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Govt leaves Croquet Club owners crying in their beer

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The Weatherill Government spent more than half a million dollars sponsoring the Royal Croquet Club’s disastrous Chinese beer festival venture, but says “it was completely their idea” – and now it is demanding its money back.

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Last week, the Adelaide organisers of the Royal Croquet Club announced several of their companies had been forced into voluntary administration after losing $1.1 million on a festival event in China.

They say Chinese authorities had promised 50,000 patrons each day for the Royale Adelaide Club at the Qingdao International Beer Festival. The company budgeted for 7000 visitors a day; only 700 showed up.

The event was promoted by the State Government as one of five key outcomes of its trade mission to China.

The delegation was led by Premier Jay Weatherill and attended by Adelaide Lord Mayor Martin Haese, and city councillor David Slama.

Responding to questions from Liberal MP John Gardner in Question Time yesterday, Trade Minister Martin Hamilton-Smith said the Government had sponsored the Royale Adelaide Club to the tune of $600,000.

However he and Weatherill and moved to distance the Government from the venture.

“Let’s just be clear about this: this was a proposal by the Royal Croquet Club,” said Hamilton-Smith.

“It was their venture from the outset. They came to the council and to government seeking support.

“It was completely their idea.”

Hamilton-Smith said the The Social Creative, which runs the Royal Croquet Club, “owes” the Government its $600,000 investment back.

He said: “The Government gave the project $600,000 for a two-year commitment – the project has failed.

“The project owes us $600,000.”

A rendering of the entrance to the Royal Adelaide Club at the Qingdao International Beer Festival, boasting the State Brand. Image: supplied

Weatherill told Parliament the venture was undertaken “largely at the behest” of the Adelaide City Council.

“I understand that the Royal Croquet Club, or the Royal Adelaide Club … has made, largely at the behest, I think, of the Adelaide City Council, a decision to engage in a project as part of the 30th year celebrations of the sister state relationship between South Australia and Shandong province.

“As part of that, there was a Qingdao beer festival, which they decided that they were going to participate in.”

“At their urging, they also requested to the South Australian Government to provide some support for the Royale Adelaide Club, and I think we did provide some support.”

Weatherill’s account matches that of The Social Creative co-director Tom Skipper, who told InDaily last week: “We were asked to get involved by the Adelaide City Council which wanted to celebrate the 30-year relationship with Shandong Province as well as the 15-year ‘Sister City’ anniversary between Adelaide and Qingdao.”

However, Gardner said the Government had to take responsibility for the public money it spent on the venture.

“It’s very unclear that the State Government did any due diligence before [spending] $600,000 of taxpayers’ money on this venture,” he said.

He added that in March last year, before the trade mission, the Government was keen to talk up its involvement in the Royale Adelaide Club.

“The Government wanted to be all over the venture,” he said.

“Jay Weatherill talked about it at news conferences.

“At the end of the day the Government makes decisions about spending taxpayers’ money.”

Asked for further comment today, Skipper said: “To be honest, we are looking forward rather than back, but the record clearly shows that the Social Creative was invited to participate, to help promote South Australia.”

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