Can this be a lesson for racing authorities?
Now under investigation, the botched pink batts exercise rushed through by the previous government was bad enough. However, its sister program, the Building the Education Revolution (BER), has now attracted attention from international groups (The Australian, April 1). In both cases, the government attempted to overcome the effect of the global financial crisis by simply spending money on the first thing that came to mind.
The International Journal of Public Administration has just published a paper by three Australian academics pointing out that “a better designed program would have reduced waste and produced better value for money”. They concluded that the BER was run “by bureaucrats rather than people with technical expertise and that’s a big problem”. Further claims pointed out that “principals are better placed than distant bureaucrats to make sure school budgets achieve value for money”.
In any event, the money was spent too late to have any great effect on the crisis, and so goes down as nothing more than a blatant political exercise.
It is hard to avoid the similarity between these failures and greyhound authorities’ policies of handing out subsidies for local breeders and for distance races (many of which are well short of the 700m mark anyway). No results have ever been published for the outcomes of either program, nor have any objectives been announced, yet they continue today. “More” and “better” are the most descriptive words that can be found in media releases, yet we still don’t know if that has happened.
In particular, the distance racing incentives are being applied to the existing dog population, which has already shown that it is not capable of producing enough dogs with more stamina. Field quality is often poor, full fields are hard to find and provincial starting boxes are awkwardly placed. That expense would have been better put to an investigation into discovering what the problem is, and then attacking whatever challenges that threw up.
Back in 2002, in a QGRA Journal article, I wrote that “for a punter, 5th Grade 700s hardly bear thinking about these days as dogs seem to take it in turns to win. The occasional very good one flies through these events and goes on to better things but many runners are dogs that can’t win shorter races and are looking for some other way to add to the kitty”.
So what has happened since? Over 12 years, nothing much except for the subsidies. The dogs are still taking it in turns, investigations into breeding patterns have not occurred, and recent trends showing that short course racing is on the increase. There is movement at the station but the bosses have not noticed it. The industry is all about processes and not about management.
As the NSW Inquiry recently implied, perhaps a strengthening of the Racing Integrity role, and its greater independence, would provide the means to critically examine the worth of programs like these.
WHERE IT COMES OUT IN THE WASH
Also back in 2002, I mentioned (in the QGRA Journal) that “Queensland race caller Paul Dolan wrote in his column that it was a surprise to see Maiden races on the program at Albion Park”. After another 12 years the situation is no better. It’s actually worse.
Albion Park’s prime Thursday night meeting has long included one or two Novice races, the odd short race and a lot of empty boxes in others. The state’s second ranked meeting there on Monday nights never has full fields and includes up to five maiden or novice races. This week it put in a 395m race, presumably because of the shortage of starters for longer trips.
On top of that, Tattsbet takings are dismal and will get worse as punters are now able to access a range of betting operators just by pressing a button. Or, if you live in Coolangatta, you can get the same service by walking over the road to the Tweed Heads Services Club (which is in NSW).
The shortage of starters is not only a Queensland problem as the whole country is putting on more races than the (static) greyhound population can cope with. That includes Victoria, by the way.
However, Queensland’s major problem is not the funding for an on-again, off-again new track to replace Albion Park and/or Ipswich. It’s the fact that it has actually run out of dogs. The next question is what will it do when it reaches the point of no return? Run 8-race meetings as it did just a few weeks ago? Run 6-dog races, as in the UK? Eliminate one of the remaining two SEQ tracks? Or sell off the racing rights to the highest bidder (changes to laws needed there)?
Many years ago I encouraged the then-QGRA to call Paul Wheeler and do a deal for 100 or so fresh stock. The good ones could be on-sold or leased to Brisbane locals, with lesser dogs going to clubs up the coast. I never had a response to my letter (which is par for the course with QGRA and RQ).
Either way, it needs a white knight to underwrite the industry and put some progressive management in place. The obsolete system they have now will never work. Would somebody please tell the Minister. Or ask James Packer to add it to his rumoured buyout of Betfair.