Countdown on for Racing Industry Bill submissions

As we count down to the final date for submissions on the Racing Industry Bill it is becoming clear that few of those expressing a view on its contents have actually read it.

Distressingly, those same people also seem unfamiliar with the contents of the Messara Report thus it is incredibly simple to flannel them into believing that the proposed Bill delivers what Messara promised.

One of the results of this is people posting misinformation on racing chat sites which is then swallowed as gospel by those who have neither read nor understood any of what was originally proposed.  The old saying about a lie travelling halfway round the world before the truth has its boots on, has never been more apt.

During the past week the RITA roadshow has been chugging around the country to ease the fears of the racing industry when it comes to the contents of the Bill.  Unfortunately, that task has meant they have had to work to defend the indefensible.

No one with skin in the game would believe that those with racing’s best interests at heart would have supported the mangling of some of the clauses of the current Bill to the extent that the intent of the Messara Report has been neutered.  So if the Racing Minister, who delivered us Messara, and the RITA Board, which the Minister appointed to drive those recommendations through, had the right intentions, the derailing of those intentions has to lie with DIA.

The DIA officials can be forgiven for not understanding the intricate workings of the racing industry, there are some who pontificate loudly through online chat rooms who have still yet to learn the differences between the code bodies and the former NZRB/current RITa set ups!

But where they have failed us all, is by continuing down the nanny-state knows best line and, presumably against the urgings of the RITA Board, over-riding those concerns by applying multiple Ministerial handbrakes.  While they might have felt that level of Ministerial involvement in the inner-workings of the industry (appointments to the TAB Board, and approval of any joint-venture partnering of the TAB for example) was necessary, it is diametrically opposed to the fundamental thrust of the Messara Report.

Let’s not mince words, what we have now is broken.  Patching it back together with cherry-picked portions of the Messara Report and a solid dose of random sections of the old Racing Act is not going to get this industry off life-support.

But while it is widely agreed that the Bill is not fit-for-purpose in its current state, it is not beyond redemption.  The codes and RITA continue to work on reaching agreement on a number of clauses, as outlined in the handouts at this week’s RITA meetings around the country.  In addition to this, there is a surprising level of agreement around the country, cross-code and at all levels of involvement, as to which areas of the Bill fall into the non-negotiable area.

With a tick over two weeks left before submissions close on Tuesday 11 February everyone with an interest in the future of the racing industry in New Zealand should be putting pen to paper (or better still go here and click on the green button which says “I am ready to make a submission” and submit online).

Your submission doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, just clearly express your concerns.  If you, like me, are worried that the Bill in its current format, has lost the essence of the Messara Report recommendations then say so.  Your submission should also include some detail around your involvement within the industry – owner, breeder, trainer, jockey, stablehand, administrator, punter – many of us can tick a number of those boxes.

I would especially encourage those in the younger brigade who are at the early stages of their careers to make sure they submit and also to make sure they state they also wish to make an oral submission.  The grey-heads will be out in force – mainly because most have lived through a similar process in 2003 and realise the importance – but the Select Committee needs to hear from those who need this industry to survive if they are to have a career in it.

We have an opportunity to get this Bill back on track, it is our responsibility to see that the Select Committee is aware of our concerns and  the need to address them.

Industry blueprint unrecognisable in Racing Industry Bill

Towards the end of last year, I was gently scolded by a gentleman who has been a constant presence in the industry for as long as I have been involved.  He wanted to know what had happened to this blog, why I wasn’t writing and whether I had been effectively “gagged.”

To be honest what had really happened was that I had lost motivation, as I could see things beginning to evolve following the release of the Messara report and the passing of the Racing Amendment Act, the industry did appear to be progressing.  While the pace of the progress was not ideal, I was prepared to err on the side of the old Mainland cheese advert, “good things take time.”

Given the time between the release of the Messara Report (30 August 2018 for those who need reminding) and the appearance of the Racing Industry Bill I was expecting a well-crafted document.  Unfortunately, what did finally emerge looked as though it had been put together by a bunch of people with little familiarity with the industry; how it currently works; and what Messara intended.

A mishmash of cut-and-paste from the existing Bill and garbled interpretations of what was a very clearly articulated blueprint of how things should look, there appear to be so many fingerprints on this Bill it would be difficult to pin the crime on one culprit.

That lengthy preamble is what passes as an explanation as to why I have breathed life back into this blog.  I am motivated to ensure that as many people as possible are aware of the yawning difference between what Messara created and what the bureaucrats have delivered.

I keep coming back to the fact that in the Messara Report we had a blueprint.  The Minister then applied due diligence appointing the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) to run a ruler over the Messara Report.  Subsequently we ended up with RITA, the Racing Industry Transition Agency which was intended to maintain BAU as the industry moved from the horrors of the past to a brave new world.

