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MARCH 3, 1997

Idiocy in Melbourne

THE protesters who have spent the last 18 months trying - unsuccessfully - to disrupt the running of the Australian Grand Prix in Albert Park, Melbourne, struck again last Friday, spraying diesel oil along the entire length of the circuit's main straight as preparations for the race were entering their final phase. The local police said that the oil appears to have been poured from a car or a van in an act of deliberate sabotage.

Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett was outspoken in his condemnation of the attempted sabotage of the event, describing it as "criminal" and "unforgivable".

The race organizers said that the event will go ahead despite the sabotage but it remains to be seen how the oil will be removed from the track. A variety of different solvents are being tried but if this fails the diesel may have to be burned off, although this risks damaging the track surface.

The Save Albert Park protesters said that they were not responsible for the sabotage but there is little doubt that the condemnation and bad feeling which exists towards the protesters will be worse and the police will probably have to once again post officers to protect the demonstrators from irritated race fans in the course of the Grand Prix weekend, as happened last year.

The protesters - who are vocal but not numerous - have had a variety of different complaints ranging from the need to cut down trees to the fact that large sections of the park have to be closed off to the public while the track is being prepared. They have also been upset by the way in which their complaints have been brushed aside by Kennett's government, which was re-elected soon after last year's race.

The troublemakers overlook the fact that before the race moved to Melbourne the park was in a very shoddy state and that the government created a variety of new sporting and social facilities which help to balance the disruption caused by the necessary work to prepare the circuit. The protesters have also chosen to ignore the fact that the Grand Prix not only brings in millions of dollars to the city from the tens of thousands of visitors but also brings Melbourne to the attention of billions of people around the world who watch F1 on television and would otherwise never have heard of the city. There is no question that this higher profile benefits the city as well, although this is more difficult to quantify.