As NSW Premier Nathan Rees jumps into bed with AVESCO, the Australian Vee Eight Supercar Company, to bring car racing to the streets of Sydney’s Olympic Park, he should buckle the seat belt for a rough ride.

Just ask the City of Bathurst which has hosted the Bathurst 2000 at Mount Panorama since 1967.

In early 2004, the media hacks who write generous public relations for the event began a campaign saying that this would be the “last” Bathurst 2000 due to budget difficulties.

Pressure was applied to federal, state and local governments. The free publicity worked wonders, largely because Bathurst falls into deeply contested federal and state marginal electorates.

AVESCO released a triumphant statement in May 2004 saying:

The long-term future of one of the world’s most prestigious motor racing events, the Bathurst 1000, has been assured through a 20-year deal between AVESCO and the Bathurst City Council.

It comes hot on the heels of Federal Treasurer Peter Costello announcing that the Commonwealth Government had allocated $10 million in Tuesday’s budget to complete the works at Mount Panorama to make the circuit truly world class and a tourism hub.

The agreement was signed by AVESCO chairman Tony Cochrane and Bathurst mayor Kath Knowles and described as “the most significant deal in the event’s history”.

The press release went on to make the extraordinary claim that the Bathurst 2000 “ranks alongside the Melbourne Cup on the world sporting stage”.

Cochrane was so enthusiastic about the federal government’s financial package that he invited Howard to become the Grand Marshall of the event.

The agreement involved $22.5 million worth of improvements to the track and facilities paid for by NSW taxpayers and the ratepayers of Bathurst.

Cr Knowles is no longer mayor and no longer on the council. Her enthusiasm for the annual Easter car extravaganza is not shared widely in the local community which has to pick up the tab after each event.

A local business leader contacted by Crikey said that spectators slept rough, brought their own food and grog with them and didn’t give the local economy the boost that was promised.

NSW taxpayers will be anxious to know if there is anything rubbery about the agreement just signed by Rees and Cochrane.

On September 16, 2005, The Sun Herald published an intriguing report under the headline: “Fanciful AVESCO figures just don’t add up — AVESCO’s facts and figures have Peter McKay’s bullsh-t meter at red alert.”

The veteran motoring journalist wrote:

Most of us stopped reading fairytales at about the age of six. During the week, though, memories of that old reading material came flooding back, prompted by a press release on V8 supercar attendance figures, TV audiences and internet usage from AVESCO, the group behind the two-make category.

He concluded: “As a lover of motor sport, I’d like to believe AVESCO assertions that the V8 supercar racing is the third most popular sport in Australia. But my bullsh-t meter is telling me that this is too good to be true.”

Against this background, it’s no wonder The Sydney Morning Herald’s FOI editor Matthew Moore is demanding publication of all the Cabinet submissions detailing the attendance claims, the TV ratings and the economic returns from the five-year deal at Homebush.

Peter Fray

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