Authorities Under Fire Everywhere

It never rains but it pours. While the NSW inquiry continues, the Queensland Racing Commission of Inquiry, run by the Hon Margaret White and a team of lawyers, has come down like a tonne of bricks on the actions of the previous Racing Queensland board and management in bypassing proper tender procedures and providing golden handshakes to staff.

Eight board members and staff, including former chairman Bob Bentley, have been referred to the Australian Securities Investment Commission for examination of their conduct, which was “not in accordance with good governance principles”, according to the Inquiry. Bentley has issued a media release objecting to the findings, claiming that more people should have been called and that “many of the wild accusations have now been shown to be without substance.” (The report ran to 496 pages).

Separately, the Inquiry has tip-toed through the tulips in its recommendations to the government about the way Racing Queensland is structured.

Reading between the lines, the Inquiry is critical of the very structure of the new Racing Queensland makeup. It wants the chairman of RQ to be independent of the three codes (current chairman Dixon comes from the Brisbane Racing Club) and doubts the value in having the Integrity Commissioner as part of that organisation. It prefers more independence.

The last point would attract applause from David Landa, since resigned from a comparable position at GRNSW, citing (at the parliamentary hearing) a lack of resources and an inability to delve into controversial matters without the agreement of the CEO.

The Inquiry also noted that Queensland racing “is unlikely to be self-sustaining” and called on government to “initiate a consultative review … to identify a sustainable financial model to support the three codes of racing.” Note that it assigned this job to government rather than to Racing Queensland, whose role it should be to do just that.

While that may seem quite a logical measure to take, the inquiry treads lightly in respect to the ingredients of that financial model – ie the reasons why the three codes are failing to offer a quality and quantity of racing which is sufficient to attract more patronage. Perhaps the recently announced call for “innovative” tenders for the TAB rights in Queensland will throw more light on that.

To digress for a moment, it is noteworthy that the Queensland Inquiry and, so far, the NSW parliamentary inquiry have both bypassed a fundamental aspect of racing, or of any other industry, for that matter. They have ignored the customers. They have no representation and no supporting insiders who might speak up for them. Effectively, the industry is treated as a closed shop – insiders only.

More than that, there is no evidence, here or elsewhere, that greyhound racing authorities have taken the trouble to investigate or conduct research into the nature of its customers and how that might have changed over the years. Nor do we know how the general public regard the racing industry. If there has been any inside work done on this subject it has certainly not been made available to the rest of the industry or to the public to which the industry is responsible through the Minister of the day.

Alternatively, if such investigations have been conducted the public are entitled to know why it has been kept a secret.

The concept of running a multi-million dollar business without knowing who your customers are is a terrible reflection on the abilities of authorities to do their job. This is a failing equal in importance to the action 16 years ago by the old NSW GRA to leave what it called “commercial” decision-making to a couple of raceclubs (as reported yesterday, see Sad and Sadder).

We are now looking at a situation where over the course of a year or so, serious shortcomings have emerged in the operation of Queensland and Victorian authorities, possibly soon to be followed by NSW, while there has also been an unexplained ruckus in the board of Greyhounds WA, and Tasmanian parliamentarians are regularly asking questions about the losses being sustained by its (government-owned) racing administration.

In three of those cases the problems have had to be dealt with formally by state parliaments, or their appointed Inquiries. Victoria has since put a broom through the place but there can be no guarantee that will solve the long term problem. Nor in NSW, where a fresh batch of board members appear to be continuing in the same old fashion (that board has no fully independent members as all have past involvements with racing organisations).

It indicates that there is a systemic fault in the way racing is governed. And it may well continue in Queensland where the individual codes are now being governed by insiders who were put forward by other insiders on instructions from the Minister. Queensland has had variations on that theme for decades now, all the while losing ground consistently.

The facts are increasingly clear but it appears no-one want to acknowledge them. It’s not the people, mate, it’s the system!

(We hope to have more information on the NSW inquiry once hearing transcripts from last Thursday are available)

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