Motor Sports Bill 2022
While voters were focused on federal matters, the NSW government quietly slipped a new Motor Sports Bill through parliament with the support of both main political parties (March 30th, 2022). Those familiar with these Acts may remember Jeff Kennett’s coup in 1994. He was the first to use a special Act of parliament to override all environmental and local planning legislation that stood in the way of staging the Grand Prix in Melbourne’s Albert Park. As “protected people” the corporate interests involved were also able to avoid possible legal challenges in the Supreme Court and businesses impacted by the event were prevented from claiming compensation.
The Act was widely condemned as a ‘dangerous’ and ‘draconian’ piece of legislation and at the time was severely criticised by the governing body of solicitors of the Law Institute of Victoria, the governing body of barristers of the Bar Council, the Council for Civil Liberties and the parliamentary opposition. Criticism focused on the use of the law to effectively remove the Grand Prix event from all the usual checks and balances which normally protect the public – effectively giving the Grand Prix legal immunity.
More than ten years later, the NSW Labor government found itself in the same situation – this time with Supercars. Unhappy with their series finale being held at Eastern Creek raceway, Supercars got together with Ian Macdonald to pass an Act that would enable a circuit to be built through the Sydney Olympic Park at Homebush. The NSW Labor government were right behind it: Sydney would love it, they said, and it would bring untold (never verified) tourist dollars to the city.
The Act was passed despite protest from three local councils, the Greens and the Liberal Coalition, as well as the Olympic Park Authority. The Labor government had the numbers and inspired by the success of the Grand Prix Act to unilaterally silence opposition, the NSW government created the Homebush Motor Racing Act (2008). This was the same Act, amended in 2017, that enabled the Supercars event to move from Homebush to the historical residential streets of Newcastle East after its repeated failure to attract the benefits originally claimed.
Over 2000 residents were caught up inside the Newcastle circuit, with cars racing less than 5 metres from many heritage homes. Newcastle’s Foreshore Parks and streets lost over 300 trees as the circuit carved a new road through the Coal River Precinct Heritage Conservation Area. The event was promoted with the vision of thousands of spectators flocking to the city with their tourist dollars. The reality was an effective lockdown of the city’s peninsula and CBD. Supercars extensive infrastructure required a 9 week bump-in and bump-out period which ultimately barricaded the city. The usual patrons and visitors found it too difficult to come into town and during the event, spectators gave most of their tourist dollars to the food and merchandise vendors Supercars brought in for the event.
The impression given to the Newcastle public by the amended Motor Racing (Sydney and Newcastle) Act of 2017 was that Newcastle Council would be in a partnership arrangement with the NSW government and Supercars and therefore share in its benefits. They were sadly misled. Freedom of information requests doggedly pursued by the local residents group revealed there was no partnership. Council was simply a Supercars services provider, legally obligated to provide a plethora of costly on-going services as well as a substantial hosting fee. This deal was kept secret under a confidentiality clause – even from the elected councillors.
Under the new Motor Sports Bill signed this year, there is no such pretense. Section 55 (ii) says local councils will be required to provide “…resources or assistance in accordance with a request authorised by this Act or the regulation.”
Julia Finn, the Shadow Minister for Sport, remarked during the debate, “this could be interpreted by some in the community as meaning that councils will be at the beck and call of the government”. While she did not believe this was the intention of the Minister for Tourism and Sport, Stuart Ayres, it is exactly how the Newcastle East Residents Group read this Bill. There is a provision for consultation with council, but the residents group knows from experience that consultation after the fact will have little influence on a Minister well known for his enthusiastic support of corporate sporting interests with little or no accountability.
Local governments throughout NSW be warned. This event can now be staged anywhere in NSW under the same conditions. The Grand Prix Act was a Trojan horse. It has been progressively tightened by various governments over the years to prevent any dissent. What’s most concerning about this new Bill, is that the NSW government no longer thinks it’s even necessary to hide the ruse. For them, it’s just business as usual.
Consultation opportunities comparison
between the old and new Act.
The old act:
Before granting an approval (to carry out any works) under s 17, authority must be satisfied that:
the race promoter has: (a) taken all reasonable steps to consult with: (i) any person having a right of occupation of land within the works area, and (ii) any person occupying land immediately adjacent to the works area, and (iii) the Sydney Olympic Park Authority, and (iv) any relevant council, and (v) any other person nominated by the Authority (by notice in writing to the race promoter) as a person whose business or financial interests might be affected by the works, and (b) taken into account any representations made by any person or body referred to in paragraph (a), and (c) demonstrated that it will take adequate steps to prevent or minimise any harm to the environment, and disruption of other lawful activities, at Sydney Olympic Park.
Under the old Act, they must consult ALL those DIRECTLY IMPACTED by the works before authorising the works.
The New Act
Part 2 Motor racing other than on licensed racing grounds
Division 1 Authorisation to conduct motor race
(5) The Minister must, before making the order— (a) seek the advice of the Office of Sport, and (b) consult with the council for each local government area in which the event area is located, and (c) make a copy of the proposed draft order publicly available, and (d) give members of the public a reasonable opportunity to make submissions about the proposed draft order.
So, under the new Act, it appears that the opportunity for consultation has been considerably watered down. Instead of having to consult those directly impacted by the works, they only have to make the proposed draft order of authorisation available for all the public to comment on. In other words, consultation after the fact.
Grand Prix, Supercars 500: public pain, private gain
The rescheduling of Victoria’s Grand Prix, following its Covid cancellation last year, has again put the spotlight on urban racing events including Supercars 500. While governments continue to spruik the supposed economic benefits, the lack of transparency around these events simply highlights an endemic culture of cronyism. Christine Everingham and Patricia Johnson investigate.
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