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REVEALED: SA Govt's secret dealings with Formula E

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EXCLUSIVE | The State Government is in secret, ongoing discussions about bringing a major electric vehicle race to Adelaide, InDaily can reveal.

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That’s despite the Government last year axing Adelaide’s Superloop Adelaide 500 supercars event and Premier Steven Marshall earlier this year declaring: “The future of a streetcar racing funded by the taxpayers of South Australia in this COVID environment is completely unviable.”

But Hitaf Rasheed – who heads the events arm of the SA Tourism Commission, Events South Australia – has declared a Formula E or similar race is “still an ongoing consideration” for the government, revealing she has been in frequent negotiations with organisers in recent months.

Rasheed appeared before a SACAT (SA Civil and Administrative Tribunal) hearing late last month as Events SA sought to block the release of documents relating to the state’s bid.

The details had been requested under Freedom of Information by independent SA Senator Rex Patrick and initially refused in full – with the senator appealing the decision to the tribunal.

Under cross-examination by Patrick, Rasheed revealed: “We have been talking to Formula E for a lengthy period of time about investigating the possibility of Formula E coming to Adelaide.”

She said it was “a significant event, that would be ongoing if we were to enter into this type of agreement”.

“Discussions are ongoing – it’s very much an open case,” she said.

That’s despite the Government telling InDaily in March: “Together with the City of Adelaide, the SATC has investigated the feasibility of bringing Formula E to Adelaide [and] it has been determined it is not financially viable to bring the event to Adelaide at present.”

At the time, Marshall revealed that the Government and Adelaide City Council had invested in preparing a business case for Formula E, but declared Adelaide’s streetcar circuit was “very unlikely” to be revived in any form.

“I haven’t seen the business case but I think it’s going to fall into a pretty similar category to what we’re talking about [with the supercars], because… the very high infrastructure costs associated with establishing a street circuit and the very significantly diminished number of people that can attend make these types of events very difficult at this time,” he said in March.

But details of the business case remained confidential.

I can’t assure you SA will bring Formula E to Adelaide, but I can assure you the opportunity still exists

Asked about the Premier’s comments in the SACAT hearing, Rasheed said: “Without seeing the context of that… I suspect that was [talking] about the Adelaide 500.”

“I think those big infrastructure builds present great challenges, both from a time and cost perspective, and in a COVID environment the ability to deliver an event like that was not possible at all,” she said.

“But that’s not to say the ability to deliver a different type of event that might not have that type of build associated with it isn’t possible [and] that doesn’t discount something like Formula E happening in the future.”

She insisted: “We’re still looking at the opportunity – at various opportunities – and this is one of them.”

Asked how many times Events SA had spoken to Formula E organisers this year, she replied: “I couldn’t put a number on it.”

“It’s been way more than a single-digit number,” she said.

“We’ve continued to explore the opportunity and that’s been numerous, numerous conversations… I can’t assure you SA will bring Formula E to Adelaide, but I can assure you the opportunity still exists in SA – it’s not closed off.”

She also revealed that could involve a rival event to the existing Formula E competition – but was coy about the details.

However, she conceded other options had “knocked on the door of SATC… to run an E-car event”.

“If you look, there are a range of electric vehicle races out there [and] there are other people developing electric vehicle races,” she said.

“I think if you look there are people that are looking to evolve their series into E-vehicle races… there are sports that might not run electric vehicles now [but] that may in future have such vehicle races, that have spoken to us.”

But she declined to elaborate, saying: “I don’t know if they’ve gone public that that’s where they’re taking their racing or not.”

“I’m just saying that without checking whether they’re on record as saying they’re going to move into the e-car space, I’m not saying any more.”

Opposing the FOI request, Rasheed insisted the “events industry is a really competitive environment” and confidentiality was “important… in order to have a proper look at this type of event”.

“For us to be able to fully evaluate an opportunity like this, they need to share significant information,” she said.

“In terms of our dealing with Formula E over that time period… it’s always been my understanding we’ve been operating under a non-disclosure agreement signed in 2015 and renewed in November 2020.”

“Despite the fact I totally agree with the right of the public to be informed… we’re just protecting the information that came from Formula E and others,” she said.

She said consent to reveal redacted documents was sought from Formula E and “their response was they provided this information to us on a confidential basis [and]  that’s their expectation”.

Patrick told InDaily: “All I want is transparency around what would otherwise be a very important event for SA – that’s my motive.”

Gordon Murray, the British designer of Formula One race cars and father of the McLaren F1, this year declared it was pivoting towards electric models.

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