Labor MP Tim Mulherin.
Labor MP Tim Mulherin. Peter Holt

Mulherin: Racing approval sought to appease public criticism

IT was the desire to appease public criticism rather than the hope of scoring points in the impending state election that was the driving force behind the quick approval of $150 million in racing infrastructure contracts awarded in the final days of the Bligh Government.

Well, so said Tim Mulherin, the former Racing Minister and current deputy Opposition leader, when he faced the Queensland Racing Commission of Inquiry for some 60 awkward minutes on Monday.

Mr Mulherin said the public had grown increasingly restless about the fact that the work promised under the Racing Infrastructure Plan and approved in 2009 had yet to see fruition and both the government of the day and Racing Queensland was keen to make some headway.

But he denied the assertion that important decisions concerning the restructure of the plan made in the days preceding the Bligh government going into caretaker mode, was an attempt to snag votes at the polls on March 24, 2012.

"The urgency was created mostly because the Brisbane City Council had refused permission for the sale of the Albion track and building a greyhound and dog track at Deagon and the plan had to be revised," Mr Mulherin said.

"There were a number of courses that had health and safety issues surrounding the conditions of the track and grandstand, like Ooralea Racecourse in my home town of Mackay, and they couldn't operate without these capital works. These had to be completed."

Mr Mulherin added that since the money had already been approved, the government and Racing Queensland did not see an issue in redirecting funds originally earmarked for projects like Deagon into new plans at Logan, Ipswich and Beaudesert.

Mr Mulherin looked weary and shifted around in his seat when pressed about a media release announcing the $8.7m upgrade of the racetrack at Beaudesert before the business case had been determined.

He dismissed a letter from analysts who insisted a proper study into the business case could not be done in the two days they were given, saying that Treasury approved the money for the project on February 10, 2012, nine days before the start of the caretaker mode, because the government was determined to deliver on promises.

"The government was under pressure and there was the threat that the Magic Millions would be moved from the Gold Coast to Sydney but work couldn't be done at the Gold Coast before the track at Beaudesert was done," he said.

"We had given an undertaking that the Gold Coast track would be completed by the end of 2013 so time was of the essence. Our major purpose was to get projects underway because they would create jobs.

"I can say it had nothing to do about winning or holding seats. The government at the time did not hold seats in Beaudesert and Surfers Paradise and there was no chance of them winning those seats."

Mr Mulherin also denied the claim that the Bligh government knew their days were numbered and wanted to approve as many projects as possible saying that the infrastructure plan had always had the backing of the previous Opposition - now current state government - so there was nothing to be gained from that tack.



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