will pick up the total cost of placating the racing industry.

Now the racing industry can get back to the issue of compensation for the equine flu disaster. And the way evidence is emerging at the Callinan Inquiry this week, the cost of the Randwick settlement might end up looking like beer money by comparison!

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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