Tweed Shire Council has struck a controversial deal with the organisers of the world motor rally run in Tweed and Kyogle shires in 2009 to write off a $126,000 debt in lieu of staging yet another motor event in the Tweed next year.
The outstanding $126,372.83 was owed for track building works for the 2010 Speed on Tweed event in Murwillumbah, which was backed by Rally Australia.
Massive protests when the rally was run in the Tweed forced organisers to stage the 2011 rally in Coffs Harbour.
Last week, the council secretly debated the debt and proposal by the Confederation of AustralianMotor Sports (CAMS), with Cr Katie Milne, one of the leading opponents of the rally, the only one to oppose the deal.
Councillors resolved to write off the debt incurred in the name of Speed on Tweed Pty Ltd, following the staging next year of a car carnival and a workshop on road safety for high-school students.
Under the deal, CAMS will contribute $15,000 for costs incurred by Tweed Shire Council.
Council accepted CAMS offer on the new car event and workshop as ‘an act of good faith’ to settle the debt. Dates and venues for the events are yet to be finalised.
But several council election candidates have hit out at the debt, describing it as a waste of ratepayer funds.
Scott Sledge, the number two candidate on the Tweed Respect ticket, said ‘the audacity’ of the CAMs offer to council ‘is astounding’.
‘I wonder how the motor-racing gurus plan to teach driver safety to young speed heads,’ Mr Sledge, who was the main spokesman for the No Rally Group, told Echonetdaily.
‘Where is the return to basic “rates, roads and rubbish” promised by Crs Polgalse and Youngblutt? They said that the voters would get services, but instead we have to pay for the privilege of hosting yet another motoring event in our shire.
‘The fact that it was kept “confidential” highlights exactly what TSC needs to get away from. The people may well want to waste their money on worshipping the wasters of precious fossil fuels, but they should be consulted, honestly and not in this underhanded manner.
‘These are the same councillors who wasted untold rates dollars supporting the unpopular Repco Rally and need to get a grip.
‘They voted to write off the debt in exchange for a slim promise. After the failure of the rally to deliver profits, why should we trust CAMS?’ Mr Sledge said.
Tweed Respect team’s main candidate Eddie Roberts said the money should have been spent on low-impact ecotourism facilities such as bike and walk trails.
Former No Rally Group member Michael McNamara told Echonetdaily that the debt write-off ‘reinforces everything we ever said about the dodgy financial arrangements that underpinned the rally’.
In a media release on the deal yesterday, the council announced that the CAMS car club festival, to be known as CARnival, will be held for the first time in 2012 in Victoria this December and in the Tweed next year.
As part of the festival, the motorsport body will help the council organise a special road-safety and driver-behaviour workshop for local high-school students, called Ignition.
Chief executive of CAMS, David Morgan, said the two events were ‘exciting initiatives that will both benefit the Tweed’, while council general manager, David Keenan, said both events would see an influx of people to the area.
The former state government secretly funded the 2009 and 2011 rallies to the tune of millions of taxpayer dollars and forced the 2009 event onto the Tweed with special legislation pushed through parliament to enable it to be run.
The minister responsible for the event at the time, Ian Macdonald, has since been disgraced over a massage-for-favours scandal and is also being investigated by ICAC over allegations concerning his granting of an exploration licence in the Hunter Valley to a mining company associated with a former senior union official.