Indefatigable campaigners

In a week Victoria will once again foot the bill for an event- the grand prix – which has been promoted by successive governments despite the huge costs it inflicts on taxpayers. All justified by economic benefit claims which are massively exaggerated.

 Peter and Joan Logan have been indefatigable campaigners against the event – exposing year after year the Grand Prix and Government’s transparently dodgy claims. Their latest expose has recently been published in Pearls and Irritations and is reproduced with permission.

 This weekend – 30 years ago, then Premier Jeff Kennett told Victorians the Grand Prix would not cost taxpayers a cent.  It’s on the record: “Mr Kennett said the Victorian taxpayers would not be asked to meet the cost of the event, with the State Government only prepared to act as guarantor for loans required to establish the race.” (Herald Sun, 18 December 1993).

$1 billion later, it is obvious he was wrong. This is what Victorian taxpayers have paid so far to host a four-day Formula 1 car race. And the bill just keeps growing.

The race is now costing Victorians more than $100 million each year. Supporters of the event, however, continue to claim there are economic benefits of having the race in Melbourne. The evidence does not support this.

Findings by the Victorian Auditor General in 2007 and by respected economist Rod Campbell, now with the Australia Institute, in 2013 revealed this event was a loser for Victoria – from a $6.7 million economic loss in 2005 to an economic loss of $60.5 million in 2012.

Last year Daniel Andrews ignored GP costs and misleadingly claimed a $171 million ‘boost’ to the state’s economy for the 2022 event. In 2023, for example, the race generated $97 million in revenue but cost $198 million to stage. This is not a ‘boost’ and it is not value for our money.

When it comes to the grand prix, government takes the gold medal at misleading the public. Rather than annual cost-benefit analyses, as recommended by the Auditor General, successive governments have commissioned confidential economic ‘impact’ studies. Even the government’s own consultants (EY) admits this approach “has limitations”.

Our government cancelled the Commonwealth Games, blaming state debt. It indicated this decision was ‘fiscally responsible’. What about ‘fiscal responsibility’ for the grand prix?

Professor John Quiggin is among many economists who dispute the claims made in government’s economic ‘impact’ studies. He argued that we would be better off if the Victorian government gave free return flights to cover the claimed 8,800 international and 72,000 interstate grand prix visitors than wasting $100 million every year on this event. He alleges, rather than watching a car race, visitors on this ‘freebies scheme’ would actually create an economic bonanza for businesses.

It is not only the Victorian government that make unsubstantiated claims about so-called ‘benefits’ of the grand prix. The Australian Grand Prix Corporation continues to make misleading claims that are rarely fact checked.

For years, Save Albert Park has maintained that the race organisers use every trick in the book to wildly inflate the number of attendees at the race and its global audience figures to exaggerate the economic benefits of the event.

What other event would boast the global audience for the entire F1 season as the figure watching its grand prix – and get away with it?

What other event would add 67,500 attendances by ‘credentialed’ persons (like staff, drivers, teams etc) to its attendance tally – and get away with it?

What other event prints 40,000 free tickets (mostly for schoolchildren), claims all are used and then claims “record” attendances – and get away with it?

The Australian Grand Prix Organisation claims releasing precise crowd figures constitutes a “national security risk”. Yet Victoria’s other major events, including the AFL grand final, the Melbourne Cup, the Australian Open tennis, the Boxing Day Test match and Taylor Swift concerts scan all tickets so they can publish exact figures. To suggest this is a “security risk” is simply unconscionable.

Freedom of Information requests prove that grand prix claims are substantially misleading and deceptive. In fact, last year the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner ordered the Grand Prix Corporation to hand over internal working documents on how the number of attendees at the event are calculated.

In response, the Corporation is taking Save Albert Park to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT). It has hired lawyers at taxpayers’ expense so we remain in the dark.

In 1999, former grand prix chairman, Ron Walker, admitted that trucking in and out the grand prix infrastructure would keep the race “in the red”. Last year, that cost was $68.354 million, paid by taxpayers. This year the race contract is estimated to be somewhere between $100-$150 million. This money goes straight into the pockets of Formula 1.

In the early days of the grand prix, the circuit signage advertised Melbourne. This signage has since been replaced – as it has with other grands prix worldwide – with advertisements for Aramco, Saudi Arabian Oil Group, and other multinational companies. Who reaps the profits from the advertising revenue? Not us.

The grand prix is clearly a financial car crash for Victoria. It also has a detrimental impact on local sporting clubs. Every year the grand prix seriously disrupts local sport for up to four months causing clubs to lose potential members, home-ground advantage and revenue.

Victorians must put pressure on the Victorian government to cancel the grand prix. We cannot allow the Australian Grand Prix Corporation to continue spending our money without accountability and transparency. This lunacy must stop.