How long should the ancient two airline policy apply to greyhound racing?

Bravo to Lynton Hogan, President of the Victorian GOBTA (Greyhound Owners, Breeders, Trainers Association) for taking on the state authority (GRV) about the declining returns to participants as well as the lack of decent attention to tracks. The initial move – and successful in the short term – was to convince all participants to refuse to nominate dogs for the meetings on Saturday 3 July 2021. That grabbed everybody’s attention. The Minister would also have had to take notice.

But how much good will it do?

Step 2, following some discussions, saw the parties agree to debate in front of a mediator. So far, so good.

However, VGOBTA then agreed to the mediator coming from the Office of Racing. In other words, Mr Hogan’s trainers are to do battle against two bureaucrats, both of whom are legally bound to do the Government’s bidding. Especially the mediator. Bad move. An experienced lawyer should know better.

For example, we went through a comparable exercise in NSW when the board and CEO were told to quit after the live baiting shemozzle. Paul Newson was seconded from the Racing Department to run GRNSW in the interim. He did a few interesting things but may have failed to pursue the code’s interests in two key areas.

First, he supplied the McHugh Commission with a copy of a supposedly confidential (but poorly written) memo written by . That allowed McHugh to grasp hold of the infamous 48k to 68k numbers of dogs which were missing from the records over a lengthy period. That caused McHugh and hundreds of other media outlets and random organisations to classify them as euthanised (“slaughtered” in Baird-speak).They were not, of course; they were simply clerical gaps due to poor record keeping. Many of these dogs were still sitting on the owner’s couch, being looked after by friends, adopted out or had died from accidents and natural causes.

Still, that has not stopped outsiders from repeating the untruths. Just the other day, six years later, SMH columnist and anti-greyhound, anti-betting personality Peter FitzSimons did exactly that – and not for the first time. He has never been reprimanded by authorities for that practice and otherwise tends to be error-prone in his writings (on WW1 for example – note the book reviews in The Australian by Gerard Henderson, amongst others).

Second, Newson not only failed to battle the improper reasoning used by then-Racing Minister about the distribution of extra cash after NSW adjusted its tax regime, but fully supported giving just 10% to the dogs. Grant based the split on the relative capital investments of each code and not on the turnover of each (greyhounds were over 20% of the latter at the time). Newson actually wrote to support the Minister rather than push a case for the organisation he was supposed to represent. (IER, the author of the investment study, had specifically warned against using its figures for separate exercises).

then suffered from a sloppy review of alleged “overbreeding” by a separate senior – one which failed to properly analyse the history of breeding. (Breeding had in fact been declining). GRV agreed at the time and cancelled breeding incentives. It was much later that it decided to change its mind.

The state is also currently adjusting to expensive new demands and concerning premises and husbandry practices by greyhound trainers – as dictated by the Department for Cats and Budgerigars which has no direct experience at all with greyhounds or racing. GRV meekly agreed.

Over in Queensland, government appointed a favourite lawyer to conduct its review of live baiting – a bloke also with no experience of racing, greyhounds or business. He did no more than call for an increase in the size and nature of the board. The actual sanctioning of baiting abuse had long been sorted out in the courts or by the racing authority. Meanwhile, Queensland’s ever-changing governments and Racing Ministers continue to produce confusion as they ignored or palmed off calls for improvements. Notably, the promised $10m for a new track following the takeover of the facility remains just that – a promise.

Collectively, we now have a situation where state governments have near-absolute control over racing – either directly or via government-appointed boards – all based on their perceived need to reap whatever taxes they can dream up. Often those dreams are faulty and are not optimising tax income at all – as shown by the long term decline in the proportion of gambling activity attributable to racing.

Tying a business to the apron strings of government is obviously not the most efficient way to structure any business. Yet that is what VGOBTA is facing right now in its battle with the bureaucracies. The most likely outcome is that the mediations will emerge with fancy sentences which offer all parties a , but a waffly one. They will not solve the real problem which is the existence of an allegedly benevolent but inefficient dictatorship.

There have been rumblings behind the scenes in VGOBTA’s brother organisations in Queensland and WA but they have come to nothing. In NSW the is embedded with GRNSW (even formally included in its Strategic Plan) partly because it runs several tracks and gets the lion’s share of handouts. Consequently, it is unlikely to criticise its own handiwork.

All racing is to allow governments to micro-manage the businesses, usually not well. All decision-making takes place under management-by-committee practices and is subject to either (a) periodic disruptions for political or other reasons or (b) the operational dominance by a single individual (eg NSW gallops today and formerly Qld-all codes and Vic-greyhounds) or (c) both. In SA, an independent consultant reported to the Minister that the trots were in such a bad way that control should be shifted over to the local greyhound organisation (which never happened but is indicative of the thinking). In WA and Tasmania, what are effectively government departments are in charge.

Day to day, what happens is that the racing authority first sets up its own list of organisational needs and pet projects and costs that out. What is left over is then passed on to the workers. This is a philosophy that worked nicely for the old Two Airlines Policy (pre-1989) where Ansett and TAA worked out how much they wanted to spend on aircraft and salaries and then jacked up the fares to cover their costs and boost their profits. The banks were much the same. Only deregulation forced them to mend their ways. That is, competition finally forced them to become accountable to their customers.

The barrow VGOBTA should push is for major reform to the structure of the industry. The current one does not work well.

CLARIFICATION – 26th July 2021

The dispute between VGOBTA and GRV about prize money and other matters has been shifted to a mediation process “with the assistance of the Office of Racing”, according to GRV.

It has now been clarified that the independent mediator, Mr Tim Lyons, is not from the Office of Racing but has a union background and has no association with the greyhound industry.

We live in hope.

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