Does the NSW government even want Supercars in Newcastle for the next five years?
Labor's enthusiasm for the controversial event appears tepid at best, despite Tourism Minister John Graham describing it as "iconic" and insisting the government is working on a five-year deal.
Well placed sources have told the Newcastle Herald that state cabinet's Expenditure Review Committee, headed by Treasurer Daniel Mookhey, months ago rejected a request to fund the event for five years.
If true, this would explain several things.
It would explain why Destination NSW is burying an assessment report on the 2023 race until at least the end of this year.
It would explain why the government surprised just about everyone last month when it confirmed it was seeking a one-year extension to race in Newcastle in 2024.
It would explain why the Labor-led council, once a great cheerleader for the race, has dug in its heels so strongly and rejected even contemplating a one-year deal.
If the government is keen to fund a five-year deal at some point, why hasn't it done so already?
Supercars undoubtedly drives a hard bargain, but surely the motor racing company is desperate to come back.
The government said ERC deliberations were cabinet-in-confidence.
An ERC ruling against a five-year deal would make sense in a climate of budgetary savings and cost-cutting.
The price of funding a deal with Supercars over five years could be in the region of $50 million to $60 million.
If Mookhey has tasked Destination NSW management with finding budget savings, an expensive, arguably unpopular motor race in an historically safe Labor seat would seem like a good place to start.
Even the local Labor MP doesn't want it back.
The problem for Labor, then, becomes a political one.
Does Chris Minns want to be the premier who killed a Supercars race?
One potential solution to the political challenge is to throw up a one-year deal and put the ball in Newcastle council's court.
From the council's point of view, a one-year deal does not look very attractive, especially for councillors seeking re-election in 11 months' time.
With no guarantee of a five-year deal, the inner-city would face more disruption without even the promise of long-term benefits.
The government says it is funding one-year deals for the Mardi Gras and Sydney Festival but will revisit longer-term arrangements for its "iconic major events" next year.
In the meantime, the Newcastle 500 looks dead for 2024 and beyond if the government can't find the money.
From the moment the former council administration signed a secret five-year contract with Supercars in 2016, the race has been mired in mistrust.
The events of the past week have done little to change that.
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