28th November, 2023.
I speak against the Thoroughbred Racing Amendment Bill 2023 as it is currently worded, which extends the period of appointment of the current chairperson of Racing NSW by 24 months. I speak against the extension for a number of reasons, but I must admit that listening to debate on the bill has left me quite flabbergasted. I am not actually sure what I am debating. We have heard about the amazing racing industry, including each particular race and all of the people who are employed in racing, and it sounds as though there is only one person who could manage all of those things. What I have heard from Government members is, "I am here to talk about the period of employment of the current chairman."
I speak against the extension for other reasons, including the governance and due diligence necessary to run a board, the substantial matters of concern that still exist in the industry, and the questions that exist about what has been achieved during the past 12 years under the Racing NSW leadership. I am sure lots of things have been achieved, but with any board position, it is necessary to have a succession plan to ensure that directors act independently. Having a single chair for 14 years is by no means good governance. There appears to have been no succession planning, which is an important risk management job for a board. The Government is choosing to continue a position without asking openly for interested people for the position. I am not saying the current chair should not be chosen, if done democratically. But where is the choice? We only have a choice of an extension of time.
It is not the first time, as a Parliament, that we have faced an extension of time. There were critical features last time as well as this time, and I am sure there probably will be next time. I understand the board needs time to plan, but a shorter period of maybe six months would be more sensible for the Government to answer to the responsibilities outlined in the Act. The Government has left it until the last week of this sitting period. It is acting like this is just routine and it is giving us no real options. However, the option is in the Act. Part 2, section 7 (1) to (7) of the Act outlines exactly how the Minister should establish a panel; the issue is that this needs to be done when there is a vacancy. Asking members of Parliament to extend this contract is, in effect, asking us to give away the right to establish renewal for the board. That shows a lack of respect for the Parliament and for the industry.
We are not talking about small figures. Racing NSW had a $422 million income in the 2022‑23 financial year alone. The previous continuation of the contract by the NSW Liberals-Nationals Coalition in 2019 was due, we were told at the time, to COVID reasons and stability. What is the reason today for not having fresh board members? Is there no-one in this State that the current Government can recommend for the job? If not, that is okay, but the Government should call for applications—one never knows the expertise one might attract. The current average age of board members is 68 years old and they are all men except one. The board is hardly diverse, and certainly not worth celebrating. We are told by the Minister an accomplishment of the chair is the increase in the number of women in the sport, but apparently not on the board itself.
Beyond good governing processes, the claims that have been made for the achievements of the chair and the board are in some cases overblown, and in others just plain wrong. It was claimed that thoroughbreds have been rehomed. Since this time last year only 22 horses have been rehomed, less than two per month. When I talk to people who should know, they say that land has been purchased but there are not many horses being rehabilitated there. It almost looks like land banking, with $30 million spent on buying and refurbishing land. How many horses have actually been through there?
There have been many reviews, and powers have been used by Racing NSW. Staff shortages are not unknown or unusual in any industry. Racing NSW purchased the TAFE in Scone in 2020 from the former Government. It was claimed that that sale of a government asset would answer staff shortages through training, and it was promised to be a world-class training facility. Today there are low enrolments for the few certificate IV courses that are run there. That was all supported and led by this board.
The board has a fundamental privatisation agenda, which Labor should oppose for consistency alone. Couple that with the immense investment from the New South Wales Government for developing infrastructure which has not been spent, except on tracks and land owned by Racing NSW. That has taken funds away from local clubs, again led and driven by this board. While I do not claim to be an expert on racing—although I visited the Bong Bong races on the weekend—there seems to be a lot of politics involved, regardless of who the chair is. We need stakeholder consultation, good governance and, most of all, transparency.