At the 2001 Save Albert Park AGM

By Stephen Mayne
January 10, 2008

After spending almost 3 hours with the Save Albert Park people at their AGM last Tuesday, we are convinced they are one of Australia's best organised and most dedicated community group.

Crikey is used to AGMs were people get up and ask stupid questions and chairmen offer platitudes. There must have 20 sensible and educated contributors to the wide-ranging debate and outgoing convenor Ross Ulman got a standing ovation for his fine efforts.

SAP was formed in February 1994 and is more determined than ever to achieve its goal of having the race moved from a public park. I'd go so far as to say they are Australia's most determined and best organised community group. Can anyone come up with some names of others?

At the end of the day you have a race that has cost taxpayers well over $100 million so far and will continue to lose about $10 million a year as long as you have these huge costs building a temporary circuit each year.

SAP is absolutely right to say that we should build a purpose-built track in a regional centre and hold it there every year.

The breadth of SAP's activities was what struck Crikey at the AGM. They have ongoing dialogue with a range of interested parties such as Parks Victoria, Port Philip Council and even the Royal Park protection group with whom they are linking up to ensure the 2006 Commonwealth Games are indeed the Green Games.

SAP has led the charge against the Bracks government's Commonwealth Games Act which is a sad copy of the undemocratic Grand Prix Act that Kennett brought in.

When Crikey was standing in the Burwood by-election they instantly threw numbers at the ball for us on leaflet dropping and how to vote cards.

A campaign against Health Minister Dr Michael Wooldirdge in the seat of Casey was being worked up because of his ongoing tobacco sponsorship exemptions for the Grand Prix and his appalling presence in the Philip Morris (world's biggest tobacco company) box at last year's GP.

The vigil in the park has now been going on for 2036 days and shows no sign of stopping despite the labour-intensity of it all.

SAP have 11 different working groups spanning a whole range of issues. Incoming President Harry Ward gave a good summary of the Commonwealth Games Act and there were other updates from the heads of various working groups on things like the proposed $40 million pool for the Commonwealth Games that Steve Bracks is determined to build right next to the existing pool in the aquatic centre.

The SAP people are quite right to suggest that the western suburbs should get some of these aquatic facilities for a change but the government appears determined to erect a structure that will seat 10,000 along with an unsightly multi-storey car park on the perimeter of the park.

When there was the tragic death of the marshall at this year's race, SAP put a submission into the coroner and when the big smash occurred at Hochenheim 6 weeks ago, SAP immediately explained how the flawed design of the Melbourne street circuit through a park would have led to multiple deaths if it happened here.

In terms of getting their message out, SAP faces the same challenges as Crikey with the big media often impervious to criticism or compromised through commercial links to the race. The Herald Sun, 3AW and Channel Nine are the most commercially involved in the event and seldom give SAP a fair go.

It is for this reason they have their own weekly radio show on 3CR each Monday night at 6pm and also have a website and regular email updates for members.

The membership numbers are a closely guarded secret but based on the turn up at the AGM it is definitely well into the hundreds, if not pushing 1000 in Crikey's opinion.

Ron Walker's pompous letter

The SAP people were most amused when I read out this extract from a letter Grand Prix Corp chairman and Liberal Party bagman Ron Walker wrote to Crikey after a negative opinion piece appeared in the Herald Sun in 1996:

"Dear Mr Mayne,

Thank you for your fax of yesterday. It is true that I did express my disquiet about your inaccurate scribble in relation to the Grand Prix event, and would suggest that in future when you write these articles, you may care to check the facts beforehand, and to that end, I attach for your perusal, a copy of our Annual Report.

Your article certainly played right into the hands of those opposed to the Grand Prix, and indeed copies were circulated to the FIA, the international governing body of motor sport in Paris, and to Mr Ecclestone at Formula One Constructors' Association.

One of the reasons why Adelaide lost the race was because of constant articles like yours that were baseless in fact. One tends to wonder if indeed you would be delighted if we lost the Grand Prix, Crown went broke, and I along with it, then there would be nothing to write about, would there?

I have already had discussions with Terry McCrann in the presence of Steve Harris some months ago, and he is well aware of the situation. However, if you and Terry wish to talk to be (sic) about the Grand Prix's financial situation, the only time I would be available would be 26 or 27 November.

Yours Sincerely

Ronald Walker"

The Economist Magazine got it right

Crikey simply echoes the view of The Economist magazine on dodgy Bernie Ecclestone and his cronies like Ron Walker who roam unaccountably racking up huge $100m-plus taxpayer bills on circuses such as the Melbourne Grand Prix which deliver dubious economic benefit and clear environmental and social negatives. Why can't we put this $100m into an expanded refugee program? Anyway, this is what The Economist said about Bernie last year:

"The Economist has been investigating the complex relationship between Mr Ecclestone's companies and the FIA, and has uncovered several disturbing features. Not only do our inquiries suggest that Mr Ecclestone had been sold the FIA's commercial rights to F1 for a remarkably low price; they also show that the FIA has forgone an estimated $US120m of revenues in favour of companies closely linked to Mr Ecclestone. And they point to conflicts of interest between his FIA role, his position as boss of the F1 constructors' association and his ownership of various F1 companies. Almost entirely thanks to F1, Mr Ecclestone has, over the past decade, become Britain's richest entrepreneur.

If the murkiness around this were limited to the internal workings of this particular sport, that would be bad enough. But everybody touched by F1 has accepted a way of doing business they would not tolerate elsewhere. It is not just politicians such as Mr Schroder and Mr Blair. The sport now features such familiar car makers as BMW, Daimler Chrysler. Honda, Jaguar (owned by Ford), Ferrari (owned by Fiat), Renault and Toyota. Among the big car firms only General Motors steers clear of F1. And beyond the car companies stand a host of oil, tobacco, banking and consumer-goods firms that plaster their brands on cars and on trackside posters.

The secrecy surrounding Formula One's finances also points to a more general lesson. This is only one of several international sports that have, over the past couple of decades, turned into giant money-making businesses. Largely thanks to television, the cash pouring into such sports as football and the Olympics has multiplied hugely. There is nothing wrong with that: indeed, putting more money into sports that give pleasure to a lot of people should enhance human welfare. But the amount of cash now sloshing around and the speed with which it has grown do raise concerns.

More openness, greater competition and better governance: all three would go a long way to subject the likes of Mr Ecclestone's empire to proper public scrutiny. Nobody can object to legitimate entrepreneurship in promoting a sport. But when the odour that surrounds a sport becomes too overpowering the worst danger of all looms: that it will switch off the interest of the general public. And that is the biggest reason why Formula One needs greater transparency and accountability."


Stick it to Foster's and Thwaites SAP

It is for these reasons that Crikey supports SAP's campaign against the Grand Prix and we are encouraging them to stand a candidate for the board of new naming rights sponsor Foster's Group Ltd at their upcoming AGM. Afterall, SAP threw a few awkward questions at former naming rights sponsor Qantas at previous AGMs. Foster's are one of our most sinful companies that should fail any screening test by so-called ethical investors because they are Australia's biggest pokies pushers with 6000 machines and flog the grog like nobody else in Australia.

If SAP do get a candidate up we'll be urging all Foster's shareholder to vote for SAP as a protest against the Bernie and Ron show.

Lastly, if I was Victorian deputy Premier and member for Albert Park John Thwaites, I'd be feeling very nervous about the chances of being returned at the next state election. SAP has a few special things planned for the next state election and turn-coat Johnny and the sell-out Labor Party are top of mind.