State leaves grand prix driver’s seat empty
11th September 2023

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Key points

  • Paul Little leaves his role as chairman of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation on Saturday.
  • The corporation board was last week asked by the state government to nominate one of its remaining directors to serve as a stop-gap chairman.
  • Former tourism, sport and major events minister Martin Pakula is the front-running candidate to take the role on a permanent basis.

The public board responsible for promoting the Formula 1 grand prix and next month’s Moto GP at Phillip Island is facing an exodus of directors following the Victorian government’s decision not to renew the term of outgoing chairman Paul Little.

There has been no government announcement on who will replace Little, the chairman who along with former chief executive Andrew Westacott helped re-establish the two international motorsport weekends on Melbourne’s major events calendar after the disruptions of the COVID years.

In with the new? Former Australian Grand Prix chief executive Andrew Westacott, Martin Pakula and outgoing grand prix chair Paul Little.Credit: Simon Schluter

Little, a self-made logistics, aviation and property billionaire and philanthropist, formally leaves the organisation on Saturday after four years in the role, without any word on his permanent replacement.

The Australian Grand Prix Corporation board was last week asked by the state government to nominate one of its remaining directors to serve as a stop-gap chairman for at least a month and potentially longer.

Former state tourism, sport and major events minister Martin Pakula is the front-running candidate to step into the role on a permanent basis.

Sports Minister Stephen Dimopoulos declined to answer questions from this masthead about the progress the government had made in selecting a permanent replacement for Little, whether Pakula was a candidate and whether the government was considering making the Australian Grand Prix Corporation chair a paid position, in line with a recent public commitment to create more paid directorships on public boards.

The previous chairmen, Rob Walker, John Harnden and Little, all served on a voluntary basis.

A government spokesperson said: “Any appointments to the Australian Grand Prix board will be made in the usual way.”

Pakula, a former attorney-general and senior minister in the Andrews government, who retired from parliament at last year’s election, declined to comment.

Kate Lundy, a former sports minister in Julia Gillard’s federal government and an Australian Grand Prix Corporation director since 2017, resigned from the board last month, privately expressing as one of her reasons the state government’s decision to end the tenure of Little.

Lundy did not confirm this when contacted on Sunday. “After several terms, I chose to resign from AGPC a month ago to pursue other opportunities,” she said. “I am pleased this will also facilitate the government’s ability to refresh the board in an era of exciting growth for both events.”

Former Matildas player Tal Karp has told her fellow directors she will not seek reappointment when her term ends in a month. Her decision is understood to be unrelated to Little’s departure.

The exit of three directors means a third of the board that oversaw this year’s Formula 1 grand prix – which had a world record attendance of 440,000 people over four days of racing – will have left the organisation by the time the stars of the international motorcycle circuit arrive at Phillip Island.

The Phillip Island race weekend will be the first event managed by Travis Auld, a long-serving AFL administrator who took over from Westacott at the start of this financial year.

This year’s Formula 1 grand prix attracted a record crowd.Credit: AP

This masthead has previously revealed that this year’s Formula 1 grand prix, despite its bumper crowds and a surge in revenue, will cost taxpayers a record $100 million. The inflated bill is due to rising construction costs and revised contract terms agreed to by Premier Daniel Andrews, in the face of a determined bid from the NSW government, to secure the long-term rights to the race.

The appointment of another former government minister to chair a public board would probably prompt a “jobs for the boys” political backlash after the recent appointments of former deputy premier James Merlino as chair of the Suburban Rail Loop Authority and former health minister Martin Foley as chair of the Melbourne Arts Precinct Corporation.

The state opposition has written to the Victorian Ombudsman seeking an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the appointment of former Labor MPs to public boards.

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