Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: V8 fumes have clouded heads, let's steer clear

Photo / Supplied.
Photo / Supplied.

What is it about antipodean politicians and the whiff of petrol fumes from V8 Supercars Australia?

Auckland Mayor Len Brown and a majority of his councillors are the latest to sniff the high octane and succumb, convinced they can survive where others have fallen.

The V8 road toll is grim. The most recent casualty was Hamilton and its one-time mayor and CEO Michael Redman. Over the past three years, hosting the Supercars cost ratepayers $40 million and Mr Redman his new job as chief executive of ATEED, Auckland Council's standalone tourism and events subsidiary.

Audit New Zealand's criticism of the Hamilton debacle was scathing. And it was by no means the first official reprimand of public officials seduced by the supercars circus.

In June 2010, the New South Wales auditor-general Peter Achterstraat produced a critical review of state government investment in V8 supercar racing at Sydney Olympic Park in 2008.

The public cost of the race ended up $10 million more than the $35 million cap approved. To make matters worse, the estimated economic benefit was more than 24 per cent less than projected. Cabinet approval had been given before a business case was prepared and without advice from the government's in-house event experts.

In July 2002, the Capital Territory auditor-general produced a biting report on the V8 series in Canberra, exposing the way bureaucrats and politicians had got swept up in the boosterism of the promoters. Cost benefit and visitor numbers were hugely over-stated. The plug was pulled after race two of a five-year series, as Canberra seemed headed for a $33 million loss.

It's through this bone yard that Mayor Brown and his team reckon they can wade without stumbling to their doom. Here's hoping. But the insultingly inadequate briefing document put to councillors yesterday is hardly reassuring.

For example, attendance claims are based on the unsupported statement that 22 per cent of adult New Zealanders "are considered V8 fans" and the "fan base within easy driving distance to support and enjoy the proposed Auckland event is 419,763."

How reassuring it must have been to councillors to have the figure down to the last 63. Though they might have paused to wonder why the richly rewarded board of ATEED didn't make the decision themselves. They could have - it was within the bounds of their delegated authority. Instead, they chose to pass this hot potato over to their elected masters. The politicians might have also paused to consider the stern warning of the three earlier audit post mortems from both sides of the Tasman, emphasising the need for accurate cost benefit studies before public money was committed.

All we're told is that in return for a $10.6 million investment from ratepayers over the five-year series, Auckland will get "an economic return" of $7.068 million a year or $35.34 million in total. No further details were provided.

Like, for instance, the figures presented to their Auckland City predecessors in 2004 in support of a failed bid to race V8s around downtown Victoria Park. The so-called feasibility study on that occasion claimed an annual economic benefit of $45 million or $315 million over the seven-race series.

The huge disparity between the claimed benefits of two similar events throws both estimates into doubt. It also underlines the various audit report warnings that politicians should demand to examine the hat from which such figures are pulled, before spending ratepayers' money.

Because of my opposition to the crazy 2004 proposal to gridlock inner Auckland with a week of V8 mayhem around Victoria Park, I've been denounced as anti-motor racing. Not true. My opposition was to the site, not the activity.

To me, one of the advantages of the Super City is that we're now large enough to splurge on a few "circuses" that will appeal not just to ourselves, but visitors as well. Motor racing, Pasifika, Auckland Festival, whatever spins your wheels.

But we're not rich, so must spend our party money wisely. The casualty count trailing behind the V8 Supercars Australia caravan suggests there are safer investments. If you doubt me, ask Mr Redman and the citizens of Hamilton, or Canberra or Sydney.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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