Ron Walker will forever be associated with two major blights on the Melbourne landscape: the Formula 1 Grand Prix and Crown Casino. Walker made a fortune out of each, and his mates at the big end of town continue to do so. Disgracefully, Victorian taxpayers, who largely foot the bill for the GP, will also pick up the tab for a state funeral, courtesy of Labor premier Dan Andrews.
By any definition, Walker was a ruling class scumbag. The billionaire businessman was described by Malcolm Turnbull as a “ferociously committed Liberal”, while Fairfax chairman Nick Fallon lauded his “great contribution to corporate Australia”.
Walker started his first business while still a student at Caulfield Grammar. By 1969, his growing business interests and Liberal Party connections got him elected to the business-dominated Melbourne City Council, serving as lord mayor from 1974 to 1976.
From 1987 to 2002, he was the Libs’ national treasurer. You don’t get that gig without a talent for corporate schmoozing and organising favours in exchange for hefty donations.
Walker was a great mate of Jeff Kennett, whose government privatised electricity and gas utilities and other services, closed 350 public schools, eliminating 7,000 teaching jobs, and sacked more than 50,000 public servants and 16,000 public transport workers.
Walker’s friendship with Kennett was very profitable. Together, they secured the rights to stage the Grand Prix in Albert Park, riding roughshod over local opposition. It helped that Walker was a close friend of then F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone. Walker was a key player in various corporate deals for stakes in F1, on one occasion reaping a “success fee” of around $100 million.
Walker claimed the GP would “put Melbourne on the map” and generate huge financial benefits for the state, and Kennett promised that taxpayers would not be out of pocket.
But in 2016, it was estimated that operating losses and capital costs since 1996 have cost taxpayers more than $695 million, and when government subsidies and debt servicing costs are included, the real cost is over $1 billion.
To benefit a few parasites like Walker, the park and its facilities are unavailable for up to four months of the year, while local residents have to put up with intolerable noise and street closures. (Walker bitterly opposed new engine rules that slightly reduced the noise of the cars.)
Local businesses’ initial enthusiasm for the race has faded as they watch GP patrons whiz by on free trams that oh so conveniently stop outside Crown Casino en route to the city.
The casino – a cash cow now owned by James Packer and under investigation for a range of dubious practices – was developed and operated by Walker and business partner Lloyd Williams. Walker “earned” about $86 million from the sale of his shares in 2000.
On Walker’s death, Williams ludicrously opined that the residents of Albert Park had “probably forgiven him by now”, and suggested that a fountain in the park would be a fitting memorial. Maybe not such a bad idea: Albert Park could probably use an extra public toilet.