By Sean Lennon
MELBOURNE — On February 10, some 20,000 angry people gathered in the City Square to demonstrate against the Grand Prix in Albert Park. Organised by the Save Albert Park Group (SAPG), the protest heard from a range of speakers who drew the links between the fight to save Albert Park and other attacks on the community by the Kennett government.
A representative of the ambulance union pointed out that Melbourne now had only 54 ambulances as opposed to 102 before Kennett's election in 1992. Jan Armstrong from the Health Services Union outlined some of the health cuts and how the money allocated to the Grand Prix could be better spent.
Other speakers included Gary Foley, ALP president Barry Jones and Trish Caswell from the Australian Conservation Foundation.
The campaign to save Albert Park has drawn support from those who are angered by Kennett's willingness to spend money on the Grand Prix while massively cutting back and privatising public services.
In October legislation was passed excluding the Grand Prix from the Freedom of Information Act, the Environment Protection Act, Road Safety Act and the Local Government Act. As well, race promoters are exempt from section 85 of the state constitution. This means that residents affected by noise or work on the site can't claim compensation.
Not only will taxpayers have pay for the destruction of Albert Park, but it will also cost at least $12 million per year to set up and dismantle the temporary race infrastructure. No more than 100 jobs will be created.
In Adelaide the Grand Prix has only once made a profit — just $41,000. In 1993 South Australian taxpayers forked out $7.4 million to cover costs. In Queensland the Surfers Paradise Indy car race lost $80 million in the last three years.
The 250 people at the SAPG general meeting on February 7 reacted angrily when they were informed that the unelected commissioners of Port Phillip Council had donated the former South Melbourne Post Office to the Australian Grand Prix Corporation (AGPC) — rent free. The former South Melbourne Council bought the building for $600,000 in 1994 to be leased for revenue. Taking into account the loss of rent, the Port Phillip commissioners are giving a $1 million donation to the AGPC.
The Albert Park Grand Prix will be the only circuit in the world in such a densely populated area. More than 114,000 people live within three kilometres of the proposed track, some 30,000 of these within one kilometre. A doctor's report last year identified a number of health risks, the biggest being noise, which could range from 60 to 90 decibels.
SAPG has called another rally for February 18 in Albert Park. Meet at 9am in the Carousel car park. Contact SAPG on 690 3855 or visit its office at 313 Dorcas St, South Melbourne.