Second Reading: Racing Amendment Bill 2015

MR HIBBINS (Prahran) — I rise to speak in the debate on the Racing Amendment Bill 2015. I will preface my comments, as other members have, by honouring Bart Cummings, who passed away recently. He had 12 Melbourne Cup wins and was a Member of the Order of Australia and the Australian Racing Hall of Fame. Every sport needs a hero, a champion, a person who essentially embodies that sport, and Bart Cummings was that person for thoroughbred racing.

Turning to the details of the bill, it amends the Racing Act 1958 in relation to the governance arrangements for Harness Racing Victoria by making changes to the composition of the board of that body and setting up an advisory body. It also specifies bodies to which the racing integrity commissioner may disclose integrity-related information, such as racing bodies around the country and the Australian Border Force. The bill also makes other minor and technical amendments, such as changing the address of the GPO in the act.

When doing research regarding this bill I was interested to see that there was some resistance to the original audit. I think the term 'bewilderment' was used by those in the industry, but down the track some very serious reports and very serious allegations of corruption and the involvement of organised crime were made regarding the integrity of harness racing. I give the government a big tick for the audit and for recognising that there was a need for review. I guess that goes to show that even if in the industry people are saying it is A-OK, that is not necessarily the case.

The audit was a high-level review of Harness Racing Victoria and more generally of key components of the harness racing industry in Victoria. It concentrated on sustaining the industry and improving governance and integrity. This bill implements recommendations 1 and 5 of eight recommendations in relation to the board and what it should be doing to improve and the advisory body. There is a total of 18 recommendations and actions the government should consider in the report, but presumably they will be overseen by the minister.

Recommendation 9 of the report states:

That the government consider the removal of integrity as a function of HRV and the establishment of a separate integrity body for Victorian harness racing.

I understand the government has made a commitment to implement all recommendations arising from this review. I certainly hope that it implements recommendation 9, because separating the regulation from the promotion of a sport is certainly something the Greens support. This issue was given attention earlier this year with the greyhound live baiting scandal. The issue of separating the integrity functions from the other parts of the sport seemed to be lost on the government when it gave Greyhound Racing Victoria (GRV) an extra $3 million to self-regulate after GRV's absolutely appalling failure to do so.

When the government was questioned on the issue, it seemed as if it was all okay. Then a report entitled Investigation into Animal Welfare and Cruelty in the Victorian Greyhound Industry, by Dr Charles Milne, the chief veterinary officer, was released. The report states:

Greyhound Racing Victoria (GRV) has an important role in promoting the economic interests —

and I think these words are applicable to all racing codes —

of greyhound racing but is also responsible for protecting the welfare of animals in the racing industry. At times judgements have to be made in estimating the risks of an animal welfare problem and the rigour with which enforcement measures are developed and applied. This can lead to conflicts between the concerns for the welfare of greyhounds and the short-term economic needs of some or all parts of the industry.

There are many decisions that the regulatory body must make that collectively have an impact on how animal welfare is regulated. These decisions include whether to proceed with prosecutions, allocation of resources within the organisation, the creation of a supportive culture and management and policy decisions that may impact animal welfare.

The review has concluded that GRV has tended towards a conservative approach to regulating for animal welfare, and that a stronger regulatory approach would be achieved by the separation of the functions of protecting animal welfare and the promotion of the business of greyhound racing in the future.

The fact that animal welfare is a serious integrity issue for the industry is also clear in the Report on the Audit of Harness Racing Victoria.

At that time this scandal approached we called for the sacking of the GRV board, as had happened interstate. It was only sometime later that the board resigned. Clearly there is a need in all racing codes for the splitting of the regulatory function — that integrity function — and the promotional and operational functions of racing bodies.

You could not expect the Greens to let this bill go past without discussing the issue of animal welfare. We believe there is a disappointing lack of focus on animal welfare in the report and the subsequent bill. The legislation is specific about the make-up of the board and the advisory body, and I see amendments and comments have been made in that regard, but one would have thought it would be wise to legislate to have an expert in animal welfare on the advisory body.

Mr Pearson interjected.

Mr HIBBINS — Unfortunately I do not have to fill time to ensure that I do not go into consideration in detail on my bill, so there is a bit of a difference there.

What we would like to see is a member with animal welfare expertise on that advisory body to ensure that the industry is adequately caring for and is centred around the horse. In terms of the consultation, animal welfare is discussed briefly in a couple of sections of the review. There is an understanding within the industry that a greater focus on animal welfare is required, not just in harness racing but across all racing codes. Vigilance on this matter cannot be understated. We saw in Harness Racing Victoria's response to the original audit that there was a belief that everything was fine, but one simply had to scratch the surface to see that it clearly was not.

I will conclude my remarks — which I know will disappoint the member for Essendon — and in doing so say that there needs to be a stronger focus on animal welfare in harness racing and the racing industry. We do not think this bill or the report it is based on meets that need — certainly it would be appropriate for an animal welfare expert to be part of the advisory body. We also strongly support the establishment of that separate body for integrity in harness racing, as is required across all racing codes. I reiterate the Greens' longstanding position that what we need in Victoria is an independent body to oversee animal welfare in this state. With those remarks, the Greens will not be opposing this bill.