Is Bjelke-Petersen Still Around?

In a giant leap back into the past Queensland Racing Minister, Steve Dickson, has re-organised racing but simultaneously consigned it to the status quo at best, but more likely continuing decline.

“The changes we plan to introduce are overwhelming(ly) designed to put the 30,000 strong racing sector back in control, giving participants a real voice through the creation of three code specific boards for thoroughbred, greyhound and harness racing”, says the Minister in an “important message to industry participants”.

This inks in changes foreshadowed earlier in the year after the new Liberal Government ditched the composite structure headed by former supremo Bob Bentley and got rid of many of its members.

The one-plus-three board plan is headed by a Queensland All Codes Racing Industry Board (QACRIB), whose five members are yet to be established.

Below that, each code will have its own board of three – a chairman and two members – who will be picked only if they “can demonstrate that they have the support of one or more licensees, racing clubs, industry associations, or other relevant stakeholder groups”.

In other words, it will comprise insiders taken from the ranks of organisations which have generally failed to advance the industry over the last decade. Race quality and dog numbers have been falling for some years now. Not the slightest evidence is available to suggest either problem has been recognised, let alone fixed.

The code boards’ functions are equally waffly. Of their four main responsibilities, three involve recommending races dates, advising about racing rules and consulting with stakeholders. In other words, they have no executive authority. The fourth area, developing an infrastructure plan, means little if the board has no means of implementing it.

But it gets worse.

The QACRIB will be made up of the chairman from each of the three codes’ boards and “another two suitable qualified members who will be appointed using the same recruitment process as the code specific boards”. In other words, more insiders. But who will be “suitable”?

Effectively, this parallels one of the problems with the previous organisation in that greyhounds can easily be outvoted on matters of importance to the code.

Overall, except for Tasmania’s government-run setup, it puts forward a structure that is unparalleled amongst Australian racing organisations, all big sporting organisations and, indeed, most businesses – it has no independent representation.

Even so, the Minister will charge QACRIB with “satisfying national and international racing authority governance and regulatory requirements”. Yet it is precisely because of governance shortcomings that other states and other sports have been deserting the “ex-officio” membership system and moving as quickly as they can towards fully or partly independent boards (for example, Rugby Union is on the move as we speak). Only in that way can justice be seen to be done, although it is no guarantee of efficiency.

The further point is that such an organisation cuts out the general public, including punters, because they will have little means of finding their way into what are called “stakeholders”. Since they provide racing’s lifeblood, the Minister’s policy is fraught with danger.

If greyhound racing had a meaningful national authority it would immediately call for a spill and demand a review of these decisions. But it doesn’t so that will not happen. And that is precisely why all codes of racing are failing to make headway in modern society. Jobs for the boys has never worked before and it will not work now.

Unfortunately, it’s sometimes the way of politicians. This device ensures that any problems can be attributed to the industry members involved while the Minister stands back out of harm’s way.

There is a saver. Another decision by the Minister will give all bookmakers the right to work on or off course and on the internet. While that is a sensible and overdue move, it is also a political sop to the long disadvantaged local fielders. Nevertheless, it is time all states followed suit and removed the arbitrary restrictions placed on traditional bookies. It has always been unjustifiable that they should be forced to work with one hand tied behind their backs while state Treasurers pandered to local TABs.