On Saturday morning I had occasion to drive past the Canberra showgrounds, now known by the acronym of EPIC, where the annual rev-head festival, Summernats, was in full swing. A bunch of about eight teenagers, boys and girls, aged maybe 16, slouched outside the entrance on the highway, sucking from cans of mixed spirits, smoking and gesturing to passing cars. Probably not the sort of image of the national capital that the ACT government wants on the main road into and out of town. What has the Act government got to do with it? They provide the organisers with $300,000 a year for a festival which attracts car enthusiasts from all over Australia.
Against the objections of large sections of the ACT community, the government claims that the four-day expo of customised cars, street machines, wet t-shirt competitions and alcohol promotions is great for the local economy. Well, yes, the trade at the local Woolies bottleshop over that weekend gives the Dickson Woolworths the highest turnover of any Woolies store in Australia for four days. Likewise, the neighbouring Dickson McDonalds reports increased turnover. Not confined to the showgrounds and immediate surrounds, the event also raises revenue for the police as they haul in would-be street racers, drivers of illegal customised cars, drunk drivers and issue tickets for all measure of other traffic offences.
So what does the government really get for its investment? Summernats is a business, not a non-government organisation or volunteer association. By handing it money, the government is providing a sizable subsidy to a private, profit-making enterprise. In the ACT government’s 2010-2011 budget, $100,000 was allocated to the Carers’ Advocacy Service, $98,000 to the Canberra Environment Centre, and $120,000 to the ACT Conservation Council. These three funding recipients are not businesses, they do not inject massive amounts of ready cash into the local economy. They operate with mostly part-time staff and volunteers and do their own fundraising. These are are non-profit organisations with long histories of working with and supporting the local community – work that the government is not resourced to do and therefore, work that would simply not happen if the organisations ceased to exist. For roughly the same amount as they hand to a private business to run a four-day event that attracts, as well as serious car enthusiasts, a lot of trouble, the government receives ongoing work supporting parts of the community that would otherwise go unnoticed.
Everyone deserves the opportunity to share their hobbies, and the people who pour countless hours and every cent they earn into lovingly restoring and customising cars need their annual show-and-tell forum just as much as people who breed angora goats or design and make quilts or make musical instruments. To each their own. But I have yet to see a gathering of angora breeders or luthiers attracting the sort of controversy that the Summernats mob seem to generate. Quilters’ gatherings (is there a collective noun for quilters? A stitch of quilters, perhaps?) are seldom, to my knowledge, marred by the sort of alcohol-fuelled violence that is par for the course at Summernats where brawls are expected – almost encouraged, sexual harassment typical and sexual assault common (Canberra Times first-hand report here). For this the ACT government provides funding.
The ACT 2010-11 budget also announced $100,000 for a Prevention of Violence Against Women initiative in the Dept of Justice and Community Safety. This is where the hypocrisy of the government really shines out. Three times as much money for a festival where violence against women is part of the ingrained culture as for a program to prevent violence against women. This is government with some seriously misguided priorities.
The ACT government needs to realise that contributing to the local economy is not just money going through the local bottleshop. It is about strong and sustained work within the community that saves the government money in the longterm by giving people the skills to contribute themselves. This work is being done by (among many others) the Conservation Council, the Environment Centre and the Carers’ Advocacy Service.
The government needs to realise also that by providing money to a private event that tacitly condones violence against women, any ‘initiatives’ they might take to prevent such violence are simply hypocritical – and this is before you take into consideration the ludicrous disparity in funding.
The government needs to cease propping up this outdated, socially and environmentally unsustainable event and take active steps to stamp out the behaviour for which it has become infamous.