Thoroughbred Racing Amendment Bill 2023

Thoroughbred Racing Amendment Bill 2023

(Second Reading Debate & consideration in Detail, 28 November 2023, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

The Thoroughbred Racing Amendment Bill 2023 is a very simple piece of legislation. It changes rules established under longstanding principles that safeguard good governance at Racing NSW for the sole purpose of keeping a powerful man in control. It is no secret that I abhor horseracing. It profits from shocking animal cruelty and gambling harm. But the bill has nothing to do with horseracing. The bill is about lucrative jobs for the powerful and influential. The current chair of Racing NSW has already had his tenure extended by legislation twice: once in 2019 and then again in 2021. In 2021 there was a pandemic, which defended continuity over rejuvenation. We are told now that a further extension is needed for continuity of corporate knowledge to navigate the new challenges, of which the list includes: the changing wagering environments, animal welfare, skills and training, and capital works focused on country racetracks. These are hardly extraordinary circumstances for the racing industry.

Let us unpack the issue of animal welfare. Under the current chair, Racing NSW has done little to improve transparency around animal welfare. We do not know how many horses have been retired to welfare farms, how many have been rehomed or how many have been rejected. Information suggests that only 22 horses were rehomed in the past 12 months, and that welfare farms are at capacity and can no longer accept horses. In response to the 2019 ABC7.30 exposé of shocking mistreatment of retired racehorses, the Racing NSW CEO took out defamation action against the network and Racing NSW blocked attempts for a joint national review of thoroughbred welfare by all Australian racing authorities. When an independent review was commissioned, Racing NSW attempted to block release of the report and then used Racing NSW veto powers at Racing Australia to stop recommendations being adopted nationally.

According to the latest Deathwatch Report from the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses, New South Wales has the highest number of recorded racehorse racetrack deaths in the country, with 53 recorded last year. Racehorses are whipped, tongue tied, kept in isolation and experience critically painful injures from fractures, torn ligaments and bleeding windpipes. They are overbred, with slower horses that never make it to the racetrack sent to the knackery. Surely, we cannot seriously claim that the animal welfare track record justifies continuity of the current approach. If we look at training and skills, like many industries, racing has a skill shortage. Industry insiders tell me that Racing NSW has failed to develop any strategies or policies to attract new people into the industry or train them properly, with its skill program heavily reliant on immigration.

As for a capital works program, two years ago Racing NSW was given $60 million to develop regional racetracks. Almost none of this money has been spent and the only projects approved are racetracks on Racing NSW owned land, providing no benefit for regional race clubs and requiring them to pay to use new ones. I have been provided with examples of Hawkesbury, a major training centre with top-flight horses and major trainers, which still has metal running rails on its training tracks that Racing NSW has not funded to remove. The rails are so dangerous that last year a horse ran into them, impaled itself and bled to death on the track. Insiders tell me that Racing NSW uses funds not to build sustainably across the industry, but instead to create dependence and subservience through ex gratia payments.

With regard to a changing wagering environment, changing business environments and settings are the reason we now seek new leadership to encourage innovation. The role of a board chair is to provide oversight of the organisation's executive and to hold it to account. Maintaining a chair for too long embeds that chair in the administration and existing culture of an organisation, which is never a good thing. The basis for continuity does not stand up to scrutiny. All companies, organisations and businesses are facing new challenges. They have in the past and they will in the future. There is nothing unprecedented now. Racing NSW is not answerable to the Government. The Government's only authority over the organisation is through the appointment of board directors and chairs. Rightly, that control has been limited by Parliament to prevent any chair dominating and wielding too much influence.

The failure to work on succession and renewal to ensure that Racing NSW can move forward into the future with a modern, diverse board that fulfils its duty to act not only in the interest of horse racing but also in the public interest, which includes reducing gambling harm and improving animal welfare, is a travesty. I foreshadow that, at a later stage, I will move an amendment to ensure that a selection process is in place before the end of each member's tenure and that the selection panel considers diversity when establishing its list for board membership. That will ensure that we do not end up in the same position in two years' time. Racing NSW is a powerful statutory authority that was initially set up as a regulator but has used its influence to morph into the keeper and administrator of an annual budget of over $400 million in State funds with no oversight.