My fellow blogger Brian de Lore provided a handful of the Racing Minister’s better comments from his speech in Hamilton at the launch of the Messara Report and I recommend you read that here.  However, there were a few others which provide a reminder of how the Minister saw the industry at that time.

“If you think I’m a harbinger of doom of gloom, read the Racing Board’s annual report out this year,” he stated.

“Here is a fact. This year a three-year revolving debt facility was established to supplement the NZRB balance sheet.

And total equity is budgeted to decline by $15.6 million this year.”

So that is where we were and what John Messara gave us was a map out of the NZRB-created maze into what promised to be a utopia.  Armed with that document one could be forgiven for thinking there was a glimmer of light at the end of the interminable tunnel we have been negotiating. And then the tinkering began and with the release of the Racing Industry Bill it was apparent that the wheels had well and truly fallen off.  Somewhere along the line the Messara Report had been hijacked and it would seem that whoever stuck their oar in was limited in knowledge of the industry, how it functioned and why Messara flagged the changes he did.

A very wise racing administrator, on first viewing of the Racing Industry Bill, told me his one recollection from his school days and his Tech Drawing class was that when one started to remove elements from a blueprint then it impacted on the integrity of the structure.  And that is what the gang of Bill writers, or those who influenced them, achieved.

What we have now bears a resemblance to the Messara report in much the same way that Bold Personality bore a resemblance to Fine Cotton.

Those with a desire to see this industry grow and thrive need to familiarise themselves with the key clauses of the Racing Industry Bill and how they create a very different final outcome to that predicted by Messara.  And please, don’t just read the Explanatory Note at the beginning and think you’ve got it covered.  It paints a picture so different from the Bill that it is clear the writers of each had possibly never been introduced.

Once au fait with the Bill and how it is written compare the significant areas around code functions, governance and appointments to the TAB, not to mention government interference, with the intention of the Messara Review’s recommendations.  A simple submission could be created purely around those issues.

The industry (not to mention others who believe themselves impacted) has until 11 February to make submissions.  It also must mobilise and unite as never before to ensure their local MP (in this election year) is well aware of our views.

 

Time to embrace the process and be part of racing’s solution

The date has been named and, next Thursday, our burning questions will be answered.

What will be in the Messara report and when and how will it be actioned?

Already though the naysayers are spreading their poisonous tendrils as they attempt to negate the report before it has seen the light of day.  They are no strangers to the industry, in fact it was possibly their ancestors who took machetes to every earlier report which sought to set the industry back on a profitable course.

All those missed opportunities to drag us back from the abyss – the bottom of which we now find ourselves – were the result of timidity of thought.  That inability to trust the people charged with doing a job and back the minds behind the likes of the McCarthy report has led us to this point in history.

It is one of the saddest differences between Australia and New Zealand.  Whereas the Lucky country is populated by gung-ho, optimistic, take-a-chance gamblers, we have a high proportion of dour, purse-lipped, wowsers who would rain on any parade.

Point out any positives in Australian racing to this lot and they will scowl, shake their heads and spit out some drivel about there just being more money in Australia.  Try and draw their attention to the gross over-spending and inability to rein in operating costs of our own NZ Racing Board and they have no answer.

What I find particularly sad is that some of those who have been sagely shaking their heads and claiming the Messara report will make no difference are supposedly journalists, current and former.  These people make (or made) their living from the industry, yet they are incapable doing their job which includes questioning those in power and taking them to task.  Instead, they accept puff-piece PR from the NZRB and seem to find it normal that we have an organisation whose costs outweigh its returns to the industry.

Of course, the difficulty we now have in New Zealand is the paucity of truly independent racing media.  This breaches many of the fundamental elements of journalism [Bill Kovach & Tom Rosenstiel] – its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover; It must serve as an independent monitor of power; Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.

This lack of independence means those seeking out credible information need to look to the country’s only independent racing publication The Informant and its correspondent Brian de Lore, or the likes of the Otago Daily Times and its racing reporter Jonny Turner.

Racing coverage which seeps into mainstream media is either of the negative “rich racing people get given more money” theme; or, what should be the celebration of a wonder horse with a Kiwi connection, ending up being all about the money she has won.  The latter is due to a total lack of understanding of the industry from the presenters and those who have directed them towards the story.

What to do then when this long-awaited Messara report finally sees the light of day?

Read it through, breathe, read it again.  Sit back, mull it over and ask yourself one question.  Am I going to be part of the solution, or part of the problem?

Make no mistake, this is our last chance to finally get it right.  Tinkering around the edges and throwing a few all-weather tracks into the mix is not going to solve the problems we have.  This is going to take bold moves, some of which we may not immediately like.

You can be part of the problem or you can embrace the process and be part of the solution.