At the outset I compliment John Messara for his communication of 16 October 2015 in respect of the achievements of Racing Australia to date. The achievements are not insignificant.
Equally it must be recognised that the task or tasks ahead won’t be easily achieved given that Australia has eight principal racing authorities who operate under their own legislation and account to their respective state governments and stakeholders as opposed to Racing Australia. That in itself is a huge hurdle.
Further it must be stated that the racing industry and sport in Australia has great bones and great foundation which will allow it to continue to grow and prosper. It is well supported by a passionate and possibly unique culture, a passionate group of industry workers (trainers, jockeys, track work riders, stable hands, veterinary surgeons and support staff, stud managers and staff, farriers, transport industry employees, race club employees and track maintenance staff, administrators including race club boards and committees, the media et cetera), an enthusiastic band of racehorse owners, sponsors, punters, race club members and racegoers and of course state racing boards.
I think Mr Messara would recognise that there is a lot to do and while the initial work done was both necessary and appropriate, it’s only a start.
I support all of the endeavours and policy changes as outlined in Mr Messara’s communication.
I now turn briefly to further issues which in my opinion should be carefully reviewed as a matter of priority:
The integrity of the industry should cover all boundaries. Mr Messara’s communication really relates to integrity surrounding drug use on racehorses. I would submit that the word integrity should be applied to every aspect of the racing industry which includes without exception a review of the conduct of all those connected with the industry in some capacity such all officials, administrators and related persons within the industry. The question of integrity should cross all boundaries. I note Mr Messara refers in this communication to both the breeding and racing industry and talks of unprecedented commercial and regulatory opportunities. Please leave no stone unturned when looking at this issue. Perhaps a good place to start could be the question or issue of secret commissions being paid in the sale ring. I don’t know whether this is an issue but again if it is, it is an issue relating to integrity and the industry needs to fully consider this because it may be a concern…a criminal concern.
Equally the industry must be prepared to examine all transactions between related parties involved in the industry. This is paramount and it does go to the question of integrity.
There is no question that this is a live issue however in many ways I think much of the blame for this issue has been unfairly shelved back to Racing Australia, the respective state bodies and possibly race clubs. There is no question that the regulator has a role to play but it is a high-level role or an overarching role. I actually have no or little concern in respect of welfare issues within the breeding and racing sector. I do however have an issue in respect of horses that have been retired from racing who won’t have a future in the breeding industry. I think most of us would agree that retired racehorses must be guaranteed a comfortable life ahead however I believe that guarantee and responsibility vests with the owner of the horse. Once the horses purchased it is the responsibility of the owners to look after the welfare of their horse at least until such time as they no longer own it. Owners must be made aware of their responsibility both by auction houses, vendors, syndicate managers, trainers and to a lesser extent the regulator.
In my view the recent media rights issue between Racing NSW, Racing Victoria, Sky and the race clubs was been poorly handled at many levels. The industry formerly had a reasonably united position through TVN which has now been destroyed. I believe the industry will regret this decision and the direction it is taken for some decades. An incredibly valuable industry asset has been destroyed. Further to this and as a result of the media rights decision, it is my opinion that the funding model which the industry has enjoyed for several decades through its relationship with Tabcorp is possibly in jeopardy going forward particularly if Tabcorp were to lose its exclusive wagering license in Victoria. I am not critical of Racing Australia’s role in this matter however it is important that Racing Australia exert a strong influence over the respective parties when these critical decisions are being considered.
I believe the industry in total should carefully review its media release policies. I certainly understand and respect the need to be transparent however I seriously question the logic and the objective in releasing such detailed media eg the recent cobalt issues. In my view much of it has been unnecessary and only brings to the attention of the public serious issues of integrity which have certainly always been of concern to the industry. I don’t support “cover-ups” but equally I question whether the current industry’s media release policies are valid in this modern day particularly having regard to the effects of social media. Do the media releases themselves bring the industry into disrepute?
As I said in the beginning Racing Australia has made a good start but there is much to be done. There is no doubt in my mind that the industry and sport has a brilliant future.