NSW racing plan faces backlash as legislation revealed
The Minns government is staring down the barrel of a legal and political fight after yesterday they introduced contentious legislation that would extend the tenure of Russell Balding, Racing NSW’s chairman.
The legislation introduced yesterday would effectively pave the way for Balding’s term on the board extended to 14 years as the head of the body, which coordinates racing in the state and is responsible for overseeing chief executive Peter V’landys, one of the industry’s most powerful figures. The legislation unveiled yesterday proposes to extend Balding’s term for 24 months as a member of the Racing NSW board and its chairman.
It is expected to be debated from Tuesday next week. Many of the industry’s leading figures, including former Racing NSW chairman John Messara, the Arrowfield Stud founder, Hall Of Fame trainer Gai Waterhouse and Katie Page, the chief executive of Harvey Norman and co-owner of thoroughbred auction house Magic Millions, entered the public sphere last week, expressing their concerns regarding Balding’s reappointment.
Meanwhile on Monday, TBNSW president Hamish Esplin confirmed to ANZ Bloodstock News that the organisation sent a letter to Racing Minister David Harris which outlines that it had sought legal advice on the issue.
The letter to Harris, drafted by ABL litigation partner Jonathan Milner for TBNSW, said that if a board member’s tenure is extended beyond the statutory maximum term without the assessment of candidates by an independent selection panel could breach the state’s Thoroughbred Racing Act.
Harris has repeatedly defended the plan, which would amount to the third time legislation has passed to grant Balding a longer term. Harris argues he is prioritising continuity as the racing body confronts regulatory change. The extension also has the support from some wings of the industry including the NSW Trainers’ Association, The Provincial Clubs Association and the Australian Turf Club.
However, this latest legislation has hit a roadblock in parliament as a growing number of crossbenchers harden their stance against the Balding’s reappointment. Liberals who had reservations about granting the last two extensions have also expressed opposition to the idea. “We’re moving away from a merit-based selection process, which is completely contrary to the purpose of the Act,” one Liberal, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Australian Financial Review.
“The Act was set up specifically to ensure turnover of members on the board and a proper process, rather than being subject to political interference.” An unwillingness to accept Balding’s extension is building within the Liberals. Frontbenchers including Alister Henskens and Eleni Petinos, the party’s upper house leader Damien Tudehope, and Justin Clancy are understood to have deep reservations about the extension and some Nationals share their reservations.
Former racing minister Kevin Anderson is understood to be supportive of the extension, but declined to comment when asked by The Australian Financial Review on Tuesday. Balding has been on the Racing NSW board since 2011 and he was appointed as deputy chairman under Messara in 2015. Messara retired as chairman of Racing NSW in 2016, just one year into a three-year term, which led to Balding’s elevation as chairman.