Second Reading: Racing Amendment (Modernisation) Bill 2017

It gives me great pleasure to speak on this bill, but I am only going to make a short contribution, mainly to put on the record the incredible impact the racing industry has on my electorate. The bill goes about amending the Racing Act 1958 to support changes to the constitution of Racing Victoria (RV), which in part will give powers to the Minister for Racing to appoint the chair, deputy chair and directors of Racing Victoria, rather than them being appointed by the industry itself.

As the member for Gippsland East said, it seems the minister has significantly changed his position since these reforms were first proposed. From the information the member has presented, the minister wanted to go a lot harder on this but has backed away from that stance, which is pleasing. This bill is about ensuring there is a level of independence and aims to minimise conflicts of interest, and I hope that the minister’s differing position ensures that that remains the case and is the case. I note in the coalition’s consultation on this matter the RV board and stakeholders wanted to get on with the job of running Racing Victoria and did not want to see it hindered by a parliamentary process, obviously. They want to see a stable structure in place to ensure there is certainty and confidence in the racing industry. This is incredibly important for the future of Racing Victoria, especially in the country.

Racing has a huge economic impact on the whole state and particularly in my electorate, so any lack of confidence has potential to do a huge amount of harm to the local economy. As my colleague the member for Gippsland East pointed out as well, racing is an enormous benefit to the region’s economy, and many members in this place are regular attendees at the famous Warrnambool May Racing Carnival. The Minister for Racing was there last year and is a regular attendee, as am I, and I have been for most of my life since probably three years of age. It is a fantastic three days of racing that is enjoyed by thousands of people.

The Warrnambool Racing Club recently released findings about the economic impact that this event has on our community just from last year’s carnival, and the figures are mind-boggling. The carnival generated a total expenditure impact of $13 million; $10.6 million of this was spent in Warrnambool, with $7.3 million representing new money generated for Warrnambool. The three-day carnival had a total attendance of 30 514, with more than 68 per cent of these attendees coming from outside the Warrnambool region.

Mr Pakula — A record.

Ms BRITNELL — You are quite right. It was a record, and beautiful weather helped that enormously this year as well.

Mr Pakula — More than they did at Randwick.

Ms BRITNELL — Warrnambool did do a Randwick, and we will continue to do a Randwick.

That means the carnival brought 8500 individuals into the region that otherwise would not have visited and generated 26 190 bed nights for Warrnambool and 10 616 bed nights for other parts of our region. But the impact of the industry in South-West Coast extends well beyond the three days in May, providing employment across the region all year round. Between August 2014 and November last year there were 582 individual horses stabled in the area, and my colleague the member for Mildura pointed out that Darren Weir has quite a large horse contingent down in that area. He is from Berriwillock, I think, and is very successful in our region, along with other trainers, both local and from afar, because of the conditions and opportunities we have down our way for this industry. Over the past three years the average horse numbers using facilities at the Warrnambool racecourse has grown from 2600 to 3391.

Warrnambool City Council values the racing industry in the Western District in excess of $100 million. The council estimates one in every 14 adults are directly employed or involved with the racing industry in the south-west, making the region the most active in Victoria in terms of participation in the industry. This growth is not just good for those directly involved in the racing industry; it also provides a welcome boost for those indirect industries that service the industry, like the veterinarians, feed companies, farriers, transport companies and many more. The industry also makes a significant contribution to other industries, including tourism, retail and hospitality.

Let us remember that in the countryside a lot of our hard work to keep this club going so well is certainly from the governance structures in place and certainly by having good boards, but a lot of those people do it voluntarily, and the board members themselves do an enormous amount of work outside of the work that is just directly involved in the board itself. I see them around the town, and the work they do for the community of the Warrnambool Racing Club and the Bushfield racing club, which put on a day a year, is an enormous amount of work for volunteers.

A report commissioned earlier this year found the industry generated $8 million in direct expenditure for the south-west coast in the 2015–16 financial year. It also found that more than 800 people were directly involved in the sport while it sustained 61 full-time equivalent jobs on the south-west coast. So it seems absurd that the government is seeming to support the thoroughbred racing industry while sending draft codes of conduct to the greyhound industry which places unrealistic demands on greyhound breeders and trainers in an attempt to gain brownie points from activists who are aiming to shut the industry down by stealth.

The draft code of practice is overreaching and aims to increase costs, making people jump through ridiculous regulatory hoops. Yes, we want to make sure that animal welfare is a priority, but these proposals go well beyond good practice. They talk about preventing puppies from being bullied by their brothers and sisters and feature a huge amount of red tape and regulation that simply will not work and is unnecessary. It shows that whoever is drafting this has absolutely zero knowledge of animal management, and I would encourage anyone with an ounce of knowledge to get involved and have their say.

We must have common sense prevailing. I get quite frustrated, as someone who has worked very, very closely with animals for 20 years or more — a lot more actually, but professionally for 20 years — and I find it quite offensive that those who actually do not work in the field and who are not experts are suggesting that we do not care about our animals. I can tell you many a story, particularly in August — this time of year — where I would go out, my husband would go out or my children would go out, depending on who was able to at the time, at 10 o’clock at night, at midnight or at 2.00 a.m. in the morning to check cows, to make sure that if any were down with calving paralysis, they were given anti-inflammatories immediately so they had the best chance of getting up. I have covered cows with space blankets. That is what we use for hypothermia in the human world, and I use the same techniques in the animal world. You would be amazed at the science and the understanding we have of animals.

I look at the vets who work with the horses in the racing industry. They are doing acupuncture on their horses, and they respond quite well, I might add, to acupuncture. I do not think these are people, or that I am a person, who do not really care. I do get a little bit frustrated when I hear about puppies being bullied by other puppies and managing animals in a ridiculous way. Of course they are our priority. They have to be.

I think it is really good that we see good governance. I am always for good governance, and whilst this is a bill that is procedural in nature it does set about ensuring a strong and modern framework for governance and transparency of the Victorian thoroughbred racing industry. That is vital for the confidence in the industry for all the reasons I have spoken about and for helping both the volunteers and the board members to continue so we can get the best result we possibly can get for the economy in my electorate using a respectful approach to animal management, with everybody enjoying the sport as we know it and the sport continuously improving.