Racing Amendment (Modernisation) Bill 2017 | Sue Pennicuik

Racing Amendment (Modernisation) Bill 2017

The bill that we have before us—the Racing Amendment (Modernisation) Bill 2017—is a very short bill. It does little if nothing to improve governance of racing in Victoria; it does a little bit if not much at all. It all comes from the government saying that they wanted to avoid conflicts of interest in Racing Victoria, where in the past the board of Racing Victoria has been appointed by the members of Racing Victoria.
Tuesday, March 6, 2018 - 10:30am
Sue Pennicuik

The bill that we have before us—the Racing Amendment (Modernisation) Bill 2017—is a very short bill. It does little if nothing to improve governance of racing in Victoria; it does a little bit if not much at all. It all comes from the government saying that they wanted to avoid conflicts of interest in Racing Victoria, where in the past the board of Racing Victoria has been appointed by the members of Racing Victoria. This bill came to fruition after a special general meeting of the industry body members of Racing Victoria held on 18 April last year to put in place a new constitution which came into being on 20 June last year. I have to say I wrote myself some notes when I first saw this bill and I said, ‘Well, this bill does something if it is not much at all’. It raises concerns that the whole thing is still very in-house, with the advisory panel that has been set up under the new constitution to advise the minister on who should be on the board of Racing Victoria made up of virtually the same players making recommendations to the minister rather than directly nominating board members as in the past. I thought to myself, ‘There should be more independent people on the board, but there won’t be; it will basically be the same as before’, and that has turned out to be the case.

Previously the board members were appointed directly by the industry bodies of Racing Victoria—the Victoria Racing Club, the Melbourne Racing Club, the Moonee Valley Racing Club, Country Racing Victoria, the jockeys association and also the owners and trainers association. Paragraph 9.3 of Racing Victoria’s new constitution sets up an advisory panel that will be constituted by the Secretary of the Department of Justice and Regulation; a nominee of the minister; a nominee appointed directly by the Victoria Racing Club, the Melbourne Racing Club and the Moonee Valley Racing Club; a nominee appointed by Country Racing Victoria; and a nominee appointed jointly by the industry body members. The panel will be chaired by the secretary of the department or his or her nominee. So basically instead of direct representation the advisory panel is made up of virtually the same people as before.

This advisory panel advises the minister on the suitability of candidates for appointment as directors of the board, it can replace any director whose term of appointment has expired or is due to expire and either they are ineligible for reappointment or the minister has determined not to reappoint them and it can fill a vacancy in the office of the director. I notice also in relation to the selection criteria that the Secretary of the Department of Justice and Regulation or his or her nominee will, in consultation with the chair, prepare selection criteria for the appointment of directors having regard to the collective skills, knowledge and competency requirements of the board and in particular the importance of the board having strong knowledge of the Victorian thoroughbred racing industry, both metropolitan and country; wagering; animal welfare; and governance, finance and integrity issues.

The new board has all of those except anything to do with animal welfare. I was hopeful that the government would take the opportunity, given all the problems with animal welfare in racing, to actually appoint someone with a strong animal welfare background and with skills and experience to the board, but it has not. So we have ended up with a board not much different from the previous board. I just want to read out the skills of the people that were appointed to the board late last year. I am not going to read out their names, because I am not taking issue with or casting aspersions on the persons themselves; I am just taking issue with the skills that are represented and the interests that are represented by the board. We have one member with a background as a chief financial officer with a large company who is also a member of the Moonee Valley Racing Club. Another member is a banker and also a member of Country Racing Victoria. Another member has a background in accountancy and is a member of the owners and breeders association and the Melbourne Racing Club. Another member is a member of, has a gaming background and is a member of the TAB. Two of the members are members of the racing integrity commission, which is good, but they also have a background in harness racing and other racing. Another member is from country racing and from the media, and another one again is from and an interstate thoroughbred racing authority. The board is made up of basically racing interests, as it has been in the past.

