It’s Time, Comrades

This cannot be allowed to go on forever.

A Commission of Inquiry into Queensland racing, just announced by the state’s attorney-general, represents the fourth such examination of racing in recent years. Running it will drag $3 million out of the state coffers, money which otherwise would be better spent fixing racetracks and promoting new business, or paying out some of the $10 million promised to greyhounds following the resumption of the Gold Coast track. It follows an unfavourable report by auditors into the alleged failure of the previous administration to put numerous construction jobs out to tender, and to excessive payouts to former employees, two of whom then went to work for the contractor in question. The process used to select a preferred broadcaster has also been strongly criticised for lack of transparency.

Queensland has also wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants drawing up plans for two new greyhound tracks at Logan and Deagon, neither of which have gained approval. Another million is mooted for plans for a new dual complex at Ipswich.

But take a look at the other states.

Last year the Victorian parliament delved into misconduct by greyhound officials betting on their own races – something which followed similar problems amongst staff in at least one raceclub. Racing Victoria and its consultants also opposed, with little justification, the RNSW move to charge betting operators fees based on turnover, a policy since endorsed by the High Court. RV has had to pull its head in, and is now counting the extra cash.

racing people, like RV before it, set up its own inquiry and also adopted the same Productivity Commission-based errors which favoured the share of gross profit option for racefield fees. All the above folk had ample and detailed warning about their faulty reasoning, including from this writer.

Before that had a barrister look into how racing organisations were structured. That almost guaranteed an examination of the fine points of the law rather than the underlying purpose and performance of racing boards. Admittedly, that was a periodic requirement under legislation but it also followed a revamp of organisational structures, re-combining two greyhound boards, and was succeeded by an overdue change of tack in selecting board members with no direct affiliation with raceclubs (although all current members have previous experience with local racing organisations).

At the NSW gallops, the newly created job of CEO to Racing NSW was advertised in the Financial Review, amongst other newspapers. The following morning the appointment of the current occupant was announced. Hmmm. RN is the major beneficiary of the commission cross-subsidy from NSW greyhounds and refuses to budge on a proposed change to the ancient agreement. Also in NSW, a candidate for an unpaid job on the committee of the AJC (now ATC) placed his own feature ad in the same Financial Review. Hmmm again.

The commissioned an independent inquiry into governance in that state following reports of vote rigging at the gallops (also in regard to spots on the committee). It also uncovered widespread conflicts of interest in the harness field.

SA greyhounds are running on an even keel, its controlling board being almost wholly independent. Even so, its progress is questionable. In its last annual report, the chairman was quick to congratulate itself on an increase in betting turnover but failed to mention that it was also running more races. Hardly a full disclosure. Still, unlike NSW, it has been able to negotiate an improved share of betting commissions.

has also re-jigged its racing organisations, putting everything directly under the control of a single government instrumentality, including the management of race meetings, with clubs relegated to an even lesser advisory role than they had before. Unfortunately, the state is struggling and still losing money in large amounts, resulting in more questions in parliament. Finances have not been helped by the enforced switch from Tabcorp’s Supertab to the much smaller Tatts pools. This followed the latter’s buyout of the local government-owned Tastote, which itself was near profit-less after giving away huge discounts to big professional punters. (One such punter was able to build the renowned $250 million Museum of Old and New Art on Hobart’s outskirts, now Tasmania’s biggest tourist attraction).

The WA dual management system – controlling tri-code policy and finances and GWA running greyhound races – did not fare well under the revised racefield fees system and is under some financial pressure. Its Racing Minister (since removed) made a schoolboy error in trying to ban Betfair, a move which apparently had support from one or more codes. The High Court quickly put a stop to that.

Everywhere, states are saying what good fellows they are by diverting cash to breeding incentives and low grade distance racing yet not one has ever bothered to audit the effectiveness of these programs. These are ideas that may have some validity but we still don’t know if the punters who provide that cash are seeing a good return on their investment – or any return at all. Probably not.

And now we have the current Queensland government taking potshots at the previous Labor-appointed Racing Queensland organisation (with some justification) due to alleged improprieties. However, the new Queensland practice of insisting on appointing insiders to its many racing boards is likely to prove a huge barrier to progress – it’s a system which has been tried and failed. A public company would attract sanctions for doing that.

The chairman of Greyhounds Australasia, in a speech to Racing Ministers last year, claimed we were looking at a profitable and growing industry when his own statistics show that breeding has declined over the last decade while any extra money through the till has come from new bottom level meetings which attract only mug gamblers and from improved commission splits from some kindly governments. Turnover at premium meetings has actually declined. GA meetings are secretive with agendas and outcomes unknown except for the occasional media release of veterinary-related matters.

All this is occurring in a climate where product quality and racing’s share of the gambling market is falling and where nothing is being done about either. Indeed, in greyhound racing, more and more slow dogs are being encouraged to join the work force to fill TAB-created slots, while the code refuses to study the science of track design, relying instead on an amateurish “she’ll be right” philosophy, and persevering with disruptive tracks..

Please add all these up. They say that racing is in a permanent state of conflict, dissention, confusion, obfuscation and mismanagement. They say that it is not set up the right or best way. They say that we should go back to scratch, start again, and establish a system that can better compete in the modern world

There is only one group that can start that ball rolling – the Racing Ministers Council. If they want to create a more efficient industry, better satisfy public demand, and give their Treasurers and the public more taxes to play with, they must embrace major reform, starting with the establishment of a national betting pool. Will they have the courage to do that? Let’s hope so.

This is what should be on the front pages. The Singleton-Waterhouse episode is peanuts by comparison.

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