The ACT Government is moving to disband the Exhibition Park Corporation, bringing management of the venue back under control of the bureaucracy.
Exhibition Park has struggled financially, with a loss of $916,000 in the last 12 months. Its annual report refers to the blow from the loss of major events including the National Tally Room.
The move to disband the corporation comes as the Government eyes Exhibition Park and the racecourse for major development as part of its light rail project. But Treasurer Andrew Barr said the two were not related.
Mr Barr tried to disband the corporation five years ago but was blocked by the Greens, including Shane Rattenbury, who was concerned about loss of community input at the venue. Now a Minister in the Government, Mr Rattenbury will no longer stand in the way, convinced, he says, by the Government's arguments and the failure to involve the community in the intervening years.
Exhibition Park will be managed by the territory venues and events unit, which also manages Canberra Stadium, the Manuka Oval and Stromlo Forest Park.
Mr Barr said the move would allow sharing of expertise across the venues in areas like event planning, sales and marketing, security and insurance, and shared use of equipment. The governance and business obligations on the corporation were onerous given its size, he said. Exhibition Park also hosted not for-profit events, which was challenging given the commercial focus, and provided support in-kind to groups, which was at odds with its need to make a commercial return.
Asked about the 12 staff, he said no changes were planned.
It would be business as usual for Summernats, the Canberra Show, the National Folk Festival, the Capital Region Farmers' Market, Lifeline book fairs, the Craft and Quilt Show, dog shows and other events, Mr Barr said. The development of low-cost tourist accommodation would also continue. The abolition of the board would save about $35,000 a year.
Mr Rattenbury said it was "time to try something new".
"I'm willing to concede that the discussions we had over five years have been tried and it didn't play out that way," he said.
He dismissed any link with light rail.
"The governance structure's got very little to do with the future of land use at Exhibition Park," he said. "I don't think anybody denies that there will be some change in the precinct inevitably down the line. I don't think the governance structure of Exhibition Park really frankly matters a hoot as to how that plays out."
Exhibition Park's annual report reveals a liquidity ratio of 0.97:1. It comments that a ratio of less than 1:1 might indicate a need to call on the following year's income to meet short-term debts, but the corporation could continue to meet its short-term debts, it said. The Government had given it a $300,000 loan, with two years interest free.
The Exhibition Park Corporation was set up as the Canberra Showground Trust by the Commonwealth in 1976. It became a statutory corporation in 2005.
The Government has not outlined its longer-term plans for Exhibition Park in detail but the leaked rapid business case for the tram line, which will run straight past the entrance, set out a hefty vision.
It suggested as many as 2500 apartments in the Exhibition Park and racecourse precinct, which would include a "suburban business park", with hotels, private hospitals and indoor recreation facilities. It pointed to the Norwest business park in Sydney as an example.