Racing Amendment Bill 2015


Ms PENNICUIK (Southern Metropolitan) — The Racing Amendment Bill 2015 will amend the Racing Act 1958 in relation to governance arrangements for Harness Racing Victoria (HRV) by making changes to the composition of the board of Harness Racing Victoria and setting up an advisory body. It will also specify bodies to which the racing integrity commissioner may disclose integrity-related information, such as racing bodies around the country and the Australian Border Force, and it makes amendments to appoint an administrator in the event that governance arrangements are not operating as they should. It also makes minor and technical amendments such as changing the reference to the general post office in the act so that it will now refer to the north-east corner of Elizabeth and Bourke streets.

That is because under the act what are known as metropolitan racecourses are identified by their distance from what used to be known as the General Post Office Melbourne but now will be known as the north-east corner of Elizabeth and Bourke streets. This is not really about the bill, but it is a bit of a shame that we lose the reference to the general post office and we are now referring to the corner of two streets. I have lamented the closure of the general post office. I can remember going there when it was the general post office, and it was a fabulous building. It still is a fabulous building but it does not have the same ambience. It is now full of clothing shops, and it is not what it was.

But I digress and will now return to the bill. The bill is in response to a report commissioned by the Minister for Racing on the audit of Harness Racing Victoria conducted this year by Mr Dale Monteith. It was a high-level review of Harness Racing Victoria and reviewed more generally the key components of the harness racing industry. It would be fair to say that the review concentrated on sustaining the industry, improving governance and integrity, and improving the viability of the industry, if I can put it that way.

The report contains 18 recommendations, and this bill implements recommendations 1 and 5 of the review regarding the board and the advisory body. Other recommendations regarding what the board should be doing to improve harness racing are not in the bill but supposedly will be overseen by the board, the minister and the racing integrity commissioner.

There was little or no focus on animal welfare in the review. Therefore the Greens have prepared amendments to ensure that a person with animal welfare expertise is added to the advisory body. I am very happy to have those amendments circulated.

Greens amendments circulated by Ms PENNICUIK (Southern Metropolitan) pursuant to standing orders.

Ms PENNICUIK — I read the April 2015 Report on the Audit of Harness Racing Victoria on which these amendments to the Racing Act are based, and I have to say that it is very interesting to read what the report covers. For example, it covers issues such as governance, integrity, administration, the stewards, swabbing of animals, the racing appeals and disciplinary board, income streams, sponsorship, debts, breeding et cetera. Quite a lot of concerning findings regarding Harness Racing Victoria are included in this report.

For example, the issue of governance was raised by many people, and appendix D of the report covers many of the issues raised by those who were consulted. There are concerns about governance and about the appointment of the CEO and the chief operating officer without due process. On the issue of risk management the report finds that:

HRV's risk management practices fall short of those recommended by AICD and organisations with which I —

Mr Monteith —

have been involved.

It is a concern that risk management is not a standing item on the board meeting agenda … this does not accord with best practice for boards or directors, which should be responsible for embedding a culture of managing both risks and compliance.

Other issues raised include conflicts of interest with regard to Harness Racing Victoria and its activities in sponsoring and holding racing events. Concern is also expressed about:

the potential for conflicts of interest with two HRV board members sitting on the integrity council (IC) relating to HRV commercial interests and/or any horse ownership they might have

HRV's ability and preparedness to fund integrity to best practice levels

the decision taken some time ago by the government to abolish the Racing Appeals Tribunal and for VCAT to be the final body for appeal by aggrieved industry participants for all three codes.

This raises the issue of integrity. One of the recommendations in this report is that the government should consider establishing a separate integrity body for Harness Racing Victoria and not leave it to the board or Harness Racing Victoria itself to deal with integrity issues. It has been in raised publicly that there needs to be a separate integrity body for all of the racing codes, and that is an issue I believe the government still has not addressed in full.

Issues were raised with regard to the drug testing of horses and the fact that it was not done often enough — for example, in 2014 only 53 competition samples were taken on the advice of the investigators, with very little input from the stewards. The report recommended that competition testing should be increased. In the conflict-of-interest issue that I mentioned before, one integrity council member had ownership of harness racing horses and Mr Monteith said that is not desirable. During the audit it has also become clear that there is no formal training program in place for stewards or investigators, and in addition HRV does not employ a dedicated form analyst to assist stewards and no formal bet monitoring is undertaken other than through a memorandum of understanding with Betfair. Those tasks are generally performed by the stewards who are officiating at a particular race meeting. The report is peppered with concerns about governance, conflicts of interest and integrity. It is concerning when you read through the whole report.

The Greens will not be opposing the bill in terms of what it will establish, which is a board appointed by the Governor in Council on the advice of the minister. Mr Drum raised the issue of the minister having some power with regard to the appointment of the board. I also hope that recommendation 2, which would establish an appointments panel to assist the minister to identify appropriate candidates for appointment to the board, and recommendation 3, which would require members of the board and senior executives to complete the Australian Institute of Company Directors course, or a similarly approved course, which focuses on high standards for directors and corporate governance, will be followed by the government.

If those two recommendations, as well as the amendments to the act regarding the board are followed, certainly that will improve the board. However, one would have to say that clause 8 of the bill, which inserts new section 44B creating the Harness Racing Advisory Council, where that advisory council will consist of two members of the board, at least three members who are nominees of organisations or persons who are representatives of the Victorian harness racing industry and — now with the government amendment that Mr Drum referred to — up to two persons who have experience or interest in the Victorian harness industry, the constitution of the board is very insular. As outlined in this clause, it basically consists of people who have something to do with the harness racing industry and two people on the board.

