Racing Amendment Bill 2021

As the member for South-West Coast—the home of country racing’s best and most famous event, the Grand Annual steeplechase—I am pleased to make a brief contribution on the Racing Amendment Bill 2021.

As the shadow minister, the member for East Gippsland, has indicated, we will not be opposing this bill, which makes various changes to the Racing Act to allow racing on Good Friday, streamline integrity processes and provide greater powers to Harness Racing Victoria to act on matters relating to club administration.

In terms of Good Friday, this brings Victoria into line with other states, and a Good Friday meeting will be held in country Victoria on a rotational basis—I am sure the Warrnambool Racing Club will be very keen to add a Good Friday race day to their already great annual program.

This bill also allows the ability to appoint an acting racing integrity commissioner to backfill that important position if the commissioner is sick or on leave. The ability to do that doesn’t exist currently and this bill fixes that, which I think is extremely important because we want to ensure that the racing industry is always maintaining the highest levels of integrity.

As the shadow minister said, these are all changes that have been put forward by the racing industry participants and it’s not something we oppose.

I do want to take a minute to talk about the incredible Warrnambool Racing Club in my electorate, which I know many members in this chamber are familiar with—especially over the days leading up to that first Thursday in May.

I of course talk about the May racing carnival—the premium country racing carnival in the nation.

It’s hard to believe standing here in lockdown surrounded by perspex screens and wearing masks that in May this year we were at the Warrnambool racecourse with thousands of other racegoers.

After the carnival was scaled back to a two-day program in 2020 with no spectators it was brilliant to be back up on the hill to watch the Grand Annual and to catch up with friends in the fantastic new facilities the racing club worked so hard to have established.

CEO Tom O’Connor, his team and the committee led by Nick Rule need to be congratulated for the work they put in to pull that event off in a COVID-safe way.

I also want to pay special tribute to Nick, who has announced he will stand down as committee chair in October after four years. Nick has made a significant contribution to the racing club and leaves a lasting legacy, including a $5.8 million upgrade of the Matilda Room and spending more than $1 million to improve on-course training facilities at the course.

The new-look Matilda Room is an amazing facility and will be well utilised by the wider community when restrictions allow. It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge former CEO Peter Downs, who was an integral part of kicking off that redevelopment.

The May carnival isn’t just a major support for racing, it creates a huge economic injection for the whole region—the 2019 carnival generated a total expenditure impact of $13.9 million for the south-west region.

The 2021 carnival figure will be similar—so you can see that the event isn’t just important for the racing industry, it’s vital for the south-west community. It provides a financial boost to hospitality and accommodation providers ahead of the generally quiet winter period.

As we know, the tourism, events, accommodation and hospitality sectors have been the hardest hit by the continued shutdowns across Victoria, particularly in regional areas.

Even when regional Victoria is open, but Melbourne is closed, these sectors still really struggle in regional areas. They are going to need financial support to continue over the coming weeks while Melbourne remains in lockdown and unable to travel to regional areas.

Recently local caravan park operator Steve Moore told the Warrnambool Standard that he would struggle to stay afloat without visitors from Melbourne and without government support payments.

I again call on the government to provide some financial support for tourism businesses in regional Victoria for the duration of the Melbourne lockdown, because if you don’t, we may be running the risk of not having a bed for our Melbourne friends when they are allowed to come back, because businesses will have closed.

So this bill is simply addressing issues that the industry has flagged with the government—they make sense and I am more than happy to support them.

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