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"Cash strapped" NSW squandered over AU$120 million on World Youth Day

The following was adapted from Green's MLC Lee Rhiannon's media release "World Youth Day cost blowout: independent review needed" of 26 Nov 08 - JS

Those who have accepted the necessity of the current fire sale of NSW government assets included in the recent "slash and burn" budget, which is taking that state into recession, may be amazed to learn of the staggering cost blow-out of the World Youth Day celebrations held in Sydney from Tuesday 15 to Sunday 20 July 2008.

The NSW Auditor-General's report released on 26 November reported that the cost to NSW taxpayers increased from an initial estimate of AU$20million (all amounts in Australian dollars) to its final cost of over $120 million. In addition, the Federal Government contributed $20.5 million bringing the total cost to Australian taxpayers to over $140 million. As some costs incurred by NSW Government agencies may be unobtainable, the full cost to taxpayers may never be known. For its part, the Catholic Church contributed only $10 million to meeting the costs of the event.

The Sydney Morning Herald of 27 reports that the Department of State and Regional Development claimed that NSW had gained $152 million, but had yet to substantiate that claim.

On top of this, the NSW Government plans to throw tens of millions more taxpayer dollars at a planned V8 supercar races to be held at Olympic Park. The Minister for State Development having given in principle support for NSW to incur losses of up to $86million over three years.

As consquence of the World Youth Day Fiasco Greens MP Lee Rhiannon says the NSW Auditor-General, not the government, should conduct an independent performance audit of World Youth Day because the government cannot be trusted to provide an impartial, comprehensive evaluation of the event.

The Auditor General today recommended that the government undertake a cost benefit review of its involvement in World Youth Day.

"It is not in the public interest to let the government conduct a post-event review of World Youth Day, as recommended by the Auditor-General today," Ms Rhiannon said.

"The history of this government suggests an internal post-event review would be shabby and unhelpful. A thorough review into all aspects of World Youth Day 2008 by an independent body like the Auditor General is required.

"In June this year I met with the Auditor-General to ask him to conduct a performance review to delve into the effectiveness, efficiency and economy of agencies involved in organising the event.

"The Auditor-General has powers to conduct a performance audit and investigate allegations of serious and substantial waste of public money.

"There are many aspects of World Youth Day 2008 that deserve to be put under the microscope, not just why the final cost was six times the original budget estimate.

"The Auditor-General could analyse whether the additional APEC like police powers given were excessive or appropriate, and uncover the full story behind the decision to use Randwick racecourse for the papal mass and the resulting compensation deal.

"Mr Achterstraat's office could also examine the continued failure of the government to publicly release key reports and papers detailing predicted costs and benefits, despite repeated demands before the event was held.

"The Rees government is keen to put Sydney back on the events circuit. The flawed decision to bring V8 supercar racing to Olympic Park is a prime example.

"A proper independent evaluation of World Youth Day by the Auditor General is important to learn lessons for the future of this state," Ms Rhiannon said.

See also: NSW Electricity Privatisation, "Youth day ran $100m over budget" in SMH of 27 Nov 08 and more subdued reporting in "World Youth Day bill $100m over budget" of 26 Nov 08 in Rupert Murdoch's Australian newspaper which lavishly promoted the event at the time, NSW Auditor-General's World Youth Day Report (pdf, 45K).

Appendix: Community will Carry the Cost of V8s at Olympic Park

Greens Media Release of 26 Sep 08

New laws to ban compensation claims by local businesses adversely affected by V8 car racing at Olympic Park in addition to a $35 million injection of public funds shows that the community, not the organisers, will pay the costs of the Supercar event.

This legislation is reported to remove the right of local business operators to seek compensation for disruptions to their business caused by the event. It is also reported to circumvent environmental and planning legislation to stop legal challenges to the event.

“This government has a track record of arbitrarily removing citizens’ rights and throwing around government money to support private sector events. It does not have a track record of ensuring the public gets any return on that public investment,” said Ms Hale.

“Legislation to remove the rights of Olympic Park leaseholders is unacceptable. Leases were signed on the understanding that business owners had a suitable environment to operate their businesses. The government is taking that environment away to benefit another commercial enterprise.”

“If the government is going to renege on the promises it made in the leases, the V8 promoters should pay compensation.

“Similarly any attempt to remove the rights of local residents to take legal action in response to the months of disruption and the environmental damage that will be caused by holding the V8 event at Olympic Park is also unacceptable.”

“Today’s Auditor-General’s report into the $100 million blow out in public funding for World Youth Day shows just how inept this government is when it uses public funds to promote private events.”

“The V8 event at Olympic Park will have many negative impacts on local residents and businesses. The event should be moved to the existing motor racing precinct at Eastern Creek where the negative impact will be significantly less,” said Ms Hale.

See also: NSW Electricity Privatisation, "Why the V8 Supercars will be taxpayer-injected" in SMH of 29 Sep 08, "O'Farrell vows to restore free travel" on the ABC on 13 Nov 08, "Say no to v8 supercar racing at Olympic Park" on Lee Rhiannon's website, Parliamantary debate of V8 Supercar Races at Sydney Olympic Park of 24 Nov 08.