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Report: Sydney games to cost taxpayers another $440 million
Posted: Thursday January 14, 1999 12:17 AM
SYDNEY (Reuters) -- An official auditor delivered a devastating report into the finances of the Sydney 2000 Olympics on Thursday, saying taxpayers had not been given a true picture of how much the Games would cost them.
The report said the total bill to New South Wales state from Sydney's big event would be $440 million more than the state government's own public estimates.
In a report to parliament, NSW Auditor-General Tony Harris also criticized "unnecessary secrecy" surrounding key contracts between the state government and Olympic bodies spelling out terms and conditions for Sydney's hosting of the Games.
"In other countries, such documents have been routinely made available to the public," Harris said of the secret government contracts.
Harris also questioned "optimistic" marketing revenue targets and said a small operating surplus promised to taxpayers -- if it was even achieved -- only reflected the fact that not all Olympic costs had been counted.
"Accordingly, the taxpayers of NSW do not have a complete picture of the costs for hosting the Games," Harris wrote.
The report will come as a major embarrassment for the centre-left Labor government ahead of a March election that could see a change of leadership for Sydney organizing committee SOCOG.
But NSW Olympics Minister Michael Knight, who is also the SOCOG president, quickly denied any cost blowout, saying Harris had simply decided to exclude estimated tax revenues the government would gain from staging the Games.
Unlike the 1996 Atlanta Games, which were entirely privately funded, New South Wales is underwriting capital and infrastructure projects as well as the actual Games budget.
"Significantly, nowhere in his report does Mr. Harris point to excessive spending or money wasted on preparations for the Olympic and Paralympic Games," Knight said in a statement.
"Mr. Harris doesn't suggest anything could be cheaper or that the government hasn't received value for money. There is not one allegation of waste or mismanagement."
But Harris said he did not accept the government's inclusion of indirect revenues when its own Olympic costs were limited to direct costs involved in meeting its Host City contract and did not include, for example, major infrastructure projects related to the Games.
Politically the most damaging part of Harris's report might be its one-page preface, in which the auditor-general attacks the government for its decision to keep secret various contracts signed with the Australian Olympic Committee and International Olympic Committee.
Harris said AOC President John Coates had already revealed some of the details of the contracts -- which Coates says are "commercially sensitive" documents.
"It is laudable to see a private body (the AOC) disclosing information in its possession relevant to government activities," Harris said.
"But it does suggest that the government could itself have decided that the public is entitled to see what it is doing in its dealing for the Games."
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