The shenanigans in Victorian greyhound administration offer Racing Minister Napthine a marvellous opportunity to lead the industry into the modern world. Australian racing’s outdated and inefficient management-by-committee structure is the prime reason for its loss of market share over the last 20 years. It could easily be replaced by a results-oriented, transparent and customer-focussed corporation where performance can be measured, where boards set policy, where managers manage and both are held to account.
All the publicity about employees on the punt is a red herring. That’s not the key issue, at least in respect of people who have no direct influence over race fields and the like.
The problems are threefold. First, people broke the rules. Whether they were good rules or not is beside the point. Rules are rules. If you don’t like them, get out. Second, nobody noticed they were breaking those rules, which tells us the system was not working. Without a radical change to the system, there is every chance it will occur again. Third, like most other sectors of the industry, GRV concentrated on administration rather than development and progress over the long term. Again, like many others, its finances relied on handouts and good will from government, usually more liberal than in other states. Victorian racing has done pretty well in that area for a long time – a share of poker machine taxes, for example - which can tend to lull you into a sense of false security.
But nothing beats the need to get out into the street and find new customers. The future lies with fresh blood, not screwing mug gamblers in pubs. The huge success of the Miata-Sandown Cup meeting gives you an inkling of what is possible. That’s something that Queensland needs to remember, too. See below.
Having said that, let’s acknowledge that GRV has conducted an aggressive campaign to modernise many of its tracks. It has missed some that badly need work – including Sandown and The Meadows – and it has not always achieved top results – eg Sale is no better than it was and Geelong is questionable – but at least it has tried. Since the industry has consistently refused to conduct independent studies of the science of track design, that’s the best we can expect for the moment. But we will have to do better to attract and keep those new customers.
Queensland Lights Are Flickering
It now seems clear that the new Queensland racing authority will comprise an “All Codes Board” with three “Code Specific Control Bodies” reporting to it, according to media releases. Details await the preparation of new legislation.
No prizes for guessing how much “control” the greyhound people will have over what they do and how they pay for it. The whole arrangement smacks of government micro-managing the industry. On MasterChef they would call it overcooked.
The nearest approximation to this sort of organisation is in Tasmania where the government controls everything but listens to advisory groups appointed for each code. Tassie is doing OK for the moment (mostly via favourable tax allocations) but the prospect of governments and public servants running commercial undertakings is hardly exciting over the long term.
More worrying is that all the signs from Queensland politicians, including the Premier and the Treasurer, suggest that state finances are in strife. Whether that is true or not, it does not augur well for capital allocations for new tracks at Logan or elsewhere, never mind the $10 million they promised after grabbing the Parklands track for a hospital expansion, or the potential sale of Albion Park (where the dogs own half).
Add this to the already dicey state of greyhound racing in Queensland and you have an industry with a potentially life-threatening disease. Sadly, they seem to be concentrating on holding that disease in check, rather than curing it. Yet the status quo is never a real option – you go either backwards or forwards.
If we had a genuinely powerful national body (which we don’t) it would have this at the top of its agenda for emergency aid.
Meantime, can I repeat a suggestion made to the old QGRA several years ago? RQ needs to phone Paul Wheeler and order 100 or so dogs for on-sale or lease to locals.
The current problems in Queensland are not limited to politics or the makeup of control bodies. Whatever measures they take there will have little effect for some time anyway.
What needs urgent attention is the shortage of good dogs and programs to market them to the public. RQ could get enough extra cash to support that plan from two sources: a promised improved (and fairer) share of TAB commissions for greyhounds and the creation of a national betting pool to encourage bigger punters.
By coincidence, two other smaller greyhound states, SA and WA, are doing quite nicely by using similar import devices. The difference is that it is being done voluntarily. Buyers and sellers find it attractive to do deals with WA owners and move dogs from east to west while SA is the major beneficiary of the second level production of the Wheeler stud farm. Queensland authorities should work out why it is not only coming up short on both counts, but also sending good dogs away to Victoria (as is NSW).