This bill, which vests power in the minister to appoint board members and is based on the report from the advisory committee that was made up of the industry body of Racing Victoria, leads us to a board that is basically no different from boards in the past. It is very, very focused on racing and gambling interests. That is the situation we have always had, and it is a situation that will not change with the implementation of this bill. The issue of a conflict of interest has not been addressed by the very small change of setting up an advisory body and the ministerial appointment, because we still have a basic conflict of interest in that Racing Victoria is the promoter and the apparent regulator of racing. That in itself is a conflict of interest that I have raised in this place many times before, and it is not addressed at all by the bill. The bill puts in place almost, but not quite, business as usual.

All the speakers in the session before question time were basically members of the cheer squad for horseracing in Victoria. They spent the large majority of their time talking about how wonderful horseracing is and how much it contributes to the economy et cetera. There was a slight reference to the doping scandal that has been playing out in our newspapers and across the television over the last few weeks. One newspaper reported that the doping crisis can be linked to every major track in the state and more than 100 horses. Every major racetrack in Victoria and 100 horses are implicated in this doping scandal that has been going on, from what we can work out, for eight years, right under the noses of Racing Victoria and its racing integrity council which have not pick this up. The racetracks that have been implicated in this doping scandal— The minister may think this is worth belittling, but I do not think the people of Victoria do. This is a very big problem of 100 horses being doped in the state of Victoria, which the minister seems to think is not a problem by way of his interjecting during my contribution. This has occurred at race meetings held at the Melbourne tracks, such as Flemington, including the Melbourne Cup, Moonee Valley, Caulfield and Sandown, and leading country tracks at Geelong, Bendigo, Ballarat, Sale, Cranbourne, Werribee, Mornington, Pakenham, Wangaratta, Swan Hill, Seymour, Ararat, Kyneton, Echuca, Bairnsdale, Hamilton, Wodonga and Benalla. Eight people, including group 1 winning trainers, have been charged with 271 counts of breaching the rules of racing and five others have been charged with engaging in a practice that was dishonest, corrupt or fraudulent, improper or dishonourable, and in that they were party to the administration of alkalising agents and medications to a horse or horses on race days. This is a very serious matter which has been playing out across the media. It has been going on for years under the nose of Racing Victoria.

In fact I looked at the website of the office of the racing integrity commissioner, which was put in place to oversee the three racing codes. There is not a mention of this on its website. What is the racing integrity commissioner doing? What is the regulator doing? We have a situation where Racing Victoria has this huge doping scandal going on under its nose.

At the same time as it is supposed to be regulating the industry it is also the promoter of the industry. It is a direct conflict of interest. The Minister for Racing has been quoted as doing completely different things. At one time he was publicly questioning the Racing Victoria integrity unit by saying: “There is no doubt that integrity in the past has not been as strong as it should be… There is no doubt that integrity has been on a journey…” but that it is improving. Not really. In another article he is quoted as saying that it is a credit to Racing Victoria’s integrity team that they have uncovered this. They have uncovered it after a very long time of it occurring, and I would suggest not necessarily by its own activities.

If people get up in here and suggest that this bill is going to improve the governance of Racing Victoria, I suggest that is not the case.  It is my view because there is an inherent conflict of interest in the roles of Racing Victoria. They conflict with each other, and that is the problem. It is a statement of fact that you cannot be the promoter and the regulator at the same time.

Of course the other problems we have with racing in Victoria are issues that Racing Victoria does not face, such as the huge problem of wastage in thoroughbred racing. I have talked about that in terms of greyhound racing. It is an issue that the community has become very aware of in terms of greyhound racing. Thousands of greyhounds are put down every year just because they are not good at racing and at winning money for the owners and trainers. The fact is that everyone knows that the adoption programs can never deal with the number of greyhounds that are put down as a result of greyhound racing. This is also a very big problem in horseracing. It is one that a large number of people in the community are aware of but also one that a lot are not aware of either—that is, that there are a large number of horses that are either injured, are not winning races or are not capable of winning races. Again there is the issue of overbreeding, which is a problem in thoroughbred racing. There is the same problem of wastage. I agree with the call from the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses for a 1 per cent betting levy and a 1 per cent levy on prize money to put into a program to assist with rehoming racehorses.

