The row over the future of the Australian Grand Prix has escalated to encompass other social issues following the spate of natural disasters to have hit the state of Victoria

With F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone and the state government apparently engaging in a game of bluff following Melbourne mayor Robert Doyle's comments that cost of staging the Albert Park race was spiralling so rapidly that it no longer offered value for money, other venues - both in and out of Australia - have been mooted as replacements for the popular event, but the story took a fresh twist over the weekend after an opposition MP suggested that taxpayers' money set aside for the grand prix be switched to aid those hit by floods and Cyclone Yasi in recent weeks.

Doyle said that the event, which initially cost taxpayers $1.7m in 1996, was now approaching $50m and would only continue to rise before the end of its current contract in 2015, prompting federal Labor MP Kelvin Thomson to write to state premier Ted Baillieu asking him to consider other ways to spend the money when the contract expires. The government can terminate the GP contract at any time, but race supporters insist that the event continues to provide the state of Victoria with its best means of international promotion.

"This money could be better spent on other ventures," Thomson's letter was quoted by Sydney's Herald Sun newspaper, "I am writing to request that the Victorian government give consideration to ceasing to financially subsidise the grand prix and to re-allocating the money saved towards building and promoting tourism in northern Victoria."

Thomson said flood-affected towns such as Rochester, Echuca and Kerang and national parks such as Lower Goulburn, Barmah and Gunbower offered alternative tourism potential to the grand prix, although he acknowledged that the government needed to honour its existing contracts. The previous Labor administration inked the current deal with Ecclestone for Melbourne to stage its grand prix through to 2015.

"No doubt the grand prix provides tourism benefits for Melbourne, but perhaps the floods - and indeed the terrible bushfires of 2009 - mean that more of our tourism investments ought to go beyond what is, after all, a rapidly growing and prosperous capital city," he wrote, "The damage caused by the floods [is] extensive and likely to be long-lasting, so that money which becomes available to promote tourism in northern Victoria and build tourism infrastructure, would nevertheless be very useful indeed."



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