Put away the champers: we can’t afford the Grand Prix

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
ABC The Drum /
March 06, 2013 /

Click here to view original /

Perhaps doing Year 10 work experience in his electorate office in ’95 gifted me a soft spot for him, but Kelvin Thomson makes a pretty perfect point: the Grand Prix is a big fat waste of money and the Victorian State Government needs to stop funding this revhead carnival. Tout suite.

Well, actually, Kelvin’s phrasing was a tad more pointed, claiming not only that there are “better ways to spend $50 million” but that there’s something specifically revolting about us “bankrolling Bernie’s billionaire bogan”. This bogan being Tamara, daughter of Formula 1 honcho Bernie Ecclestone and the star of the mercifully short-lived and subtly titled Billion $$ Girl.

I’d prefer to sideline attacking Tamara. After all, money doesn’t buy good taste or the nous to discern that taking dogs to Harrods for a manicure isn’t a sound investment. I’d prefer to sideline an attack on her because I’m a libertarian, because I think people should spend their money however they wish, and because frivolity is nobody else’s business.

It’s her money and … Oh, hang on a gosh-darned minute. A fair chunk of the Ecclestones’ change is our bloody change.

My tax money helped pay for Tamara’s £1 million bathtub; for the elevator for her Ferrari; for her bowling alley; for her jetsetting. Surely that’s enough to stir just a little outrage.

The Grand Prix is a hideous cacophony of things I hate: tinnitus-like noise and champagne-ejaculation and women employed as eye candy. Diabolical, if I were feeling theatrical. But my distaste for it is hardly grounds for putting an end to it. Nor should it be. No, that end needs to come because as a state, as a country, we do not have a spare $50 million to spend on this festival of corporate worship.

I teach public policy and in nearly every class I make the very same point about opportunity cost: a dollar can only be spent once. Be it spent on schools, on hospitals, or on public transport, there’s only one opportunity to spend the money. And if it’s directed towards a consistently loss-generating car-race, then it’s not going somewhere viable.

As someone who is actually very keen on funding a diversity of events, even ones I don’t particularly care for, I’m aware that there are many reasons – some good, some hokey – for funding them.

Branding, for example. Such events can boost Melbourne’s image as a place people want to live and visit, and works to convey the impression of a city where interesting stuff happens. Economic stimulation. Major events can attract tourists, prompt people to spend in restaurants, hotels, in shops. They lead to hiring and investing and development. Politics. Adelaide had it, we wanted it. Kennett wanted a legacy, and he got it. Sometimes cities find pretending that they can afford such circuses simply irresistible.

I appreciate that sometimes money on major events can be a worthwhile spend. But $50-odd million isn’t mere money. $50-odd million isn’t just a major event. It’s a travesty and worse still, it is bad policy.

To determine whether a policy is worth continuing, an evaluation is done. A thorough evaluation doesn’t just measure ticket sales, but tallies up all those hard-to-measure intangibles such as spikes in hotel occupancy and restaurant crowding and a city’s reputation. The Auditor-General conducted such an evaluation. Shockingly enough, the Grand Prix boasts more losses than gains. Surely, the answer to abolish seems obvious.

In any other policy area, such an expensive loss-maker would be summarily scrapped. Pronto. And yet not only do we keep funding it, but we consider buying the white elephant for another half-century. Because evidently our ears and pockets haven’t suffered enough.

If paying for the noise and the grid girls and the deluded reverence of millionaire drivers isn’t enough to revolt you to the very core, surely thinking about us paying for Tamara’s crystal-studded bowling balls – money that could have gone to public transport or health or education – should give you pause for thought. After all, that dollar only gets spent once.

© Lauren Rosewarne