When Newcastle City Council (NCC) resolved to host the V8 Supercars series finale, the deal was hailed as a great win for the city. Yet, early talk of any “partnership” between council and Supercars quickly disappeared as it became clear that all power in this deal lay with Supercars.
Previously secret documents, of which then councillor Therese Doyle was never made aware, now reveal that V8 Supercars never intended any partnership with NCC; indeed, Supercars excluded any say by the elected council. NCC has only just released, under pressure from residents, the “Services Deed” it signed with V8 Supercars Australia in December 2016. That deed includes clauses specifically requiring that council act “in accordance with reasonable and timely instructions or directions given by V8SCA [Supercars]” and that “the Service Provider [Newcastle Council] shall not disclose this Deed to any third party, including … the Councillors of the Services Provider”.
How is it that the details of such a major incursion into Newcastle as the Supercars race could be kept confidential from the elected council?
Once the race was a done deal, affected residents pressed NCC with problems they faced. Their requests were consistently referred to Supercars. It is now clear why. NCC had virtually no authority to enforce any conditions that would normally apply to such an event. In their rush to secure Supercars for Newcastle, NCC not only agreed to pay them a large sum of ratepayers’ money, but apparently signed away any power to govern how the event would run. Unbeknownst to the elected council, NCC’s interim CEO signed the deed, reducing NCC to a “service provider” with almost no regulatory authority. When councillors first enthusiastically embraced the event, they had scant knowledge of what they were signing up for. At its meeting of July 26, 2016, NCC resolved to delegate sweeping powers to the interim CEO to sign agreements regarding council’s roles and duties. NCC also resolved to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that they believed would spell out responsibilities of the parties.
At its meeting of March 14, 2017, council was presented with a resolution to allocate the funds necessary for the circuit's road works. All councillors made it clear that the MoU should be signed before they would assign council's contribution to the roadwork. However, the then Interim CEO warned councillors that the works being undertaken “need to be approved tonight if they are to proceed this year”. This resulted in the council majority voting to approve funds, before the MoU was signed. The MoU was not signed until April 2017, well after the Services Deed had come into operation. The MoU, unlike the deed, has no legal enforceability. Councillors had no opportunity to hear about, let alone participate in, any negotiations regarding council’s contributions, rights or responsibilities under the deed.
We now know all of this because Newcastle East Residents Group applied for access to the agreements through the General Information (Public Access) Act. As a result, NCC has reluctantly made redacted versions of the signed agreements available. The hitherto secret Services Deed has left NCC with a 10-year commitment to service Supercars, its councillors hobbled by an agreement they knew nothing about, while the public has lost a key public asset, its Bicentenary Foreshore Park, for 10 weeks of every year Supercars decides to come to town.