Rally boss says event in doubt
CLAIMS the Northern Rivers is on the cusp of losing the Repco Rally Australia have been strengthened after rally chairman Alan Evans said he was pessimistic about the region's chances of hosting next year's event.
As Tweed Shire Council prepared to discuss whether it would continue to support the event, Mr Evans said he was ‘more pessimistic' than optimistic about the rally's future in the region.
Mr Evans pointed to environmental restrictions placed on next year's rally, saying they would largely lock the event out of national parks and make it difficult to offer a course challenging enough to satisfy the World Rally governing body, the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile.
However, Lismore MP Thomas George and Kyogle mayor Ross Brown challenged that, saying there were other route options, particularly within the Kyogle Council area, that would satisfy the Federation, while avoiding areas ruled out under the restrictions.
Both suggested organisers had been spooked by the Tweed-based No Rally protest group, which had vowed to oppose the rally regardless of what steps were taken to reduce its impact.
“Realistically, I think CAMS (the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport) and Repco (Rally) need to suck it up and show some guts,” Cr Brown said.
“This community put through the hard yards with the protests and supported the rally, and the rally was very successful, there are no doubts about that.
“I just can't understand their reasoning.”
The other major protest group, Seventh Generation, said it was ‘concerned' by the suggestion the rally might leave, saying its intention had never been to stop the event altogether.
Group secretary Joy Wagner said members of the group had met with members of the Homebush Racing Authority and told them they were happy for the event to continue, provided it avoided roads the community did not want it on.
Now she said she feared the group would be blamed if rally organisers pulled out.
“We are slightly different (to the No Rally Group) because Kyogle is different,” she said. “I'd be worried if it (the rally) left because I know a lot of people where I live want it.”
Ms Wagner said resentment against the anti-rally movement was already displaying itself in things like smashed koala warning signs.
The No Rally Group said any move to take the rally out of the Northern Rivers would ‘vindicate' its stance against the event.
“It was a mistake to bring it here in the first place. We'll be glad if the Government and the organisers have come to their senses,” spokeswoman Andrea Vickers said.
Ms Vickers said the move would also suggest having the event close to South-East Queensland was less important than organisers had previously claimed.
However, Cr Brown and Mr George said that was one of the reasons why organisers should make sure the event stayed here.
Mr George, who also raised the issue in State Parliament last night, said a report tabled in Parliament showed close to two-thirds of the 20,000 people to visit the region for the 2009 rally had come from interstate. Another 2145 of those visitors came from overseas.
Cr Brown said taking the event south would diminish its ability to draw visitors from South-East Queensland.
Mr George said the 2009 event had brought nearly $17 million in new economic activity to the Northern Rivers and the event was on track to reach its projected $100 million benefit over the minimum 10 years it was planned to be based here.
Mr George said the rally organisers had ‘contractual agreements' with Tweed and Kyogle councils which meant they couldn't move the rally.
Cr Brown said he believed those agreements were not legally enforceable. However, he said they were a matter of honour for the organisers.
The entire focus of preparations for the NSW leg of the World Rally Competition, including special legislation put through State Parliament, had been based on the assumption that it would be held in the Kyogle and Tweed council areas.
That went as far as the two council regions being specifically named in the State legislation.