By Clint Thomas
Posted 49 minutes agoThu 30 Jan 2020,
Rally Australia was loved by West Australians, made money for the state, drew global attention to Perth and attracted tourists — the kind of perks you would think would be music to the WA Government’s ears.
But while there is an opportunity for the motorsport event to return to WA, it has been met with a flat no from the State Government, and it is difficult to work out why.
Rally Australia is currently out of contract and looking for a new home for 2021.
It was held in Perth from 1988 to 2006 and was awarded best rally in the world three times before being shifted to the eastern states after the State Government stopped funding it.
Then-tourism minister and now Premier Mark McGowan was viewed as the man responsible for axing the event.
In 2005, he said the decision was made because of the poor return on investment, despite it being profitable.
“Last year’s event cost WA taxpayers $5.9 million to stage but generated only $9.3 million — representing $1.60 for every $1 we spent,” he explained.
WRC could bring global audience and dollars
The World Rally Championship (WRC), which includes Rally Australia, is televised into 150 TV markets through 65 broadcasters around the world.
It has a global audience of 88.5 million viewers.
The 2018 event at Coffs Harbour in New South Wales was attended by 250 members of the international media.
The crews, support staff, tourists and media booked out all available accommodation and stayed in the area for an average of 3.5 nights.
You just need to take a walk down one of Perth’s inner-city high streets to see that businesses are struggling, and that type of influx of visitors for a consistent period each year would be of significant help to local hospitality venues.
When asked about the possibility of the rally — which had an economic benefit to WA of more than $20 million at its peak — returning to Perth, a Government spokesperson said the tourism benefits did not justify the financial investment required.
“The WA Government … is committed to attracting and sponsoring a variety of events in the state, for the enjoyment of residents and visitors,” a statement said.
“Hosting the right events helps boost the economy, generates valuable media exposure and adds vibrancy to the city and state.”
Rally campaign grows as other events fade
Based on the numbers above, Rally Australia would do this.
The Opposition has seen the merit in that and started a petition to bring back the rally, with the campaign already attracting more than 2,000 signatures.
At the time it was axed, Mr McGowan said the Hopman Cup and Perth’s international golf tournament both produced better returns on investment.
The Hopman Cup was axed last year and replaced by a group stage of the ATP Cup.
But the ATP Cup received only a lukewarm response from the WA public, with modest crowds attending the inaugural event at Perth Arena.
Western Australia also stopped its commitment to international golf last year.
The schedule at Perth Stadium looks thin as well.
Right now, the calendar is empty outside of AFL and cricket.
An outdated schedule of major events on Tourism WA’s website currently lists three events that happened last year, including the Hopman Cup and the Perth Super Six golf tournament which no longer exists.
The stadium will host the ICC Twenty 20 World Cup later this year but missed out on hosting one of the finals with Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne preferred.
Boosting the economy with big drawcards
It is no coincidence that Western Australia had historic tourism numbers last year off the back of a sporting calendar that included State of Origin, the Bledisloe Cup and a visit by English Premier League giants Manchester United.
In a state economy that is heavily reliant on the resources industry and desperate for diversification, it would make sense to invest more in events that make money for the state — ones like Rally Australia.
Victoria has created an economy through its investment in events which is underpinned by the Australian Open tennis and Formula One Grand Prix.
There is a huge amount of civic pride in these events and it has made Melbourne an attractive place people want to live in and visit.
Victoria currently has the strongest economy in the country, and Melbourne is consistently named the most liveable city in the world.
On the opposite side of the country, Mr McGowan has had a hand in the loss of two of WA’s most beloved sporting events in Rally Australia and the Hopman Cup, first as tourism minister and now as Premier, and there have not yet been adequate replacements.
It is extremely competitive when it comes to attracting events and Perth Stadium is not going to be state-of-the-art forever, as new venues around the country come online.
It would be wise to have annual, unique drawcards like a Rally Australia to help underpin sport and tourism in Western Australia.