Burnout image from the NATS website.
By ERWIN CHLANDA
While deploring the Territory’s reduced revenue from GST, and the resulting billion dollar plus deficit, Chief Minister Michael Gunner has no problem with spending $1.3m for a two and a half day motoring event, justified by claims of major benefits to the local economy that are open to question.
Mr Gunner continues the unconvincing assertions by his predecessor, Adam Giles, that people “through the gate” equals individuals attending, a line fed to them by the Major Events organisation which is a statutory body of the NT Government.
This year’s Red Centre NATS, the second in the series for which Mr Giles entered into a six year agreement with an interstate company, is an ongoing case in point.
The morning after the tragic events which concluded this year’s fixture Mr Gunner held a press conference in Alice Springs.
After a question from the ABC about whether the event would continue – Mr Gunner replied there were no plans to cancel it – the Alice Springs News Online asked (see video): “How many people does it bring into the town?”
GUNNER: That’s a very good question that Major Events might be able to comment on, the exact attendance numbers [now addressing Andrew Hopper, general manager of the company, who was present] – Andrew …
HOPPER (pictured at right): Total attendance was about 14,000.
NEWS: Is that 14,000 different people or 14,000 through the gate?
HOPPER: Through the gate.
NEWS: That’s a different thing, Chief Minister. One person could go through five gates [during the course of the event].
GUNNER: We can work with you about these details, if you like. But it draws people from around the country.
We are still waiting for that work to happen, despite emailed requests (on September 13 – 10 days after the event – and on September 20) to Mr Hopper, asking: “How many individuals attended the NATS? How many were from outside Alice Springs? And how long did those stay in town?
“How many events were there between scrutineering on Wednesday and the Podium Party on Sunday, at different times and locations?
“As I understand it, each of them has a ‘gate’ though which people passed whose number you have already given – 14,000.”
Mr Hopper replied: “We are in the process of finalising when we release information about the event as part of the wrap up.
“The delay is out of respect for the injured parties.
“Until we release any information publicly we will not be providing the numbers you require as you will in effect have information which we are not ready to release publicly.
“Some of the information you require we only collect via the post event survey and the distribution of this has also been delayed out of respect for the injured parties.”
Mr Hopper does not explain how withholding accurate information about the event constitutes respect for the injured, while he freely circulates the 14,000 which allows no reliable conclusions about the benefits to the local economy.
The News estimated there were 2000 people at Blatherskite Park at the form-up of the street parade. Did anyone see 14,000 people at any one time on the viewing hill overlooking the drags start? If there are three gates, does that make the actual number of people attending 4700? If there are five gates were there actually 2800?
Meanwhile the NT News in Darwin swallowed Mr Hopper’s spin, hook, line and sinker: “They came to Alice Springs from all over — around 14,000 rev heads from all corners of the country enticed to the red centre by the promise of burning rubber,” the Murdoch paper reported.
For the NT News, not only were there 14,000 individual people at the Red Centre NATS, they all came from outside Alice Springs.