THE NSW government is proving to be far more aggressive than Queensland or Victoria in attacking the live-baiting scandal.
While the others have enforced lots of suspensions, the NSW Racing Minister (and Deputy Premier) Troy Grant has quickly removed the board and CEO of GRNSW, at least for the moment. The indications are that he expects to hear some radical recommendations from Justice McHugh’s task force.
The wording of the announcement is interesting. “Mr Grant, who is also Racing Minister, announced on Thursday morning that the GRNSW board had agreed to “formally disband” and refer their powers to an interim chief executive, Paul Newson. Mr Newson is currently head of the NSW Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing and replaces Brent Hogan who has also agreed to step down”.(The Australian, February 19).
What this means is Newson, a public servant, is effectively the new “board”. Under the Act it is the board alone which has the authority and responsibility of looking after the industry. The senior bureaucrat, whatever his title, has no authority other than that delegated to him by the board. We have no idea what that is because these boards never publish that sort of information. He may be limited to buying a box of paper clips or he may be able to spend $50,000 on track repairs – we just don’t know.
In any event, it points up one of the major weaknesses of the typical racing authority – and they are all much the same. The ability to act – to make management decisions – is always tempered by the speed with which the board considers a proposal, perhaps once a fortnight. Even then, that decision is made by a “committee” so the lowest-common-denominator effect is in play. In those circumstances, excellence can easily run a long second.
Justice McHugh is also to look at the organisational structure of GRNSW so he might find it intriguing that the CEO has four general managers reporting to him, including one specifically responsible for stewards. Not just managers, please note, but general managers. Under the quasi-public service conditions applying to employees this would mean they would get a bit more pay, even though each has only a handful of staff in their unit. Such title manipulation is typically reserved for large companies such as Woolworths or BHP where thousands of staff are involved.
Unfortunately for the people who have “stepped down”, GRNSW and its immediate predecessors do not have a great management record. Millions of dollars have been spent on poorly designed changes to tracks and to the building of new ones – for example, among several others, both Gosford and The Gardens have significant shortcomings which contribute to race disruptions. Big investments at Dapto and Richmond simply repeated past errors.
GRNSW also strongly opposed the arrival of betting exchanges and online bookmakers, only to be forced to change its mind when it became impossible to ignore the push from rank-and-file punters. That opposition was led by former GRNSW chairman and former public servant Professor Percy Allan, who still officiates on the Wentworth Park Trust as well as on the panel selecting current board members.
Yet another furphy was the plan by GRNSW to shift the Border Park operation at Tweed Heads from NSW into Queensland. The full board thought that was a great idea, as did the local MP, the mayor and officials at Racing Queensland. Yet the prospect of massive constitutional and legal changes needed to bring that about was apparently ignored. No doubt they also forgot to sound out the NSW treasurer to see if he did not mind losing a valuable chunk of tax income to Queensland. Or to ask Tabcorp if it would mind altering its contract to service NSW racecourses. Further, the ability of Tatts to get the law altered to allow it take bets on a NSW racecourse also remains a mystery. And so it goes on.
The strangest thing about the whole process is that no reason or justification was ever advanced. And not only was it the subject of two media releases but the project was also highlighted in the 2012 annual report.
Nothing since, though. Perhaps sanity returned.
Its new Ozchase formguide and results service now compares badly with alternatives in Victoria and, in particular, with the local WA products which it replaced. Results can be accessed only one race at a time and print out poorly. It offers no data-processing facility to customers as the output is deliberately designed to delete important information if anyone attempts to use it.
Anyhow, such is the evidence of the convoluted goings-on in the GRNSW bunker – hardly encouraging.
The McHugh review will overlap with the current statutory review of the Greyhound Act, which has now been extended for another two weeks after the original February 13 deadline, following intervention from the Premier. This will give the government an opportunity to reform the current authority structure by creating one which is more compatible with the needs of modern society and more able to compete with other recreational pursuits. Two good starting points would be the elimination of “committees” of management and the removal of public service conditions for employees.
In passing, greyhound folk (even GRNSW) will have been delighted to see that the Opposition leader has confirmed that, if elected, he will reduce the tax on NSW wagering from the present $3.22 to $1.28, as applies in Victoria. While Labor has little chance of reaching power, it leaves the Libs and Nationals with little alternative but to bite the same bullet.
And again, and again
After reading comments from colleague Dominic Ciconte about his interview with GRV vet Linda Beer I can only repeat what I have said numerous times. The quote was: “With the greyhound industry facing its darkest hour, Dr Beer said the Greyhound Adoption Programs would spend countless hours dispelling the myths surrounding the breed. Some of the biggest barriers to new adoptions are the public’s misconceptions about the activity levels, feeding requirements and typical temperament of the greyhound.”
Exactly, but does she realise where it all starts? The inability to build accurate and favourable public opinion remains the biggest single failure of the industry. Every aspect, from the GAP to betting to live baits to misleading media comments, is affected by the lack of genuine knowledge of the breed. It means that for every dollar spent you will get back 25 cents, if you are lucky.
Whatever else happens, fixing this is the first priority.