$1.3m debt besets HSG

THE Hunter Sports Group’s ‘‘long outstanding debts’’ of nearly $1.3million for the Newcastle Knights’ use of Hunter Stadium contributed to cash flow problems and a $1.6million deficit for the venue, the NSW Auditor-General has found.

But the Nathan Tinkler-owned group behind the Knights and the Jets is still disputing the total amount.

A HSG spokesman confirmed yesterday $400,000 in contention related to a bill from the state government for re-turfing the stadium.

It dated back to November 2010 ‘‘in a deal with the previous management of the Knights’’, he said. ‘‘It has nothing to do with HSG and therefore should not be included in the figures.’’

The stadium’s deficit for the 2011-12 financial year accounted for most of the overall $2.4million deficit of Venues NSW, the body that manages the stadium, entertainment areas and other venues in western Sydney and the Illawarra regions on behalf of the state government.

As of September, HSG’s debts totalled about $1.3million, according to the report from the state’s independent auditor, Peter Achterstraat, which was released yesterday.

About $300,000 of that amount has since been paid.

The government has launched legal action to recover more than $500,000 HSG has also agreed to pay.

Mr Achterstraat said Venues NSW had to transfer ‘‘funds between business units’’ to help Hunter Stadium with its cash-flow problems during 2011-12, which were due to its operations and outstanding debts.

‘‘The Hunter Sports Group has long outstanding debts relating to the Knights’ use of the stadium and catering services,’’ Mr Achterstraat said.

The report’s figures support those Sports Minister Graham Annesley put to a budget estimates hearing in October.

But HSG again linked the payment of more of the debt to completion of a long-term access agreement for the stadium between it and Venues NSW, despite the body’s insistence the two issues were unrelated.

‘‘Hunter Venues [sic] and HSG agree [the] figure we owe is $586,000, to be paid once the new 10-year Hirer’s Agreement is concluded,’’ the HSG spokesman said.

Total attendance for rugby league at the stadium in the year ended June 30 was 308,000, the report also said.

Soccer recorded an attendance of 157,500 and rugby union 20,000. Eight thousand people attended netball and 461,500 went to concerts and functions at the other Hunter venues.

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