Supercars boss James Warburton revealed at a business lunch in Newcastle on Friday that a phone call from Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes had helped secure the city’s touring car race.
Mr Warburton told a Property Council of Australia function at Wests City that Cr Nelmes had driven the city’s bid for the season-ending race after plans to hold it in Gosford fell over last year.
“What's not known a lot is that we were going to Gosford. We were in Gosford and the deal was done,” Mr Warburton told the audience.
“And when we had some troubles around the major bridge there going to Gosford and RMS, it was actually Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes who actually called Sandra Chipchase at Destination NSW and suggested that Newcastle was the place.
“And then we very quickly put the deal together, obviously between Destination NSW, the Lord Mayor, her fellow councillors and, of course, council executives.
“So, quite extraordinary, and we couldn't be happier to be here in Newcastle.”
ALP candidate Carol Duncan told a campaign forum before September’s council elections that it was a “NSW Liberal government decision to foist Supercars on Newcastle” and that Cr Nelmes had been “hung out to dry” by the government.
But Mr Warburton’s account indicates Cr Nelmes, who has been a consistent supporter of the race, was instrumental in bringing it to Newcastle.
I fail to understand the rationale of it not being public. I mean, I tweeted about it.Nuatali Nelmes
Cr Nelmes confirmed after Friday’s lunch that she had made the call to Ms Chipchase, DNSW’s chief executive, but said their conversation was not a “decision-making forum”.
“I’d forgotten about it. So many things happen in a day in this job. I thought, ‘Oh yeah, that’s right, I did ring Sandra and convince her to bring Supercars to Newcastle,’” she said.
“But I ring her on a million and one different things I’m trying to do in the city, so, yes, that phone call absolutely happened.”
She said the election result of a Labor majority on council vindicated her push to bring the race to Newcastle, despite a backlash from some residents.
“To be fair to everybody, the Herald has had some pretty interesting Supercars stories in it. Some of them are factually correct and some of them aren’t factually correct.
“There’s been a lot of rhetoric from smaller groups around the city about the benefits, or lack thereof, of having Supercars. I think recent events, ie the election, pretty much proves the majority of Newcastle actually want Supercars.”
The council, state government and Supercars announced on September 27 last year that Newcastle would host the race.
Cr Nelmes, who cryptically tweeted “Vrrroom vrroom” with a checkered flag emoji three weeks before that announcement, defended the council’s approval process last year as “open and transparent”.
“The only part of the discussion that was private, which was a very short part of the discussion, was about the commercial-in-confidence rights agreement.
“Every other discussion we’ve had about Supercars has been public. I mean, can you name a more public event that has been discussed more?
“I fail to understand the rationale of it not being public. I mean, I tweeted about it … before even tweeting about it there was newspaper articles about it.”