On Sunday South Australian Premier Mike Rann released this presser announcing that the American cyclist Lance Armstrong (aka The Texan) would be coming to South Australia for a third time in 2011 to compete in “his last professional race on international soil at the 2011 Santos Tour Down Under in Adelaide”.

Having the Texan back for a third year is an easy sell — at least to the wannabes who turn up in their best Lycra to watch Armstrong and his mates go around the streets of Adelaide and for whom cycling is “the new golf”.

But whether the Texan’s return will do much for Rann’s political fortunes (after a horror state budget he is currently sitting on a preferred premier rating of just 38%) or the bottom line of South Australia’s struggling economy are very real questions.

Crikey has examined the relationship between the Texan and Rann over the past couple of years and on several occasions (see here, here, here and here for examples) we’ve asked Rann to reveal just how much the South Australian taxpayers have coughed up to have the Texan “dance on the pedals” in their state.

Over the years the speculation over how much the Texan has been paid for each visit varies between $1.5 million and $3 million. Typical of the response from Rann’s government is this statement from the media minder for then SA Tourism Minister Jane Lomax-Smith to questions put to her in 2009:

“Any payments associated with teams or cyclists taking part in the Tour Down Under are commercial in confidence.”

Two weeks ago in the South Australian Estimates Committee Lower House member David Pisoni — on behalf of South Australian Upper House member and Shadow Minister for Tourism Terry Stephens — asked Tourism Minister John Rau about apparent discrepancies in the Tourism events budget for 2009-2010.

Pisoni’s particular focus was on a discrepancy of about $2 million between the budgeted figure for 2009-2010 tourism events and estimated final expenditure.

The following exchange is from Estimates Hansard on October 8:

MR PISONI: I now refer to Budget Paper 4, Volume 4, page 13.2 … Can the minister advise whether the Lance Armstrong fee came out of that amount of money? … There is an estimated result there of $17.050 million.
The Hon. J.R. RAU: I see that; so that is the one we are talking about? Your initial question was whether any of that money includes —
MR PISONI: The fee for Lance Armstrong.
The Hon. J.R. RAU: I am advised that it does.
MR PISONI: How much was that?
The Hon. J.R. RAU: I am afraid that is not to be disclosed.

MR PISONI: Stay with me here, minister. So, did the budgeted figure $15.055 million for the 2009-10 budget include Lance Armstrong’s fee when the budget was presented?
The Hon. J.R. RAU: I am advised that it did not, but again we should not necessarily join the dots.
MR PISONI: So there we have the Lance Armstrong fee at nearly $2 million.
The Hon. J.R. RAU: No, I am not saying anything along those lines.
MR PISONI: Can you then explain the change then between —

The Hon. J.R. RAU: One cannot necessarily deduce that the only explanation for a difference between the budgeted figure and the estimated result can be attributed to Mr Armstrong. I also point out that there are very sound commercial reasons, some of which relate to the government but many of which relate not just to Mr Armstrong but to other people, as to why it is not appropriate for specific details of these individual expenditures to be provided.

Pisoni obviously wasn’t getting any joy on that tack, so he turned to how other Australian governments deal with similar celebrity payments:

MR PISONI: … why can the Victorian government tell us how much it paid Tiger Woods, and the New South Wales and the Australian governments can tell us how much they are paying Oprah, but the South Australian government cannot tell us how much it is paying Lance Armstrong … we are talking about reasons why you cannot disclose the sum paid when, with every other celebrity that comes to assist tourism events around Australia, governments are told of the fee.

The Hon. J.R. RAU: I understand entirely the point the member is making, and all I can say to you is that it is inappropriate to disclose the details of agreements made to any of the participating teams or riders on policy grounds, based on the confidentiality arrangements that exist between those participants and the government. If other jurisdictions do not have those arrangements in place, or choose to treat them differently, I guess that is a matter for them.

That makes it all as clear as mud then doesn’t it? About as much fun as pulling teeth and about as successful as trying to squeeze blood out of a stone …

Yesterday Crikey spoke with Opposition Tourism shadow Minister Terry Stephens this morning. Stephens told Crikey that:

Mike Rann consistently refuses to be open and transparent about these payments to Lance Armstrong. He won’t tell South Australian taxpayers how much we have paid for Armstrong to ride in the Tour Down Under in 2009 and 2010.

If we paid lance Armstrong $2 million in 2010 — where he ran in the middle of the pack — did we pay him another $2 million in 2009? It beggars belief that he’ll come back for his supposed swansong next year for less money. The logical conclusion that can be drawn — absent of any further explanation from the Rann government — is that by the end of next years Tour Down Under we will have paid Lance Armstrong more than $6 million — that is 6 million good reasons that South Australians have to question the judgement of this government.

Yesterday Crikey forwarded questions to Mike Rann and Mike Turtur, the Director of the Tour Down Under in relation to the amounts paid to the Texan in 2009 and 2010 and how much would be paid to Armstrong in 2011. Having received no response yesterday, we sought a further response today.

As at deadline, we had not received any response to either request.

*Thanks to Phil “the voice of cycling” Liggett for that quote.

Peter Fray

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