COMMENT: Newcastle Supercars has the spin, but no traction for business

GRAND-STANDING: "Some ugly truths cannot be hidden by endless glossy brochures and staged-managed media events," the author says. Photo: Jonathan Carroll
GRAND-STANDING: "Some ugly truths cannot be hidden by endless glossy brochures and staged-managed media events," the author says. Photo: Jonathan Carroll

In the artificial world of public relations, there are degrees of spin, from simply putting the best face on an awkward situation, all the way through to gross manipulation of the truth. With Newcastle City Council bombarding ratepayers with an intensive and costly PR campaign to try to justify the Supercars events, it’s timely to look at how far along that scale of distortion council has been prepared to go, and how much truth has been sacrificed.

We need to ask also how much of ratepayers’ money has gone into the vortex of glossy self-edifying brochures, the same vortex that has already swallowed vast sums of public money on building a race track.

Considering the many claims made by council of the benefits of hosting a Supercars race in our heritage city centre, financial success for small businesses and the creation of jobs was central. Yet any inspection of the disastrous civil works undertaken on the foreshore shows that contractors are, almost without exception, from out of the city, in fact from Queensland, coincidently where Supercars headquarters is. It’s difficult to find a local worker there, apart from our already-employed council staff.

Boon for small business? The reality is that many of our inner-city businesses are in dire financial situations following the Supercars decision, particularly the cafe/restaurant traders, battered by the council-induced problems of rushed roadworks, alienation from customer bases caused by chaotic traffic conditions, and the fact that areas like the beaches are almost unreachable.

Just a minor disruption? Surely this claim, along with “improved shade canopy”, must be the most demonstrably dishonest. Access to all public facilities has had to go, road works have been continuous, and workers in the city have been seriously challenged just getting to work. Then there’s the concession to Supercars, in the road widening works, to fail to replace speed humps on pedestrian crossings, even though the Pedestrian Council of Australia has shown that these reduce pedestrian deaths. You see, road humps might slow down racing cars.

Public safety assured? Again, the reality is that many people have been told, in writing, to get out of their homes, because of noise levels that will peak well over any safe limit, a danger made more apparent by Supercars’ refusal to release their full sound monitoring plan. And yet council has refused to consider the provision of ‘safe refuges’ outside the race area, for the many aged, disabled, and new-born babies, who are effectively trapped inside the race zone.

The grave culpability for this series of naive, dangerous, and commercially-driven decisions lies equally with the promoters and the council. Many Newcastle councillors recognise privately the dire consequences of their decisions, but they are now so committed, and have ceded so much control to Destination NSW and Supercars, that we now are subjected to endless publicly-funded PR, as our Lord Mayor and interim GM retreat deeper into their bunkers, adopting a ‘decide and defend’ strategy, with an apparently limitless PR budget.

Could you imagine Sydney City inviting a racing car event into the narrow sandstone-lined streets of The Rocks, then destroying the heritage fabric of that area by widening roads and removing heritage kerbing and paths, for the sake of a three-day event each year?

Some ugly truths cannot be hidden by endless glossy brochures and staged-managed media events, even with an undisclosed and unlimited budget.

John Beach, Cooks Hill