9 January 2023

'Gross negligence, selfish': police union slams Summernats security, calls for independent audit

| Lottie Twyford
Join the conversation
cruising circuit

This circuit was closed at 6 pm on Saturday after it became too dangerous to continue cruising in the venue. Photo: Summernats.

An out-for-blood police union has slammed the organisers of Summernats after “antisocial” behaviour led to the early closure of the track and dispersed spectators and drivers across the community.

The Australian Federal Police Association (AFPA) yesterday (9 January) issued a scathing critique of the decision to stop cruising within the venue, saying this put police and the community and risk as crowds dispersed around the Territory to gather elsewhere.

On Saturday (7 January), the cruising circuit at EPIC was shut at around 6 pm due to dangerous behaviour, including drivers refusing to listen to the directions of security staff and some spectators entering the track.

Some reports have surfaced of drivers deliberately bringing their vehicles into contact with each other, but these are unconfirmed.

READ ALSO Call for bushfire resourcing boost in face of climate change threat

ACT Policing said this led to increased poor behaviour as festival attendees – both spectators and drivers – stopped complying with directions from security staff.

Officers were called in to disperse the crowd and some privately contracted security guards left the venue, which police said resulted in an “understrength security presence”.

They also said the decision to close the circuit early led to crowds gathering in areas like Braddon, Fyshwick, Majura Park and Hume.

Police were also critical of Summernats organisers for a perceived lack of adequate crowd control.

“Events of this nature require an appropriate security response, and ACT Policing is disappointed that organisers were not able to maintain good order inside EPIC,” a spokesperson said.

But the union representing police officers – the AFPA – has gone further, accusing the Summernats organisers of “gross negligence” and placing the community and officers at significant risk.

READ ALSO Tired Commonwealth Park to be reimagined as bloomin’ events take toll on grounds

AFPA President Alex Caruana said poor security-related decisions needed to be addressed before planning future events, with a repeat of Summernats 35 being untenable.

“The organisers need to do much better when it comes to security and stop pushing their problems and poor management onto ACT Policing and the community,” Mr Caruana said.

“ACT Policing resources had to be pulled from other frontline activities to assist on the ground in managing people displaced by the actions of Summernats organisers.

“Our information is that many security guards walked off the job due to safety concerns. I stress that this isn’t the fault of the security guards, but rather the fault of the organisers for not properly resourcing the security arrangements of the event.”

READ ALSO Summernats 35 draws record crowds, entrants but marred by poor behaviour of a few

Mr Caruana urged the government to commit to an independent audit of the security arrangements behind Summernats 35 and seek reassurances and commitments from the organisers for future events that this won’t reoccur.

“Gross negligence has resulted in ACT Policing being left to clean up the mess of others,” he said.

“The organisers’ solution to de-escalate the situation and stop the event was to simply push the problem onto ACT Policing and the wider community.

“While managing the issues created by a number of Summernats participants and organisers, ACT Policing members also had to maintain their presence across the Territory doing the job they are paid to do. It’s only by dumb luck that a life-or-death incident didn’t occur during this time; police resources would have been significantly delayed due to the problems selfishly caused by Summernats participants and organisers.”

car cruise

Summernats kicked off with a cruise along Northbourne Avenue. Photo: James Coleman.

Summernats co-owner Andy Lopez told Region police had been in the control room when the decision was taken to suspend cruising, but it’s understood the decision to suspend cruising within the venue was ultimately made without consulting police.

Mr Lopez has stressed the vast majority of festival attendees were doing the right thing and he was concerned by the few who had attended solely to cause disruptions.

He said learnings about crowd control would inform next year’s festival plans.

The ACT Government was asked whether it would review the security arrangements for Summernats.

In a statement, a spokesperson said the antisocial behaviour reported on Saturday was disappointing.

“Safety and security arrangements for the event are reviewed with Summernats organisers every year.”

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

I love Summernats! There will always be those who misbehave even those airheads in cars with children unfortunately! I hope the driver faces the full weight of the law! With 130,000 spectators through the gates and 2500 entrant cars there were only 20 spectator and 84 car evictions. Not bad I think for such a big and highly charged event. The festival has improved significantly from past events. I am surprised alcohol is still being sold though despite its expense.

I used to work with someone a number of years ago who was a Summernat’s inspector examining cars at the gate. Amazing what he told me with some very humorous stories. This included some of the ingenious hiding places attendees used for drugs and booze with inspectors knowing them all! Not to mention the stripping and wet t-shirt events. Buses out the front afterwards to transport those attendees who felt the urge to those well patronised nightspots up the road jointly owned by some of the event’s then organisers! What a money spinner!!

The argument that it was “only a small minority” is meaningless. Duh! Whenever there has been problems in the past, it has always only been caused by a small minority. The majority have always been reasonably well behaved and there to enjoy the cars – but that doesn’t diminish the harm caused by that small minority. I used to live in the nearest street to the venue (Cooper Place) and I used to get people using my front yard as a toilet. I never thought everyone did that, but that was small consolation when I was cleaning up human excrement. My suggestion is to make the whole event dry – no alcohol under any circumstances. Celebrate the cars. You don’t need booze to do that.

Two things really need to happen at summernats. Firstly alcohol needs to be banned. Of course this is not really feasible so entrants and spectators should be issued drink vouchers 3 per person per day should be enough. After that you cannot puchase more alcohol. As it’s a licenced venue entry can be legally refused to those that would choose to leave the grounds and return with a skin full.

Secondly entrants need to sign a document stating that they understand and accept that any means will be employed to stop them from driving dangerously. These means will likely cause significant damage to their vehicle.

A fire extinguisher pointed at the air intake of their engine to shut down their burnout. A forklift to lift and carry their car out of the venue.

Having said that I was told that the residents of Braddon appartment blocks were egging cars at the fringe festival. This means that some of the bad behaviour was anti Summernats people if there was any truth to that story.

Capital Retro3:17 pm 10 Jan 23

If Braddon hipsters were the ones chucking the eggs they would have been Huevos cabreados (angry eggs).

Finagen_Freeman11:26 am 10 Jan 23

Burn out bogans affecting plenty suburbs in the lead up to, and aftermath of this income generator.

Pity those whose houses are next to the favoured playgrounds of the selfish.

I’m a fan of the drive-thru display of amazing cars, but happy to crush every car of muppets out trashing suburbs.

The Chairman4:15 pm 10 Jan 23

Summernats has been around for 35 years. I don’t buy the residential argument anymore. U know what u r getting when u buy there now.

Stephen Saunders9:16 am 10 Jan 23

By 7pm Saturday, they’d established a flaming burnout in our mild suburb, with delighted spectators drinking from deckchairs, abusing passers-by. Mr Barr, I’d rather pay higher rates than have the purported dollars of these “tourists”.

Yes Stephen, it is all about the money. A business event supported, by default, by the ACT Government. To Mr Lopez’s credit he recognises the risks and tries to mitigate them however there are still a few idiots getting out of control. Unfortunately some car events attract bogans who when in someone else’s backyard are let off the leash and everyone says, ‘didn’t see that coming’. The AFP are right, it is going to take a fatality like someone losing it and running a vehicle into a crowd while doing a burnout before anyone takes any action. Then watch the organiser and the Local Council run for cover.

The Chairman4:16 pm 10 Jan 23

Mr Barr will hit u with higher rates regardless of Summernats being here or not.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.