Signs of life for Newcastle 500

Signs of life for Newcastle 500
Signs of life for Newcastle 500
The 2023 Newcastle 500. Image: Supplied

Instead, indications are that potential Liberal Party lord mayoral candidates for Newcastle City Council could make the return of the Supercars event part of their policy platform when voting takes place in September.

The revelation comes in reports from a so-called ‘lord mayoral debate night’ held last week.

According to the Newcastle Herald, all four participants are said to have “expressed support” for the return of the Supercars event to Newcastle East.

Party rules in fact forbid the potential candidates from discussing whether they will run for lord mayor or the council, although the four individuals in question are all the subject of speculation that they would nominate for pre-selection as the Liberals’ lord mayor candidate.

Callum Pull, one of those four participants in the debate, was the only councillor to vote against the motion to, in his words, “permanently kill off” the Newcastle 500 by rebuilding fixed roundabouts and raised pedestrian crossings on the circuit route in council’s November 2023 meeting.

He was the lone voice against 11 councillors who voted to comfortably carry the motion, including fellow Liberal Jenny Barrie.

She was named in the aforementioned Newcastle Herald report as one of the four participants in last week’s debate and, if her stance on the Newcastle 500 was reportedly accurately, then she has changed her position on the event.

Cr Barrie stated in the November 2023 council meeting that businesses in and around the circuit “will be cheering in the streets,” and residents who “suffer[ed]” due to road closures and obstructions created by barriers would also be strongly in favour of the event’s axing.

She also expressed support for the ‘Wine Country 500′ concept which was floated by neighbouring Cessnock City Council and has been the subject of talks with Destination NSW (DNSW) and Supercars.

Pre-selection nominations for the Liberal tickets closed on Monday and there is yet to be an update.

Despite the prospect of such support for the Newcastle 500, there are still significant hurdles which would have to be cleared in order for the event to be brought back.

The first and thus far only contract for the event was a tri-party agreement between Supercars, the state government through DNSW, and Supercars.

The latter two entities would presumably be supportive, considering Premier Chris Minns slammed the “nonsensical” opposition to an interim, one-year deal to hold the event in 2024, a day before Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes announced its cancellation on local radio.

The 2023 Newcastle 500. Image: Supplied
The 2023 Newcastle 500. Image: Supplied

According to Premier Minns during that October press conference, the Labor-governed state was already in talks with Supercars about a new five-year deal, following the single-year agreement which was on the table at the time amid a budget ‘black hole’.

Ironically, all seven of Newcastle’s Labor councillors, including Mayor Nelmes, had turned on the event.

That made for a majority of the city’s 13 councillors who were hostile to the event, even before accounting for the two Greens and Independent John Church, who represents Ward 1 and thus the suburb of Newcastle East, under Newcastle’s four-ward system.

The latter is yet to confirm if he will run again or not but, in any case, the revival of the Newcastle 500 relies on some combination of a major shift in the composition of council and/or another change of heart by Labor councillors.

Previously, when Newcastle City Council decided in 2016 to sign a five-year agreement, only the two Greens councillors voted against the deal.

Mayor Nelmes expressed positive sentiments for the Newcastle 500 in and around last year’s season-opener in New South Wales’ second-largest city and a new contract was considered more likely than not until the results of community consultation about the event were announced last August.

While that pair of surveys relied on questionable methods which had apparently been gamed by an anti-Supercars lobby, it made for damaging headlines and gave momentum to the push to axe the event.

Ironically, with the consultation predicated on a hypothetical new five-year contract, it was the interim one-year deal which came to be raised as a sticking point by council, rather than the results of the consultation.

Even then, Mayor Nelmes declared the Newcastle 500 “very successful” for the city last September, but it became politically risky given the constituency of Ward 1, which is presently represented by Cr Church, Labor member and Deputy Mayor Declan Clausen, and Green Dr John Mackenzie.

READ MORE: The bizarre local politics holding up the Supercars calendar

NSW local government election day is September 14, meaning it would be highly unlikely that the Newcastle 500 would return in 2025, even in a best-case scenario.

Roadworks to rebuild the permanent roundabouts and raised crossings on the circuit route, and to remove the short, purpose-built section which feeds into the Turn 11 hairpin (a requirement of heritage approval) are yet to occur.


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