The bill has brought to light alarming practices in an organisation with no transparency or accountability. A thorough review of how the Act is operating will include how the board runs, controls funds and is overseen, and its governance structure. I foreshadow that I will propose another amendment to the bill to provide for a statutory review of the Act. I am aware that the Coalition also has foreshadowed that it will propose an amendment for a statutory review of the Act. The review I propose will be different, as it will be a review after 12 months, not six months, which is not sufficient for a proper review to occur. It will also look at oversight mechanisms for Racing NSW and consult with all relevant stakeholders, not just those in the racing industry. This Parliament should be more than a protection racket for the powerful and influential. Our democracy is better than that. Along with my crossbench colleagues, I oppose the bill.

Consideration in Detail (Amendments):

By leave: I move my amendments Nos 1 to 3 on sheet c2023-141E in globo:

No. 1 Selection process for new members of Racing NSW

Page 3, Schedule 1. Insert before line 3—

[1] Section 7 Selection Panel

Insert after section 7(1)—

(1A) A Selection Panel must be established by the day (the relevant day) that is 6 months before an appointed member's term of office will be completed if—

(a) the vacancy referred to in subsection (1)(a) or (b) will arise because the appointed member will complete the member's term of office, and

(b) the appointed member has not been reappointed before the relevant day.

Note— Under section 6(4), a person is not eligible to hold office as an appointed member for more than 12 years in total, whether or not involving consecutive terms.

[2] Section 7(2A)

Insert after section 7(2)—

(2A) In preparing a list of persons recommended for appointment as members of Racing NSW or for appointment as the Chairperson or Deputy Chairperson of Racing NSW, the Selection Panel must have regard to diversity in the membership, including gender diversity.

No. 2 Review of Act

Page 3, Schedule 1. Insert after line 21—

48 Review of Act

(1) The Minister must review this Act to determine whether—

(a) the policy objectives of, and oversight mechanisms provided by, the Act remain valid, and

(b) the terms of the Act remain appropriate for securing the objectives.

(2) In conducting the review, the Minister must consult with relevant stakeholders.

(3) A review under this clause must be undertaken—

(a) as soon as possible after the commencement of this clause, and

(b) at intervals of 5 years after the first review.

(4) A report on the outcome of each review must be tabled in each House of Parliament—

(a) for the first review—within 12 months after the commencement of this clause, and

(b) for each subsequent review—within 5 years after the last report was tabled.

No. 3 Long title

Omit "Racing NSW.". Insert instead "Racing NSW; and to provide for statutory reviews of that Act.".

Racing NSW is a powerful statutory body that controls significant State funds generated from the proceeds of animal cruelty and gambling harm. Huge sums of money are up for grabs in the industry, making it rife for corruption and undue interference. The only control that the Government has is through selecting a strong board to exercise its oversight role in holding the industry to account. Racing NSW has instead used its power to grow control of wagering income, stymie real progress in animal welfare and exert influence over the Government and the political process, not the other way around.

The bill represents the third time a government in this House has been convinced that the current chair is the only person in the world capable of doing the job. In two years' time, the current chair will have served an additional six years over and above the initial legislated tenure. This approach does not represent good, transparent and accountable governance, and my amendments will make sure that we are not back in this place in two years hearing about why there is a need to again continue the chair's tenure. The amendments will require that six months before a board member's tenure is complete, a selection process to find a replacement must commence.

The amendments will also promote renewal in the board by requiring the selection panel to consider diversity when it is developing a list of candidates—obviously, including gender diversity. Also, the independent selection panel can only consider eligible candidates, which the current chair will not be as his tenure will come to a legislated end at the time after the period when the independent panel has started. We know that the board will benefit from greater female representation.

The amendments that I propose will also require a statutory review of the Act, including on governance and oversight—which is an issue that a number of crossbench members have raised—within 12 months of the bill passing and then every five years. It will also require the Minister to consult with relevant stakeholders, and I would consider those relevant stakeholders to be industry‑related people as well as stakeholders concerned with animal welfare and gambling harm. I thank the Government and my crossbench colleagues for working with me on these amendments and for their support. I commend the amendments to the House.

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