Is Queensland Typical Of The Nation?

A while back, Queensland had a clear option for a greyhound new track – Logan to the south-west of Brisbane. Everybody agreed. Then it had none. Then it had a new one – in Deagon, a northern Brisbane suburb. Then it had none. But suddenly, none has turned into five. Mind boggling, isn’t it?

In an interview with Qld Magazine last week, Racing Queensland Chairman Kevin Dixon listed those five as Logan, a combined thoroughbred-greyhound complex at Bundamba (Ipswich), a “new Parklands facility” – whatever that means, Toowoomba, and a reconfigured Albion Park – what does reconfigured mean?.

So far, and leaving aside the cost of repairs to a battered Albion Park, the Logan and Deagon options each have racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in investigation and design costs, and driven city fathers and MPs to distraction, so far for no gain at all. The Ipswich re-arrangement is destined to soak up another million dollars for designs alone, the majority for the gallops part – always assuming it happens, of course.

Toowoomba was a great loss to the greyhound industry as it was one of the finest tracks in the country. Still, like its thoroughbred neighbour, it could not pay its way in the end and was scrapped. Why it is now on a list of possibles in unknown. Even if it became a goer, it would make little difference to the need for a track near the coast and the bigger population centres.

The harness people are desperate to retain Albion Park, despite its flooding problems and the code’s sagging finances. But they and the dogs own half each, so it’s still a stalemate. However, the inner city land is a dormant gold mine.

All will be sorted out, Dixon says, as soon as the separate boards for each code are in place in a few weeks’ time. Those boards, you will remember, will be chosen from nominations from industry groups, who are much the same folk who originally voted for Logan. Either way, they will be insiders and therefore another version of the same old groups that have led Queensland into its current mire (in all codes, not just greyhounds). No fresh blood will be needed, thanks.

This entire process continues Queensland’s bumbling, politicised approach to running racing. The band is playing (albeit badly) as the ship goes down. It makes a mockery of Racing Ministers’ oft-repeated claims that they are keen to see racing run by racing people while they – the politicians – remain at arm’s length. It has never happened before and never will unless and until governments turn racing codes into fully independent corporations subject to all the disciplines of the market and their shareholders.

Shareholders? Well, so far state administrations have demonstrated by their actions that the only people they are concerned about are “participants”, who are always defined as owners and trainers. The public, especially the punters, seldom get a look in, even though they fund the whole show. Queensland’s upcoming board structures, for example, will be totally staffed by those so-called participants, or their mates. To date, the new regime has given no indication they will be seriously addressing the challenge of increasing patronage and therefore income streams. Certainly the incoming greyhound board has no brief to do that under the Racing Minister’s list of “things to do”.

Remember here that Queensland starts off behind the eight ball because its TAB – Tatts – has only small and uncompetitive pools which therefore do little to attract keen punters. A national TAB pool would fix that but, again, those same Ministers have failed to address that challenge (and it is something only Ministers could do).

Which leaves us with future track funding in Queensland largely dependent on government handouts. Unfortunately, it has a poor record there (viz the still-unsighted $10 million promised after it shut down the Gold Coast club to make way for a hospital expansion). The state is desperately short of cash anyway – already, important programs have been sidelined and public servants made redundant. The upcoming Commonwealth Games have to be financed, too.

The Queensland saga is a lesson for all in how not to run a business, or even to consider racing as a business, which few do. More and more, the evidence shows it is quite impossible in this day and age for a group of mates with comparable but sometimes differing allegiances to sit around a table and manage a complex, fast-moving industry. Yet that is what we have at club level and more or less at state level. The disastrous NCA Gardens case in NSW is further evidence of systemic failure (it booked a $3 million loss last year and suffered some hefty ”misappropriations”).

The current subservience to four-legged poker machines is not even doing the TABs much good. The big profits are now going to overseas-owned betting corporations. The jam-packed TAB programs have destroyed much of the magic that once prevailed. Any old dog will do. Multiple SKY (and TVN) channels often confuse. Gamblers now have little idea what they are betting on, or where it is happening. National leadership is non-existent. It adds up to an industry badly in need of major reform.

Black Caviar and Miata will stretch only so far and no more. And, for greyhounds in particular, it’s a cultural problem that has to be fixed. Too many people don’t know greyhounds and don’t understand greyhound racing. That’s something that good businessmen would recognise very quickly. But where are they?

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