Rally review raises questions

The independent review of the 2009 World Rally Championship held in the Northern Rivers was tabled in NSW Parliament last Friday, however, questions have been asked about the way in which the review was framed, presented and written.

Mike Cahill, CEO of Integrated Marketing Communications Pty Ltd, prepared the review for the State and Regional Development and Tourism Division of Industry and Investment NSW(formerly the Department of Primary Industries) and the Homebush Motor Racing Authority.

The Repco Rally was held in Kyogle and Tweed Shires in September 2009, amid controversy after the NSW Government introduced special legislation to take the approval process out of the hands of local councils.

Andrea Vickers from the No Rally Group said they were extremely disappointed with the way the IMC report was written and presented.

“The marketing company’s job is to please the client and that’s what he’s done,” Ms Vickers said.

“What the report is doing is attempting to present the local opposition as marginal and radical and overstating the economic benefits so that if FIA pull out from the event they can shift the blame to the local community and away from the government.

“It’s a real shame because this was a genuine opportunity to restore some of the trust that the local community lost when the WRC act was passed. They have blown that opportunity completely.”

The Centre for Tourism, Leisure and Work at Southern Cross University recently published paper Event Governance – background to the World Rally Championship, Northern Rivers, NSW, which paints the event in a very different light to the IMC review.

The SCU paper concluded that “a highly politicised context in which the State Government’s commitment to the economic benefits of the rally to the NSW public sat uneasily against local community values and expectations”; that stakeholders had different expectations of what constitutes consultation and that “clarity around the role of government in various stages of the event planning and management is needed, which would go some way to addressing the emergent issues associated with participation, rule of law, transparency, responsiveness, informed debate and reliable information, accountability and the public interest.”

The IMC report concluded that “despite zealous and enduring opposition to the rally by a tiny minority in a community of around 90,000, the Repco Rally 2009 review found there was another reason for the rally not to be staged in the Northern Rivers region in 2009” and also recommended better consultation with the Githabul Nation Aboriginal Corporation, that “strict environmentally sensitive criteria be formulated to determine the identification of any future rally route” and that environmentally sensitive areas be avoided.

One of the authors of the SCU paper, Associate Professor Dianne Dredge, has a PhD in Tourism, Planning and Policy, a Masters in Recreation and Leisure Studies, and is a qualified environmental planner.

The SCU paper was researched with grant money and passed through the regular academic clearances, including gaining ethical clearance and being peer-reviewed.

Professor Dredge said she felt the IMC report was a “wasted opportunity”.

“Overall, I think it lacks a credible evaluation framework that’s clearly stated up front. It relies on anecdotal accounts; it is a lost opportunity to redeem credibility,” Dr Dredge said.

“Community groups would be happy if their concerns were acknowledged as legitimate and responded to.

“In this report they’ve tried to minimise the concerns and thrown them out without any acknowledgement – that comes through in the type of wording, ‘the tiny minority’ comes out a lot. The choice of language lends the impression that one side is being favoured.”

The two publications also differ on their conclusions about the economic benefits of the rally.

The SCU paper states that “the direct trading profit in real terms may in fact be quite small”; that researcher field notes suggest a “very small crowd and little retail activity in Kyogle and Murwillumbah during event times”.

The IMC report includes conclusions from economist Jock Kreitas that “the estimated benefits are probably overstated, particularly the regional ones”; and a remark from the Economic Evaluations Unit of the Innovation Research and Policy Division of the I&I that the “Regional economic impact of $16.9 million (as claimed by Events NSW) may have been overstated by around $2.4million” but then concludes that the “Rally generated between $14million and $16.9 million” for the Northern Rivers.

“If it is actually true that the rally generated up to $16.9 million – if this is genuinely the case, why haven’t they invested in a rigorous review process?” Dr Dredge said.

“There is so much information here that is not actually transparent. For example, you can’t come to a conclusion about how much money was generated without important outgoing costs being analysed and including a methodology so we all know how that’s been calculated.

“Another issue is the way particular data is used, it defies logic, saying there are 300 members of the No Rally Group and 7th Generation and putting that into a pie chart of the population, as if that lends credibility. Anyone who watches the Gruen Transfer knows pie charts and graphs are used to try to lend credibility but in this case it doesn’t. It lacks that framework of being a rigorous analysis.

“I’m not saying that the rally is good or bad, just that it needs a more transparent and rigorous process and to acknowledge the concerns of all sides, not minimise them, and that’s what underpins good consultation.

“75% of the submissions were categorised as against the rally so how do you draw the conclusion that’s a minority of people? It’s inconsistent. The people who have taken the interest to write a submission actually care about the rally and it’s not appropriate to dismiss them. It does not analyse those submissions. Hand them on to me and I would happily do an analysis. Anyone who knows anything about public analysis should know that this report marginalises community concerns, it throws them out very quickly. People have spent hours preparing those and to cover them in three lines does an injustice to the time and effort of the people who put them in.

“The way this is written is more likely to inflame than address the key community issues.”

Dr Stephen Phillips, a koala expert from Biolink consulting, prepared the original environmental report before the rally.

The independent reviewer did not contact Dr Phillips for a post-event interview. Dr Phillips went along to one of the community consultation nights but after listening for a while, left quietly without saying anything.

Greens MLC Ian Cohen, who has been a critic of the rally, said he thought the parliamentary report was “unhelpful”.

“It marginalises people who are protesting, of course it’s a small number compared to the overall population. I just find it’s a bit trite and prejudicial and if this is particular of the attitude of the government to try to legislate such an event in that area I find it reprehensible and I think it will lead to bigger protests next time , if there is a next time,” Mr Cohen said.

“It’s pretty disappointing that we don’t have better transparency than that and I have real concerns about general assessments that were being taken, having gone to a public meeting where significant questions were asked. This report is promotional rather than an appropriate assessment.”

In his report Mr Cahill states that he canvassed attitudes extensively with anti-rally activists, stating that “while those anti-rally activists interviewed were engaged in their communities, universally they demonstrated no empathy for motor sports supporters and little empathy for working people”.

Andrea Vickers said it was a common misconception.

“We’ve encountered this a lot, it’s a classic conservative attempt to discredit us. Our core membership includes doctors, teachers, nurses, lawyers, disability support workers, public servants, local tourism operators, small business owners, an OAM recipient and a Justice of the Peace,” Ms Vickers said.

The Echo sent eight questions to NSW Treasurer and Minister for Industry and Investment Eric Roozendaal and received a statement from a spokesperson in return which did not clearly answer any of the specific questions.

“The NSW Government has accepted all of the recommendations made by the review and will be engaging in further consultation with the community well ahead of the 2011 event,” the statement said. “Consultation will include any proposed change in the rally route.

In this regard, the NSW Government has instructed the Homebush Motor Racing Authority to meet with the stakeholders in the region and Rally Australia to discuss the review recommendations.”

When The Echo contacted Mr Cahill to ask him to clarify his qualifications, the selection process, methodology and conclusions he accused The Echo of “trying to be too clever”, and being “overly aggressive” and said he had won a Walkley Award for regional journalism.

“This whole thing has been hijacked by a couple of neurotic people; it’s all about local politics and people should just get over it,” Mr Cahill said.

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