By Shane Scanlan
The City of Melbourne has abandoned its united approach to Chinese New Year, which critics say has undermined the potential to build a significant international event for Victoria.
The council in 2014 took action to co-ordinate marketing and branding of city-wide Chinese New Year activities. It facilitated the establishment of Chinese New Year United (CNYU), a not-for-profit company, to undertake the task.
In May 2016 a council report said: “A ‘whole of Melbourne’ approach is the preferred structural and funding model. The preferred City of Melbourne position in respect of potential future council funding of Chinese New Year is that such a request is considered through one application via the Triennial Sponsorship Program.”
On September 4, the council released its 2017-2020 events funding, which shows funding going to both:
Melbourne Chinese New Year Festival (Dai Loong); and
Chinese New Year Melbourne Festival (CNYU).
In the lead-up to last October’s council election Dai Loong was secretly funded $100,000 for the 2017 festival.
CBD News understands that councillors buckled under political pressure brought to bear by the Chinatown-based Dai Loong Association, run by Eng Lim.
Miss Lim was never comfortable with the united model proposed by the council. She refused to talk about the matter with CBD News, other to say she was pleased to have the endorsed support of the City of Melbourne.
Miss Lim wrote to the council in June 2016 asking for direct funding for the 2017 event. She said Dai Loong was resigning from CNYU and outlined a litany of allegations of impropriety against it.
CBD News understands that council management replied that this was not possible because the council had previously resolved that all funding would come via CNYU.
However, in the lead up to last year’s election, councillors back-flipped in a confidential council meeting and agreed to fund Dai Loong.
CBD News understands that Team Doyle number one election ticket councillor position holder, Cr Kevin Louey, was instrumental in this decision.
A Victoria University (VU) study found that this year’s CNYU festival generated up to $27.8 million for the Victorian economy.
The VU team found that an investment of $925,283 by CNYU generated an economic benefit of between $22.7 million and $27.8 million.
“This is a large economic impact well above the initial cost of investment,” the VU report says. “This impact also leads to the development of approximately 3800 to 4600 equivalent one-year jobs.”
In her final annual report as chair of CNYU, Jane Nathan, commented that the councillors’ back-flip in 2016 created “an enormous amount of extra work”.
Ms Nathan said: “The unfortunate reduction in overall support, based on a decision from the Melbourne councillors to undo the co-ordinated approach and leave Dai Loong to manage Chinatown as their president Eng Lim believed that only Chinatown should be the focus for CNY did create an enormous amount of extra work.”
The City of Melbourne refuses to reveal the extent of the new funding round, but CBD News understands it is $100,000 to each group.
CNYU board member John Forman said the actual levels of council funding was not the issue.
“It’s the message it sends potential sponsors that is the problem,” he said. “They can well be forgiven for being confused about who they are dealing with.”
He said, despite the set back, a new representative board was in place and he remained confident that Chinese New Year in Melbourne would grow into an international event.
Former councillor Ken Ong, a supporter of the united approach, told CBD News it was a shame the Chinese New Year festivities across Melbourne were likely to lose momentum because of the split.
He said this would fortify Sydney’s pre-eminent position in the eyes of the international community.