WAS she going to do it anyway? The Premier’s move to sack all Queensland racing boards came immediately after the release of the McSporran report into Queensland live baiting abuses. It takes on even greater importance given the NSW review is about to start public hearings.
The McSporran review was fairly brief (three months) but did make far reaching recommendations into the future structure of racing administration in Queensland. In doing that, the review made a number of sweeping assumptions or assertions about public confidence in the industry and blamed the “system of self-regulation” and Racing Queensland’s failure to “adequately assess risk” for all the problems.
It further called for a separation of the authority’s commercial and integrity functions due to “an inherent conflict of interest”.
While some of these points may be valid, the implied cause and effect have not been established.
How, for example, could the review assess public confidence? It conducted no surveys and therefore had to rely on newspaper headlines, politician’s statements and scattered claims from the hundreds of submissions it got.
As occurred during the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry, the majority of the latter would have been from animal lover groups, Greens sympathisers, and anti-racing types, all of which have been prominent in various media over the last few months.
Since these people are a small minority of the population, any such conclusion has to be suspect.
In fact, in Queensland or elsewhere, betting turnover seems not to have been affected at all, so that part of the public is more resilient than McSporran implies.
Similarly, the public “expectations” canvassed by McSporran are no more than guesses or assumptions.
Again, lacking proper research, neither he nor the industry would have much idea at all of what we might expect (with a small saver for Victoria, where the authority has conducted surveys recently, but kept the results secret). None of which is to excuse the appalling behaviour of some industry participants, but it does lessen the value of the review’s recommendations.
This column has frequently pointed out the inappropriate, even nonsensical, nature of the way all the Queensland boards were set up in the first place – membership by insiders being compulsory under the rules.
So McSporran’s proposal for majority independent membership is a good one. However, he makes little or no comment on the value of having separate boards for each code, and instead calls directly for a single composite board.
That is highly arguable as one of the reasons for continuing with separate boards was (in theory) to overcome the inbuilt dominance or bias of the thoroughbred code. As with other matters, justice might not be seen to be done.
(And, in practice, the main board and its chairman has been dominating all proceedings, particularly financial ones, irrespective of the code).
That alone underlines the fear expressed in my last article that the narrow memberships of these reviews hampers their ability to broadly consider the nature of the industry – ie to understand what makes it tick – or to develop rationales for a range of possible structures.
But of all the recommendations, the most difficult and controversial is the proposal to separate the integrity function from the rest of the authority’s work.
Of course, there are arguments for and against.
However, no such separation is present in any code or state in Australia. Where it has been tried – in NSW harness and greyhound codes – it has not done well.
Coincidentally, it was introduced there after a previous review by a barrister like McSporran but proved unworkable and far too expensive, and was later reversed.
Tasmanian stewards are multi-code but there the workload is small in each code and budgets were a prime determinator. In any case, they are all responsible to the same people.
The more productive method appears to be that followed in Victoria, where the Racing Integrity Commissioner is separate from the three codes but could be described as an office of review as opposed to the operating arms present within each code.
Similarly, current suggestions are that a similar office be established in NSW, with more power and backing than was the case with an in-house office responsible to the CEO of the greyhound authority.
Finally, like NSW’s interim CEO, McSporran has claimed that too much breeding is a major problem, ignoring the fact that Queensland breeding has been declining for years, as has breeding in the rest of Australia. However, his modest recommendation to encourage more low level (ie non-TAB) activity for slow dogs is a good one although he does not say how.
All told, the review’s approach to breeding is superficial. This is a complex, multi-facetted subject which requires far deeper consideration and much more expertise than was available to this review.
The key here is to go back to the core of the problem. Abuses, industry culture and lack of oversight, all mentioned by McSporran, are a function of the quality of industry management and not just the way the organisation is structured. To blame the organisational system alone is to ignore the personnel running the show.
A good industry culture is invariably created by good managers, and only by them. Certainly, Queensland had a poor board-management structure but that is no excuse.
Indeed, if further proof were needed, the resignation of board member Steve Hawkins following his admission that he told the RQ CEO privately that he “knew” about live baiting (yet did nothing) emphasises the difficulty. Hawkins is a prominent owner, breeder and race broadcaster.
What McSporran has assumed is that a committee of management is a good way to go – therefore try to make it as responsive as possible. He has failed to discover that such boards do not work ideally in any racing jurisdiction, and especially not in Queensland. They are fine for the local tennis club but not where a dollar has to be made.
The conclusive evidence is that racing of all kinds has been losing its way in breeding and wagering for over two decades now, and Queensland is the worst of them all. McSporran quotes all the figures to show that but does not check why.
In general, the report makes some useful but predictable observations but then tends to offer extrapolation, exaggeration, opinion and hyperbole. The first item in the Executive Summary illustrates that point: “Public confidence may have been dealt an almost terminal blow by the exposure of what is likely to have been a widespread practice of live baiting in the greyhound racing industry” (My emphasis).
In other words, it does not know but is just guessing.
The report therefore has limited value but the next step is to see what the Premier and Racing Minister do with the remainder of the McSporran recommendations. They are newcomers to both politics and racing but they will be sure to make a noise.
(Note: Last Monday’s article on inquiries in general was written on Sunday, before the publication of the McSporran review and the Premier’s latest announcement. Today’s article is written after viewing the report. They are consistent with one another.
Note also: Racing Queensland’s chairman has welcomed the McSporran report, including its proposal to create a single all-powerful board, but has not put it on the RQ website. Of course, he is now out of a job anyway. That will be applauded in many quarters).