What’s with it with governments parks and trees?

The Victorian Government is allegedly enthusiastic about parks and has recently announced it plans to spend $15 million to create 13 new pocket parks and five off leash dog parks across Melbourne’s suburbs.

It is all part of a bigger $154 million suburban parks program about which Environment and Climate Change Minister, Lily D’Ambrosio, has said: “The pandemic has brought into sharp focus the importance of open space close to home and these new parks will deliver just that – building on our reputation as one of the world’s most liveable cities.”

Sadly the Government’s concerns don’t extend to one of Melbourne’s biggest inner urban parks – Albert Park – which is the site of the Grand Prix.

After having been cancelled in 2020 – after setting everything up and while a few early petrol heads were wandering towards the gates – the 2021 version has been put off until November.

The Grand Prix is just not a long weekend event as the set up and dismantling takes months which disrupt park usage for the 300,000 non-Grand Prix visits it gets each year and the 260 plus amateur sporting groups including athletics, Australian Rules, baseball, cricket, frisbee (yes there is an organisation for it), hockey, netball, rowing, rugby, soccer, tennis and touch football.

Needless to say the Association representing all these clubs wasn’t consulted about the 2021 arrangements and was, to say the least, treated both contemptuously and dishonestly about the plans.

After months of promises that “nothing had changed regarding the 2021 event” a week before the November date was announced the Grand Prix people were still stating that ‘no decision’ had been made about any change of arrangements and that it would consult with the Association if any decision was made.

It should be said they did, a week later, ‘consult’ if only hours before the public announcement of the date change.

The postponement has one silver lining – some winter sports will get some time in before the park gets taken over by construction teams putting things up, racing cars, petrol heads and construction teams pulling down the erections (the physical ones not the ones the petrol heads get as the cars go around and around and around and around) after it’s all over.

The Save Albert Park Group, which has campaigned against the Grand Prix since Adelaide dumped it and it was shifted to Melbourne is concerned that the 2021 event will be quickly followed by the 2022 one in its normal March time slot with even more disruption over Summer.

The Grand Prix finances are opaque but from SAPG research into annual reports it appears the $30 plus million costs for the abandoned 2020 event have been borne by the AGP (in other words Victorian taxpayers) and that the ‘government investment’ (code for operating loss) on the cancelled event was $39.7 million with another $4.1 million in capital costs. Whatever the actual outcome the cumulative cost is racing towards its second billion.

The Victorian Grand Prix is not alone. Christine Everingham, co-author of the book Wrong Track and a key figure in the Newcastle community group opposing the Supercars events, highlights the way secret agreements between governments and private companies mislead the public about the purported economic ‘value’ of the events.

Her article – Grand Prix, Supercars 500, public pain, private gain – published in the Michael West Report (20 January 2021) outlines the dodgy assumptions made to justify the deals and the way attendance figures are inflated (promoters are not required to actually count who goes through the turnstiles) a fact that SAPG has focussed on about the Melbourne Grand Prix.

Another favourite lurk is to inflate TV ratings and try to claim the value of the audiences, if treated as a paid advertising value, which  creates huge if imaginary economic benefits. A former Grand Prix Chairman, the late Ron Walker, even claimed viewership figures for the Melbourne event which were bigger than those for the Olympics and rivalled those of the world population.

Meanwhile Albert Park needs a bit of money spent on it. The Albert Park Community Sporting Tenants Association says there has been little public investment in Albert Park since the 1990s. “The existing infrastructure has had limited maintenance, and in many cases both grounds and buildings are deteriorating to the point where safety has become a real issue.”

There was a new Master Plan prepared in 2019 but the Association says the process was long drawn out and flawed. Moreover, it doesn’t clarify concrete steps to fix things.

Also also meanwhile, the Australian War Memorial Council plans to destroy a major heritage building and a build a home for military big boy toys. One wonders whether there will there be commentary indicating how much the toys cost, what the budget overruns amounted to and what veteran benefits the money wasted could have funded.

In the process they plan to outdo the Grand Prix organisers and destroy about 100 trees.

David Stephens of the Honest History website calls it the great War Memorial tree massacre: “We are just starting out on that journey to the new Ozymandias. But as befits what we are told is a Memorial to sacrifice, there will be some casualties. And around 100 of them will be trees, most of them mature, many of them massive, 70 to 80 years old, that currently stand in the grounds of the Memorial.

“‘Tree removal’ is one of the ‘early works’ included in the Memorial’s Works Application to the National Capital Authority (NCA)This document, submitted by the Memorial to the NCA, carries maps and tables, showing that 65 trees assessed in 2021 are ‘likely to be removed’, as well as an indeterminate number of trees assessed in 2019.”