If you ever wanted to know just how the racing industry is perceived by those who run the country, then tuning into watch proceedings in parliament on Tuesday would have left you with a clear picture.
From being an industry where most of those stalking the corridors of power had at least some passing interest, racing has declined to something from the dim distant past. Most of those speaking were left scrambling to find a tenuous racing tale to demonstrate their connection. And that was just those on the government’s side of the House. The Nats, once natural bedfellows of the racing industry, showed a mixture of relief that they no longer had to deal with the seemingly, never-ending demands from the racing brigade and outright antipathy.
The occasion was the first reading of the Racing Reform Bill which is being fast-tracked through select committee and scheduled to be reported back to the House by 11 June. If you’ve read the RRB and have any thoughts about making a submission to select committee then you will need to be quick. That window of opportunity, currently open, will slam shut on Tuesday 4 June – the initial date was Monday until someone realised it was a public holiday.
While long-time watchers of the theatre which surrounds our law-making will have seen through much of the posturing and playing of roles on Tuesday, the uninitiated were possibly left astounded.
Here I have to confess that I have, on occasion, watched Question Time at parliament purely for the amusement value. But the amusement value on Tuesday was limited due to the fact they were talking about something close to my heart.
Even knowing that everyone in the House was playing a role, and the arguments were focused on not giving a sucker and even break (with the sucker being those on the other side) rather than doing anything to advance the cause of the racing industry, it was not an easy watch.
Make no mistake, politicians don’t particularly like the racing industry. Not all of them are as honest as Gerry Brownlee who described racing as “dull” but scratch any of the hokey old stories told to demonstrate some form of kinship with the industry and you will find a card-carrying opponent to our industry.
Sure, they will show up when they have too – usually around election time, but they would rather have nothing to do with us.
It wasn’t always so. Back in the ancient past – around the time of the formation of the TAB, whose ownership Mr Brownlee is so keen to determine, many MPs were prominent racehorse owners.
One of the Wellington Cup winners (at Trentham, the track whose name Mr Brownlee struggled to recall) that my grandfather trained was owned by the then-Speaker of the House Sir Matthew Oram.
It made sense for MPs to have some involvement in racing, given that at the time the local racecourse was the perfect place to meet with a wide range of one’s constituents. This continued to be the case through to the early 1980s. Former MP Marilyn Waring, while revisiting the fight to get female jockeys licensed, told me she was a regular attendee at the Waipa races during her time in parliament for that very reason.
The world has moved on and politicians have no real need for racing any more. Of course, the industry itself is not blameless when it comes to the disconnect between the industry and all-but-Winston.
Who wouldn’t lose patience with an industry which, despite numerous Royal Commissions, Reviews and Recommendations designed to drag it (kicking and screaming) into a bright new future, managed to find new and different ways to muck things up?
Is it any wonder the politicians manage to side-step any possible engagement with industry representatives when they are constantly presented with problems and never solutions?
The industry has a long history of shooting itself in the foot with politicians. Bad mouthing them and their efforts to drag the industry out of the mire and then acting surprised when future efforts to get alongside said politician are met with the cold shoulder.
Racing administrators have, over the years, behaved like that annoying whiny kid-adult who having left home years earlier still can’t understand why his parents won’t keep funding his lifestyle.
Presumably the Racing Reform Bill will get across the line in the prescribed (truncated, according to the Nats) time-frame and we will be off into another brave new future with any amendments or changes agreed upon throughout the process.
While there were some cringe-making comments during Tuesday’s first reading Gerry Brownlee, despite his apparently loathing of racing, did also offer a credible piece of insight into what has helped stymie the industry over the years.
“I think every effort that they’ve made, commendable as it is, falls short because the industry itself have never been prepared to take into their number—to put on their boards, to bring into their fold—people who have a bit of an entrepreneurial bent and a considerable love for the horse racing sport,” he said.
Gerry, you said a mouthful!