The issues of integrity and animal welfare have been raised in all the racing codes. In the Monteith report the issue of horse welfare, although not the focus of the report, has been raised once or twice. Page 11 of the report states:

Horse welfare is addressed in the plan —

that is, the Harness Racing Victoria strategic plan —

particularly the rehoming of retired horses under the 'Raising the Standard' program. With the current level of resources available to the program, up to 30 horses can be rehomed each year. This is a long way behind the animal welfare and rehoming initiatives of the other two codes through Off the Track and the Greyhound Adoption Program (GAP). In 2013–14 alone, GAP rehomed 536 greyhounds.

The board needs to provide adequate funding to expand the program if it is serious about the finding homes for retired horses. In the past, government has provided funding from VRIF to assist with establishing the program.

In fact one of the other recommendations of this report is that the government reinstates the funding for rehoming of retired horses. Even though Mr Monteith makes those comments to improve rehoming in harness racing, and contrasts that with thoroughbred racing and greyhound racing, that is not to say that there are not ongoing problems, in particular in thoroughbred racing, with the lack of rehoming of horses, and ongoing problems in greyhound racing as well. The fact that harness racing falls so far behind those other codes just goes to show how behind the eight ball it is with respect to those issues.

It is disappointing that none of the recommendations really go to animal welfare, a matter that was raised quite a lot in the submissions and consultations. Page 55 of the report comments on Harness Racing Victoria operational issues and says that there be:

… an increased focus on horse welfare —

and —

A business case to expand this program is urgently needed.

At page 58 the report states that the:

… welfare of horses is an important integrity matter.

At page 59 it states that many people:

… saw a need for balance to promote the industry, educate participants, and concentrate more on integrity and welfare issues.

At page 61 it was identified that:

… many farms are of poor quality for breeding, agistment and rearing of foals.

… the clamping down on the use of anabolic steroids on yearlings has led to smaller sized yearlings which indicates many were being subjected to such treatment —

that is, treatment involving the use of anabolic steroids. One can see a lot of animal welfare issues in harness racing if one reads through the details of this report.

I am concerned that in putting together the Harness Racing Advisory Council made up of members of the board and people involved directly in harness racing there is not broader representation. You would think that a board would need an advisory committee with much broader representation than just people involved in the industry.

Mr Drum raised a point with regard to the improved administration. As I said before this looks like a very insular type of arrangement, and broader representation from the community, and in particular with regard to animal welfare, is needed on the advisory committee to make sure that the animal welfare performance of Harness Racing Victoria is improved and to prevent the sorts of problems we have seen with animal welfare, particularly in greyhound racing with the terrible live baiting practices that have been going on all around Australia under the noses of Greyhound Racing Victoria, Greyhound Racing New South Wales, Racing Queensland and the racing integrity commissioner, all of which seemed to have had no idea it was going on. We need outside representation on these advisory bodies that can have an eye on these types of issues. We should not forget that racing is about animals. Animals are the key participants in the racing industry, and their welfare needs to be much more prominent than it has hitherto been.

The other point I want to reiterate is the need for the government to move the monitoring of the integrity of harness racing out of Harness Racing Victoria, Racing Victoria and Greyhound Racing Victoria and to establish a separate body to look after integrity. If you look through the report and the recommendations, you see it is about promoting the industry. There is mention of increasing wagering and involving people in the industry. If your role is to promote the industry, it is very difficult for you also to regulate or look at the integrity of the industry.

While the Greens will not oppose the measures in the bill, which are an improvement on the current situation, we would like to improve it by ensuring that someone with animal welfare expertise is on the advisory body. We should not rest on our laurels with regard to integrity in the industry.

In committee:

Ms PENNICUIK (Southern Metropolitan) — I move:

1.     Clause 8, page 8, line 16, omit “industry.” and insert “industry;”.

2.     Clause 8, page 8, after line 16 insert —

“(d)  one person who has expertise in animal welfare.”.

Amendment 1 is a consequential amendment to the main amendment, which is amendment 2, which seeks to insert a new line in clause 8 regarding the appointment of people to the advisory council. The bill provides for the appointment of two members of the board, nominees of organisations or people who are representatives of Victorian harness racing and people who have experience or interest in harness racing, and my amendments add another person — that is, 'one person who has expertise in animal welfare'.

I am aware that the report by Mr Monteith does not make recommendations about animal welfare, but the terms of reference did not instruct Mr Monteith to look into that issue. The report is about governance arrangements, integrity arrangements, the composition of the board, administrative arrangements, strategic planning, debt and debt recovery, plans to manage debt better, managing conflicts of interest et cetera. They are the sorts of things covered in the report, many of which I covered in my speech during the second-reading debate.

However, in the body of the report Mr Monteith includes comments made by people who were consulted that there needs to be more focus on animal welfare issues. In particular, page 11 of the report says that Harness Racing Victoria's consideration of horse welfare and the rehoming of retired horses is a long way behind best practice. Animal welfare issues are currently being raised with regard to thoroughbred racing, the amount of horse wastage and the lack of rehoming, and even though Greyhound Racing Victoria has a rehoming program it still requires a lot of improvement.

It would be a good initiative — it would be good for the other racing codes as well — for the advisory council to include people with animal welfare expertise and not have an advisory council that is made up only of people who are interested in promoting the industry. It would be good to include people who are interested in promoting the welfare of horses while they are competing in the industry and after they leave the industry.

That is why I am moving these amendments. The advisory council including such a person will provide a preventive approach and a welcome focus on animal welfare issues. I know it is possible for the board to consult with the RSPCA and other welfare bodies, but it is not quite the same as having someone with expertise on the advisory council. It is something that has been lacking in racing and something we can fix with these amendments.

To read the full debate, go here.