21/09/2015 - 05:57

Motorsports at crossroads

21/09/2015 - 05:57

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Motorsport in WA faces a pivotal moment next month when the WA Sporting Car Club holds an extraordinary general meeting.

Motorsports at crossroads
DETERMINED: Chris Wilson is pushing for major changes to the structure of WA motorsport. Photo: Grant Currall

Motorsport in WA faces a pivotal moment next month when the WA Sporting Car Club holds an extraordinary general meeting.

When the members of the WA Sporting Car Club come together next month, they will vote on one of the biggest changes the sport has seen since they moved to Barbagallo Raceway in 1969.

They will be asked whether they want to hand control of the club’s facilities to a new, not-for-profit peak body, Motor Sport WA, that wants to oversee a multi-million dollar expansion project.

The push for change is being led by WASCC president Chris Wilson, who believes the new body is needed for the good of the sport and in order to win government backing.

However, Mr Wilson’s agenda and tactics have caused considerable disquiet among WASCC members, who question the way in which he won the presidency two years ago and his actions since then.

At stake is the management of Barbagallo Raceway, which has been run by passionate WASCC members since it was established.

Perhaps more significant is the planned development of 64 hectares of land adjoining the raceway, at Neerabup, north of Perth.

Motor Sport WA plans to oversee the development of new racing circuits and associated facilities for multiple clubs, including motorcycle, kart and drift clubs.

“In due course it will become a major force in WA motorsports as it will represent thousands of users across the membership base,” Mr Wilson told Business News.

Peter Bowra, who serves on the WASCC committee alongside Mr Wilson, believes club members will reject the proposed changes, saying better consultation was needed.

“We always knew we would have to change our structure,” Mr Bowra said.

“We need to run it as a business, no doubt about it.

“The problem is that it was all done by stealth.”

The issue will come to a head at the WASCC’s extraordinary general meeting on October 6.

There is just one motion – that WASCC members support an operating agreement that will allow Motor Sport WA to operate the club’s facilities at Barbagallo Raceway, in accord with objectives and budgets set by the club.

Mr Wilson, who was a co-founder of UK telco business Alternative Networks before moving to Perth in 2005, said the WASCC had failed over many years to modernise its constitution, operation and governance.

He believes this has cast a cloud over the renewal of the WASCC’s lease over Barbagallo Raceway, which is due to expire in 2022.

“The only solution that we have been able to propose was … one where WASCC contract with MSWA … to operate the existing facility and run all non-club business and affairs for and on behalf of the club,” Mr Wilson said.

“Contrary to some rumours, this is not a takeover or attempt to grab WASCC assets.”

Crucially, the proposed operating agreement is dependent on the Department of Parks and Wildlife granting Motor Sport WA a lease over the land adjoining Barbagallo Raceway.

The planned changes were mapped out in a member information pack sent to WASCC members last year.

Mr Wilson believes he has done everything possible to inform members of his plans, and cites member polls showing majority support.

Despite this, Business News has spoken to many WASCC members who remain unconvinced.

A string of controversial issues over the past two years has left these members wary. The controversies included the production of two sets of minutes for the 2013 AGM, which was when Mr Wilson and a bloc of supporters won control of the club.

The revised minutes, which were produced nearly a year later, meant club members who wanted to stand for election at the 2014 AGM were unable to do so.

There has also been concern over financial and accounting standards, with the committee proposing a $13.3 million write-down of the club’s assets.

With Motor Sport WA looking to take over the running of Barbagallo Raceway, this rang alarm bells for club members.

Long-serving club member Tim Riley speaks for many club members who remain wary about the proposed changes, despite all of the strategy papers and other information shared by the committee.

“I’d like to see someone brought in for an independent review to reassure the members,” Mr Riley said.

Structure

Motor Sport WA was established in February, with three founding directors – Mr Wilson, Summers Legal partner Paul Summers, and Karen Richardson.

They are also members of the WASCC committee, which has caused some club members to ask if they are conflicted.

Mr Wilson rejects that, saying it’s a not-for-profit body and its directors have no pecuniary interest.

He adds that the current directors will shortly move on, as the new constitution for Motor Sport WA specifies it must have seven directors representing the wide range of motor sports in WA, along with an independent chair.

To that end, Mr Summers has already stepped down from the Motor Sport WA committee in favour of Les Thomas, who has been closely involved in motorcycle racing for many years.

Mr Wilson believes a state-based body such as Motor Sport WA is needed if the sector is to gain government backing for its expansion plans.

Department of Sport and Recreation director general Ron Alexander has expressed support, stating that the department fully supported the proposed structural changes.

The Department of Parks & Wildlife has also offered support, stating its preference to issue a lease to: “A state-based entity with the capability and structure to ensure long-term stability and professional management over the full term of the lease.”

Mr Wilson said the changes also had strong support from the City of Wanneroo, which leases Barbagallo Raceway to the WASCC.

Russell Sewell is one of several club members to dispute this, following discussions with the City of Wanneroo.

“They made it clear that they do not want to change the lease and see no need engage a third party (management concern) to run our facility,” he said in an email to Mr Wilson.

When Business News asked for clarification, the City of Wanneroo said it was unable to comment because lease negotiations were ongoing, indicating it wants to steer clear of the club dispute.

WASCC members are due to have their say next month.


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