MS TIERNEY (Minister for Training and Skills) (16:41:15) — I do note that this bill has been before the house since about 9.45 a.m. today, and we are almost about to go into committee.
Honourable members interjecting.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Ms Dunn) — Order!
Ms TIERNEY — Thank you, Acting President; I was just checking to see if they were still awake because this matter has been in the house for so long. I do note that there are no proposed amendments to the bill, so obviously today is about making sure that we let our constituents know about how important the racing industry is to each and every one of us, particularly those from regional Victoria.
The main five questions that have been raised, either through the course of today or indeed in the lower house, essentially go to points around what the minister has or has not done. The first question raised was about what changes have occurred to the way Racing Victoria board members are appointed. This bill enables the Minister for Racing to undertake the functions, powers and duties given to the minister through the constitution of Racing Victoria. In April last year the constitution was amended to give the Minister for Racing powers in relation to the selection, appointment, resignation and removal of directors, and under the amended constitution the minister has the power, amongst other provisions, to convene an advisory panel to advise on the suitability of candidates; the minister can consider the report prepared by the advisory panel; the minister can appoint the chair and the deputy chair; from 2018 onwards the minister will appoint the chair and Racing Victoria’s board will appoint the deputy chair amongst the directors; and the minister will be able to remove a director in certain circumstances.
Of course the consequential question from that is: why has the minister been given these powers? Essentially it is because the thoroughbred racing industry generates, as we have heard from many speakers, in the vicinity of $2.1 billion in value annually to the Victorian economy, and it sustains more than 19 200 full-time equivalent jobs, so that is a significant contribution.
Prior to the recent amendments to the constitution, directors were appointed by the company’s shareholder members, which means that directors were being appointed by the people and the organisations that they actually regulate. It is important that directors are independent from the organisations that they are regulating.
This view has been supported by Racing Victoria member shareholders, who have resolved to amend the constitution to give the minister the power to appoint directors. The bill inserts a new provision into the act to provide a legislative basis to enable the minister to perform the functions allocated to the minister through the constitution.
‘Why has the government clarified that Racing Victoria is not a statutory body?’; that was another question that was raised. Whilst the bill clarifies that the minister has certain powers conferred upon him — in this case — through the constitution, it clarifies that unlike Greyhound Racing Victoria and Harness Racing Victoria, Racing Victoria is not a public entity or public body pursuant to the Public Administration Act 2004 and the Financial Management Act 1994. This is in accordance with the second-reading speech for the bill founding Racing Victoria, which outlined that it was to be incorporated under the corporations law as a company limited by guarantee. The minister stated that Racing Victoria would be, and I quote:
… subject to all of the legal, reporting and probity obligations applicable to public companies under the Corporations Law. This includes reporting to …
which ensures appropriate public disclosure and accountability.
The government has committed to the continued operation of Racing Victoria under the Corporations Law.
There was also a comment made, ‘Well, why did the government backtrack on its promise to exclude industry participation from the board approval process?’. In late 2016 the government made a commitment to amend the Racing Act 1958 to ensure that directors are independent and that conflicts of interest are minimised and appropriately managed. Following the announcement significant consultation was undertaken with Racing Victoria and its member shareholders — that is, Country Racing Victoria, the Melbourne Racing Club, the Moonee Valley Racing Club, the Victoria Racing Club and various industry associations, such as jockeys, trainers and owners — to develop the most appropriate model to ensure the independence of Racing Victoria directors. On 18 April last year the member stakeholders resolved to adopt amendments to the constitution to amend the appointment process so that directors are no longer directly appointed by the member shareholders.
There was also a question raised particularly by the Greens along the lines of, ‘Why hasn’t the government committed to ensuring that welfare concerns are addressed by ensuring expertise in the area in board appointments?’. In response to that the government says that as a part of the 2014 Labor platform ‘Labor’s plan to keep Victorian racing strong’, Racing Victoria was identified as having the responsibility to act in the best interests of animal and jockey welfare. This commitment extended to leaving key decisions about the future of racing, including jumps racing, in the hands of Racing Victoria.
In addition the Racing Act requires the tabling of amendments to the constitution to both houses of Parliament for six sitting days. This provides an additional mechanism of disallowance by Parliament, which was not utilised in the middle of last year when the amended constitution regarding the appointment process was tabled before this house. Noting that, it is open to the minister to ensure that appointments to the board have the appropriate balance of skills for consideration. Equine welfare is a central issue for racing, as demonstrated by Racing Victoria spending $2 million annually on equine welfare and veterinary services, resources and initiatives, along with $1.7 million on medication control. They were some of the key matters that were raised in the discussion in relation to this bill.
In closing, can I also acknowledge and pay tribute to the racing industry, particularly in western Victoria. I have been able to attend and participate in a number of events over the years, including at Warrnambool, Hamilton, Ballarat, Geelong and smaller tracks. We have been able to organise marquees and have locals come together and essentially celebrate being local. Racing does pull the community together, and it does, of course, assist the local economy. Racing days always have an air of optimism and fun. Even when I think of when we went through the drought, racing days were one of those days where you could actually come together and talk about what was going on and put the family’s economic situation to one side. Even if it was for one day, you were able to do that and get on and have a little bit of fun.
Whilst racing days conclude after the last race, it is always important, I think, to also reflect on the number of jobs associated with the industry — jobs that remain in the industry well after the last race. I must say that I am very, very pleased that Glenormiston has reopened for training and that a recent memorandum of understanding was reached between South West TAFE, Camperdown Turf Club and the Terang and District Racing Club to deliver a certificate III in racing (track rider). That will have the involvement of both of those clubs in a very real sense as well as a lot of the theory being conducted at the Glenormiston facility. Again, this provides another opportunity for young people in western Victoria to train in an industry that is very much part and parcel of the economy in western Victoria. It means they are very much part of the fabric and future of western Victoria.
In closing, I would say, ‘Let’s get going’. I will not make any other ridiculous puns about racing and getting on horses or ‘Tally-ho!’ and all of that, but there has been quite some time spent here today on one bill and one bill only. I am sure that everyone is now committed to having a very efficient and productive committee of the whole. As I said, I understand there are no amendments, but I am sure there will be questions. Could I be a little bit cheeky and say that I am sure there is a wager on in the house as to how long the committee stage will last for.
Motion agreed to.
Read second time.