By ERWIN CHLANDA
For years the NT Government seems to have been hoodwinking the public by encouraging media to report grossly inflated attendance figures for the taxpayer-funded the Red Centre NATS – the weekend’s entertainment costing $1.4m this year.
At the 2018 event “15,297 people came through the gates over the three venues” the government announced in a media release, quoting Tim Watsford, General Manager of the NT Major Events Company.
But well under half that number of tickets were sold, namely just 6100, a fact suppressed by the government despite repeated questioning from the Alice Springs News Online.
Ticket holders have access to the variety of events and locations, each going “through the gate” a number of times during the weekend.
The number of tickets sold came to light last week after the News had requested independent Member for Araluen, Robyn Lambley (pictured), to ask the question in Parliament.
Under Parliamentary rules the government was obliged to answer her question within 30 days. The answer was 6100 tickets sold. That, of course, included tickets bought by locals as well as visitors.
By withholding the ticket sales figure it seems clear the government had been encouraging media to misrepresent “through the gate” figures as the actual number of people at the fixture. That has occurred repeatedly.
The News is not aware of any corrections being made by the government, which suggests it has been deliberately misleading the public.
“Through the gate” numbers are utterly meaningless for the assessment of the event’s value to the local economy, which the government’s spin claims to be in multiple million dollars. The meaningful numbers would be the number of people attending and coming to town for the event.
The News has questioned government attendance statements since the first event in 2015 when the former government claimed “there were 13,631 spectators with 65% of attendees from intrastate and interstate”.
This practice by Adam Giles was continued by Michael Gunner, switching the term “spectators” to “people through the gate”.
We raised the issue with Mr Gunner at a media conference (see video) on September 29 last year.
Mr Gunner asked Major Events manager at the time, Andrew Hopper, who was present at the doorstop, and who promptly quoted a “through the gate” figure.
When the News pointed out the difference between individuals and people going through gates Mr Gunner said: “We can work with you about these details like about the exact numbers of attendance.”
Mr Gunner has not kept his promise.
Other media reported the “through the gates” figures as representing individual people.
The NT News in Darwin, reporting on last year’s event, accepted Mr Hopper’s spin: “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 gushed.
As the NT News reported it, not only were there 14,000 individual people at the 2017 Red Centre NATS, they all came from outside Alice Springs.
In September 2016 the ABC reported: “Hotted up cars and exhaust fumes proved unmissable for 14,000 people, and 700 entrants in this year’s Red Centre Nats in Alice Springs.
“Last year, the event injected more than $12m into the local economy.
“The number of entrants markedly increased on last year’s inaugural event, with 250 more participants and 1,000 more spectators.
“NT Major Events general manager Andrew Hopper (pictured) said the strong attendance reinforced the six-year deal signed last month with the Territory Government to continue the Alice Springs event,” the ABC reported.
Would he say the same on the actual figures?
IMAGE from the Red Centre NATS website.