THE website for the McHugh Commission in NSW is remarkable for what it does not say. It contains virtually nothing about submissions, there are no transcripts available, mostly because there have been no public hearings of any consequence. They are planned to start on September 26.
There are references to a thousand or more other submissions but they are no more than copies of what the earlier parliamentary inquiry received or what was put to the government in the statutory 5-year review of GRNSW performance. Apparently, there have been submissions to McHugh but they are not available to the public to peruse.
No doubt they are beavering away behind the scenes but we have no idea what that really means. So much for transparency.
This is pretty important stuff because Judge McHugh – at his urgent request – had his brief hugely expanded past the original live baiting saga. He is now empowered to look into almost any aspect of greyhound racing, including how it should be governed.
The Commission’s report is now due on March 31, 2016. Government will take some months to digest it and then come up with decisions about the future. By that time greyhound racing will have been under interim management for over 18 months. Too slow. Much too slow.
Farmers showing the way
On the Australian landscape, nothing could be more traditional or more important than the life of a farmer. It’s a breed that has become essential to our way of life and is fast emerging as the breadbasket for the rest of the world (the majority of our produce is exported).
So it was fascinating to read the views of KPMG partner and social commentator Bernard Salt in The Australian, September 3. “The family business model has worked well in farming for more than 100 years, although I suspect over the coming decade this model must fundamentally change. The economics of farming is forcing aggregation and mechanisation. Family farms must aggregate and corporatise or be absorbed within bigger and sometimes foreign-owned agribusinesses”.
In many ways, greyhound racing, too, is a primary industry, vitally concerned with the production of racing stock and its interaction with the commercial world. Even so, for too long it has been allowed to meander slowly along a pathway to – well, where? Making last year’s numbers is about as aggressive as it gets.
Progress and development, as required in the Act, largely occur only in support areas where the influence of private enterprise has been responsible – in medicines, feeds, vets, transport and the like. As seen by the public, the fundamental business has never really changed much. Consequently, big changes in the nature of the customer, how he perceives racing, what his betting options are and how it all fits in with his personal life have all bypassed the industry’s managers. That’s why, financially, we are really no better off than we were 20 years ago.
Todays’ customer bets on greyhounds simply because they are there, not because of any inbuilt admiration of the breed. They don’t wonder at its speed and athleticism, only at the dividend it pays.
That’s hardly surprising because nobody has ever told them the greyhound story. Our advertising and public relations efforts vary from negligible to zero. The ABC made one of its many silly points recently when it published copies of emails telling how GRNSW reacted to the discovery of live baiting. Never mind the language, GRNSW did only what any normal organisation would do when a crisis emerges. It was a non-story in customary news terms. But the critical indicator was that it all came AFTER the event, not before. There was no plan in place to handle bad news so all they did was to work out how best to quieten the noise, not to seek out reasons for the errors that occurred. That’s a management failure, which is why the Minister was quite correct in sacking them.
What the McHugh Commission has to devise is a system that is proactive rather than reactive. It cannot be the system we have had – that’s proven to be inadequate to do the job. McHugh has the opportunity to lead all Australian racing out of the doldrums by recommending a system capable of competing in the modern world.
Timing is just part of the story
It has also prompted some interesting stories as the protagonists stepped up their efforts with solo qualifying trials over the 515m trip. Last Sunday’s efforts were remarkable:
Full on Bling 29.15 (and 5.24)
Dewana Result 29.25
None of these dogs are flash beginners but all ran times that would win 90-odd per cent of all Sandown races, including feature events. What thoughts does it throw up?
1. Trial times, particularly for solo trials, can be misleading. No interference, no box worries, so add at least one tenth to the times for future comparisons.
2. It’s marvellous what good dogs can do when they can get a clear run after the bunny.
3. How important is it that track designs offer the potential for clear runs? Bunching and squeezing on the way to and around the first turn are death traps. Perfection is not possible but we have to get closer to it.
4. Why are trials like these not made mandatory for interstate runners arriving to compete in any Group races? Some do but some don’t. Some trial privately, so we don’t hear about them (NB after last year’s Nationals we learned that some dogs had trialled at Cannington but we did not find out about all of them until after the event. That’s not good enough!)
5. Trialling prior to major distance races is probably not desirable but getting a dog to know the track is – at least over a shorter rip.
6. A remarkable number of stewards’ trial times fail to show the first sectional. Since these appear on the board after the race it should be no trouble posting them on formguides etc.