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The Spark That Lights The Fuse

FEATURE BY GLEN CROMPTON
05/02/2011

The Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Robert Doyle recently published an article in which he broadly opined the Australian GP at Albert Park is overly expensive to the state, past its use by date and should be abandoned. Not an irrational rant but I didn't find it particularly illuminating either. Unfortunately he included a comment about Bernie being cranky, a move ensuring a response from London. The predictable response swelled local media coverage as other public figures weighed in to dispense their two penn'orth and served to reignite local debate on the event's value - an event that has never been universally popular since its arrival in Melbourne in 1996. Doyle's one little article just might be the spark that lights the fuse…

Just to clear up a misnomer the Lord Mayor of Melbourne has little say in the future of the race. The City of Melbourne municipal frontiers do not include the GP site at Albert Park. Mind you the City of Port Phillip, within which the park lies, could hardly be called fans of the event either. In any case the State government of Victoria negotiates for, and conducts, the GP not local councils. Amusingly, if not ironically, an addendum to the initial press coverage about Doyle's article noted that just days before his article was published, his council signed a "lucrative" sponsorship deal with the event. So the man who wants to scrap the event thinks it's worth spending his council's funds sponsoring it? As a cynic I cannot decide if this smacks of ineptitude or skullduggery.

Among those driven to respond to Doyle's calls was Victoria's Premier Ted Baillieu. This was more concerning because as things stand, he is the man in charge of the race. He made no direct threats but did say he expected the Australian Grand Prix Commission (the statutory body responsible for the event) to cut its costs. The implication was unclear, lessen the burden on taxpayers or… or what?

What worries me the most about the comments of Doyle and Bailieu is that as politicians, both are in the business of populism. They stand or fall professionally based on their grasp of public sentiment. Such is the way of democracy in the age of holy-tics. That both men felt the need to speak against the Grand Prix bodes poorly for public support of the race.

From the moment the announcement was made that the race was to be held in Melbourne's Albert Park, opponents popped up. The most rational opposition came in the form of the curiously named "Save Albert Park" group (I'll get back to why I think the name curious). The park is slap dab in the middle of a desirable residential area a stone's throw from the beach. Right or wrong, it is typical of any community nearby expansive parkland to view such acreage with a degree of ownership. Excluding park access with temporary fences was never going to meet with enthusiasm. Likewise by the prospect of street blockages and traffic jams. Finally there is the matter of the shattering noise generated by F1 cars. I have heard F1s clearly from a dozen suburbs away and a couple of hundred meters from the track you cannot converse outdoors without leaning into the listener's ear and yelling.

That last point deserves an aside. I have never understood why no effort has been made to restrain the obscene noise levels of F1 - especially given Bernie's love of City Centre events. I'm not suggesting F1 cars should purr by like modern passenger cars but if they did, they'd have a lot fewer enemies in Melbourne. Having taken a Sound Pressure Level meter trackside I assure you that the audio output of an F1 is a scary number such that only a dullard bent on long-term hearing damage would dare omit ear protection. Upcoming regulations see a greening of F1 with lowered rev limits, KERS and little 1.3 litre turbo engines running on biofuel. It is not understood in the Place de la Concorde that noise too is pollution - particularly at the levels F1 generates?

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