There is little doubt that the NSW parliamentary Inquiry has produced terrific results for greyhound racing. Several battles have been won although the war has some way to go yet.
On the way, Inquiry chairman Robert Borsak from the Shooters party has done a fine job of unearthing many of the facts, helped by all but one of the other six members of the committee from Liberal, National and Labour parties.
The exception has been Dr John Kaye (Greens), who instigated the whole process. He has been a dead loss. His extremist views, supported by demonstrators from tiny splinter groups carrying carefully prepared placards telling lies (eg Don’t Use Taxes to Support Greyhound Racing), from a biased reporter from the Sydney Morning Herald, and from the ABC’s 7:30 Report, have been emphatically quashed by the majority.
Kaye produced dissenting comments on the first report – views which were duly featured in a helpful Sydney Morning Herald, which might be better known as the Green-Left Daily these days. Then he proposed a string of amendments to the just-published second report, all designed to make life near impossible for greyhound participants. Every one was thrown out by a 6:1 vote.
The objective of Kaye and like-minded people is not to improve greyhound racing but to shut it down completely. Happily, no-one bought that theme – certainly not the NSW government which has broadly supported the committee’s conclusions in its formal “Response” to the reports.
Whatever ends up happening, this Inquiry has undoubtedly established a pro-forma approach to the subject and might well lead to improvements in other states and even in other codes. It also provides a stark lesson to media outlets which try to launch tirades based on biased, unproven or limited evidence – all in conflict with journalistic ethics.
To be sure, many of the recommendations are to do with animal welfare and related matters where authorities and clubs need to smarten up. Some work has already been done in that area and the government has assured us it will continue to oversee progress and check on reports demanded from management.
So, where are we now?
Well, the three key conclusions and recommendations – accepted but not formally ruled on by government – are now being thrashed out in detail.
(1) Racing authorities should have the power to adjust racefield fees to a level they consider suitable.
(2) NSW tax rates should be made more competitive with other states – ie reduced.
(3) In Borsak’s words, “I strongly reiterate the importance of a restructure of the board and management of Greyhound Racing NSW”.
Added to which is the proposal to hive off $100 million immediately to distribute amongst the three codes in undecided proportions. But don’t count your chickens yet.
Items (1) and (2) should get a run in some form. The huge difference in tax rates between NSW and all other states is simply bad policy because it means NSW is deliberately pushing business away to other jurisdictions for no good reason. It is killing the goose that laid the golden egg.
It not only poses a cash problem but weakens the ability of the racing codes to prosper in the long run. The issue has been highlighted by the recent agreement signed by Queensland Racing and Tattsbet, cutting the tax rate to 0.83% (from 1.83%), thereby generating a $30 million boost to prize money. Currently, NSW charges 3.22%, Victoria 1.28%.
Item (3) is equally important. Much of the attention has gone to two areas: poor communication between management and participants, and the ineffective operation of the Integrity Auditor job. The new proposal is that the Auditor function should be totally removed from GRNSW control and made fully independent. It may or may not be linked to similar changes to the harness code. Government is also considering whether appeals to ICAC should be possible.
Yet Borsak’s words suggest much more than all that. The government and the Inquiry have not done much more than talk about adding two more members to the board, representing or appointed by participants – ie mainly trainers. That is hardly a “restructure” and it suggests a leaning towards the bad old days when the call was always for “more dog men on the board”.
That sort of stuff has been proven to be ineffective in the past and is even less likely to work now. It runs counter to normal commercial practice and to the trend in all other states except Queensland. If communication is poor that is a failure of the personnel, not of the structure of the board. Even in Queensland the peculiar four-board set up, all staffed by insiders, has shown nothing in its several months of existence that offers any hope of progress – rather the opposite. In fact, the greyhound chairman has barely been heard at all while the overriding RQ chairman, Bob Dixon, talks and talks but does little.
In any event, going down this road would undoubtedly produce one big problem – a good proportion of the work force will dislike the appointed person, or disagree with what he does. Back to square one.
But none of this recognises the racing industry’s key weakness – it is run at authority and club level by committees. All of which reminds us that the camel was a horse designed by a committee. It’s the lowest common denominator effect. That’s the structure that needs to change. 1950s practices have no hope of working in this century, if indeed they ever did.
What the industry has failed to acknowledge is that the system of management by committee, supported by bureaucrats, is suited only to slow action, a lack of innovation and the absence of accountability. Process dominates outcomes. That’s administration, not management.
… more to come.