Premier backflips on support for Newcastle expo host bid

THE O’Farrell government has dropped an election commitment to make a bid for Newcastle to host the 2017 International Exposition, saying the city was unlikely to win and a substandard pitch would prove an embarrassment.

It will instead commission a feasibility study early next year to prepare a bid for the 2022 event.

Newcastle Liberal MP Tim Owen said government tourism agency Destinations NSW had advised that Liege in Belgium had made a strong bid and looked likely to win.

Not to be outdone, Astana in Kazakhstan had also nominated.

The Coalition committed during the campaign to make a $1million pitch for the event, which runs for about three months in between the larger World Expo events held every five years.

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Opposition leader Barry O’Farrell said at the time the city was an ideal site and a successful bid would ensure Newcastle ‘‘continues to be upgraded and revitalised in the years leading up to the expo’’.

The last International Expo, in Zaragoza, Spain, in 2008 drew 5.6million people.

But it is understood the pitch was expected to cost significantly more than the Coalition anticipated.

The promised $1million would be redirected to the feasibility study that will be submitted to the government in June.

Mr Owen said it was disappointing but the government believed there was insufficient time to put together a competitive bid for Newcastle.

‘‘The timeline was just too short and we didn’t know how serious the bid was from Belgium,’’ he said.

‘‘We would rather get it right than make a bid that fails.’’

He said the government believed a poorly considered bid would be a ‘‘risk to Australia’s reputation as a host country’’.

The government was also wary of ‘‘nailing down’’ at this point the use of vacant land at Honeysuckle, which Mr O’Farrell had said could be a good site for the expo.

The government had also considered using the former steelworks site at Mayfield.

‘‘Until we took [office] we didn’t have a good sense of where things were going to go with the sites,’’ Mr Owen said.

There were also ‘‘converging issues’’ in terms of the need to assess the best location for new projects such as a convention centre or exhibition centre.

Mr Owen said work the former Labor government had begun for the Broadmeadow entertainment and sporting precinct ‘‘was not really much of a plan’’ and the government would revisit it.

Asked if the Coalition had failed to do its homework in opposition in relation to the bid, Mr Owen said it had researched the requirements but did not have access to government tourism experts until it was elected.

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