NSW Premier Nathan Rees has picked up his predecessor Morris Iemma’s proposal to stage V8 rally racing at Sydney Olympic Park and brought it to fruition.

In so doing, he has rejected the advice of the Sydney Olympic Park Authority, the custodian of the 2000 Olympics site, John O’Neill, the soccer and rugby tsar and boss of the government’s own major events program, all the councils in the Homebush neighbourhood plus environmental and community groups.

But more importantly for a new premier seeking approval from the big end of town, he has received the warm support of News Ltd chieftain John Hartigan, Seven’s CEO David Leckie and the chairman of the V8 Supercars group Tony Cochrane.

In preparing the 2000 Olympics venue for street racing, more than 120 trees will be uprooted, roads will be torn up and resurfaced and tens of thousands of dollars will be paid in compensation to tenants such as the Commonwealth Bank, GPT Property and Babcock & Brown who had no idea the place would be turned into a petrol heads’ jamboree when they signed their leases.

The decision to introduce car racing from December next year represents a monumental failure of policy by the Labor Government which has now been in office in NSW for 13 and a half years.

Following the successful 2000 Games, the International Olympics Committee and the outgoing SOCOG board warned the government to take immediate steps to consolidate the sporting event’s legacy by turning the two billion-dollar venue at Homebush into an environmentally friendly and sustainable home for high-tech business, tertiary education, conferences, upmarket residential suburbs and tourism.

But behind the glossy brochures and fine words only one thing prevailed – inertia.

The Sydney Olympic Park Authority, which was ostensibly in charge, followed in the footsteps of the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority and the Redfern Waterloo Authority and became yet another quango which wrote reports and conducted studies but did little else.

These authorities have become timid gatekeepers that keep critical parts of the city under lock and key. In the absence of any activity, the knuckle-dragging developers have climbed out of their caves to present their own plans to bring these areas out of atrophy and into life.

Tired of the paralysis and spinelessness in the official bureaucracy where no one likes to take a decision for fear of upsetting the minister, Rees appears to have decided to cut through and turn the Olympic Park site into a playground for the petrol heads from his own backyard, western Sydney.

His decision will drive the “latte sippers” to distraction but none of them was able to provide an alternative, sustainable proposal in the eight years since the “best ever” Olympics.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey