GOVERNMENTS in the three eastern states – those with the country’s largest greyhound populations – have now completed the Trifecta and sent their original greyhound boards packing. So far, only Victoria has replaced them, although not necessarily with permanent appointments. NSW has a temporary stand-in and Queensland is doing the same thing.
Additionally, the Queensland Premier has appointed KPMG consultants to advise on board structures. Oddly enough, that repeats a referral to the same people in 1998, when they proposed appointing board members independent of racing. That never happened. And only three years ago, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu investigated the “sustainability” of Queensland racing, but whatever it found remains a mystery as no report was ever published. Nor do we know what “sustainability” means in this context – the word is too vague.
Broadly, nothing much has ever changed apart from the recent LNP government coming up with the strange three-plus-one board system, comprised only of industry insiders. That has just been disbanded..
The recently sacked RQ Chairman, Kevin Dixon, now complains that they were doing a terrific job but that hardly squares with the continuing decline in activity and finances on his watch as well as that of the previous Chairman, Bob Bentley, who has been fighting a Commission of Inquiry into improper capital expenditure. He also released a statement claiming they were doing a great job at the time. Nothing to worry about here!
So, what next?
Well, so far, no-one has got to the nub of the problem. Quite the reverse, in fact. Victoria is continuing with the same old board structure (all independent members, please note) and the McSporran report recommends a similar approach in Queensland. NSW is yet to work on it. NSW has had a nominally independent board, although all have had past or current involvement with the racing industry.
Yet they all avoid stating the real problem. No matter the quality of the members, management by committee is a dead duck. When the board is made up of insiders the prospects are even dimmer. The concept can never work well in a commercial organisation. By definition, it will operate more slowly and will favour the lowest common denominator. It will always discourage modernisation and innovation. The proof is in the pudding..
Currently, by law, all responsibility is assigned to such committees. So-called CEOs have no power other than that given to them by the managing committee. Those delegations are always unknown, of course, and may well be subject to the personalities involved.
Historically, these same CEOs were no more than Chief Clerks or Secretaries to the Board – in practice and in name. All the current titles have crept in almost without anyone noticing. They have been accompanied by sizeable salary increases, but not with any formal authority and responsibility.
Just for extra guidance, here is part of an article by Clive Phillips, Professor of Animal Welfare, Centre for Animal Welfare and Ethics at The University of Queensland, where he commented on several aspects of the live baiting saga.
“Good corporate practice in Australia requires that there is a majority of independent members on a board who are not substantial shareholders, have not been employed within the company for the previous three years, are not advisers or suppliers to the company and have no contractual relationship with it. With this background board members will be able to act in the interests of society as a whole and not in their own individual interests.” (The Conversation, February 17, 2015, publisher Monash University)
Who Does What?
What governments are asking present-day board members to do is to call in to the office for a few hours every couple of weeks, chat about recent events, consider reports, make a few decisions, and then accept responsibility for everything that happens in the industry, big or small.
Of course, any board has its job to do but realistically that cannot be about wandering around the country, knocking on trainers’ doors and checking that their paperwork and practices are all up to scratch. That would be ridiculous. Anyway, they all have proper jobs outside racing and probably other directorships to take up their time.
Certainly, if the organisation stuffs up then, in the final analysis, the boards have to accept the blame and that is what has happened in all three states. On the other hand, if an employee does not do his job you would expect him to be sacked. One is in an oversight position; the other is part of the operational process.
Boards should be about setting the direction of the organisation, making major policy decisions, watching over finances and hiring and firing the operational chief. They should never get involved in the itty-gritty.
Tradition Hides The Real Danger
The McSporran report misses those key points, instead pushing for a continuation of a system that has been proven not to work, not just on this occasion but repeatedly over the last twenty years. That is why Queensland has been going backwards over all that time. Numbers for breeding, betting, races and field quality have all been negative and the industry is well in the red at the moment.
Worse, McSporran favours a board which controls all three codes at once, which is a complete nonsense, but perhaps indicative of a review teams made up entirely of lawyers.
To make a comparison, planes, trains, buses, trams and ferries are all concerned with public transport but is it sensible to expect a single board of management to control the lot? Hardly. There is even the question of whether governments should be involved at all. They have a poor record in dabbling in commerce.
This is an era of hi-tech and specialisation which demands particular skills even to keep up with the competition and the changing demands of the public. Racing has failed on all those counts yet both governments and the racing industry refuse to acknowledge the cause of the problem and instead persist with playing musical chairs.
While there is some overlap, many key tasks in the three racing codes are very different from each other – the duties of jockeys, harness drivers, farriers and vets, as well as track surfaces, medicines, drugs and feeds are just a few examples. Training and racing patterns are completely different. So, too, are varying customer loyalties and marketing needs. Form analysis engages totally different parameters.
To make boards even more distant from the individual codes, as a composite board would do, is to encourage more mediocrity than already exists in the management-by-committee system. No code can afford that. The multi-code board option should be dumped smartly.
Of course, the first step for government is to appoint a businesslike, independent board for each code. Then, in conjunction with that board, it must seek out and appoint a general manager or managing director to really run the show. The law should reflect the dual authorities and responsibilities assigned to those people, rather than dump everything in the hands of a committee and hope for the best. There must be clarity in who does what, always with regard to normal business practices.
To date, the Victorians have decided to bypass that opportunity and plough on with the traditional system, even though it has specifically failed twice in recent years. Queenslanders are showing they do not understand the question and are not being helped by the serious shortcomings in the McSporran review (outlined in a previous article). Still, we have yet to see what the Premier and the (silent) Racing Minister will come up with in any detail. Meanwhile, NSW now offers the only hope for a more progressive outcome.
Finally, let’s also offer a significant note of caution. A poorly structured organisation will never attract the best brains available. Good managers will be encouraged to join up only by a live-wire set up where modern management is the challenge and achievement is properly recognised.