There are other problems that continue in horseracing, such as racing in the heat, which we have seen at certain events, where horseraces still go ahead when the temperature should result in a race being cancelled Temperatures have been over 38 degrees and into the 40-plus degrees range and races have still been going ahead and horses have been forced to run, even in quite long races which should be cancelled.

Of course there is the ongoing problem of the use of whips in horseracing, which the public is also concerned about. There was even a Senate inquiry as far back as 1991 that recommended that whips be taken out of horse racing and that jockeys just use their skill to ride horses rather than whipping them to force them to run faster. Some countries have in fact gone as far as banning whips in horse racing, so it is not unheard of. Whipping is a cruel and unnecessary practice, and I think it would be great to see Victoria be one of the first places in Australia to get rid of the whip in racing—and to get rid of it throughout Australia as well.

Of course there is the ongoing problem that we have in Victoria and South Australia with jumps racing. Only Victoria and South Australia allow jumps racing; it is banned everywhere else in the country because it is cruel and inherently dangerous. Sixty-two horses have been killed in Victorian jumps racing in the last 10 years. That is a lot of horses given the relatively small number of jumps events compared to the overall number of flat-race events. There is a very high percentage of horses that are killed in jumps racing, not to mention those that suffer catastrophic injuries. In fact jumps racing horses are 18 times more likely to suffer a catastrophic limb injury and are 120 times more likely to suffer a head, back or neck injury. Anyone who cares should take the time to look at the footage of some of the injuries that have occurred just in the last year or in the last two, three, four or five years—of horses falling in jumps races, breaking their necks, snapping their forelegs in half and still running around and then the racing authorities bringing out a large green screen to kill the horse on the track. That people still think this is the sort of activity that we should be allowing in this state really does defy belief. So many horses are killed and injured during it, and the injuries they suffer are catastrophic and unacceptable. It is up to the Attorney-General and Minister for Racing to take the decision to bring us into line with the rest of the country and stop jumps racing.

We are now facing another jumps racing season, which is beginning soon, where again we will see horses injured and killed on the track. This racing minister, the previous government’s racing minister, Dr Napthine, and the previous one, Mr Hulls, all said the decision is up to Racing Victoria. Well, it is not; the decision is up to the government. The government can stop it. They can outlaw jumps racing as it has been outlawed in places like Queensland for decades. No other state except for Victoria and South Australia allows jumps racing. May I say that a few years ago the South Australian Jockey Club also came to its own view to oppose jumps racing. What is noticeable as well is that apart from Sandown Park none of the metropolitan tracks allows jumps racing anymore. It is only Sandown Park that does, and jumps racing is only held at country tracks.

The Greens will not be opposing this bill, which does virtually nothing at all. The bill does not address the conflict of interest that exists in the structure of Racing Victoria, which is to promote racing and to ostensibly regulate it—but, as we have seen, it has failed in terms of the doping scandal that is unfolding at the moment.

Of course it is a conflict of interest, and there needs to be much better governance and oversight of the racing industry in Victoria than there currently is. Governments are always beholden to the racing industry. Many MPs accept racing passes et cetera to go to the racing, so that is a conflict of interest as well. We still have a long way to go in terms of overcoming the conflicts of interest in the racing industry. There are many people in the community who do care about the welfare of horses in horse racing, and it is not well looked after.

We had the opportunity for someone with strong experience and a background in animal welfare to be appointed to the board—that is in the selection criteria as agreed to by the new constitution of the members of Racing Victoria—but that opportunity was not taken. So we have got a board with a skill set similar to the last board—a board made up of people directly from gambling and racing clubs along with owners and trainers. Nothing has changed in the state of Denmark