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Taxpayers could still be on the hook for secret grand prix fee despite cancellation

Australian Grand Prix Corporation chief executive Andrew Westacott said on Friday that the cancellation would result in a “different cost” for the state government compared to the typical $60 million outlay.

Ticket refunds will be covered by the Australian Grand Prix Corporation, however Sports Minister Martin Pakula said there would be negotiations with the global sports body Formula One Group about whether the fee was due under the contract.

Minister for Sport, Racing and Tourism Martin Pakula speaking outside Caulfield Racecourse, which was closed to the public.

Minister for Sport, Racing and Tourism Martin Pakula speaking outside Caulfield Racecourse, which was closed to the public.Credit:Paul Jeffers

“The relationship is very strong but there will nevertheless be delicate conversations, I don’t propose to conduct those conversations in the public domain,” Mr Pakula said.

“There is a licence fee that would normally be payable … there will be discussions between the Grand Prix Corporation and Formula One management about the nature of that fee, about whether it’s payable.”

He estimated the cost of the refunds would be in the millions of dollars.

Saturday was the first day for many Victorians wondering what to do with their weekend after the mass cancellations of sporting and cultural events due to public health fears.

Speaking outside Caulfield Racecourse, which held races on Saturday without crowds, Mr Pakula said the response to the virus was going to mean enormous changes to the way people lived their lives.

“But sometimes something else comes along that’s more important than that and that’s the situation with COVID-19,” he said.

Mr Pakula declined to put a dollar figure on the cost to the economy as a result of the crisis, saying it was unknown how long the response to the pandemic would take.

“This is going to be enormous. I don’t think anyone who tells you otherwise is being fully frank,” he said.

“Its effects will last for a long time.”

A ban on mass gatherings of more than 500 people will come into effect on Monday to prevent further spread of the virus.

Mr Pakula said he was anticipating more advice from health authorities on Sunday for what constitutes a “mass gathering” and whether it included schools, the court system or office workers.

When asked if the public service would be asked to work from home next week, he said: “Anything’s possible right now, I don’t believe that’s likely”.

“By the time this thing hits on Monday everyone is going to have to come to a conclusion about those things,” he said.

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