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By Graham Potter | Friday, October 26, 2018

The state government’s meeting with representative members of the Racing Alliance today is, at best, a starting point giving some hope of better things to come.

It is a difficult meeting to manage for both parties.

Government spokesman, who had remained absolutely silent for a week when a much earlier response to racing’s industrial action was needed, are back saying all of the right things but they will face an uphill task trying to convince racing stakeholders that their motives are genuine this time and not just a short-term response to ease the pressure they are under.

Across the table the Racing stakeholders view must be that until there is concrete action to support government statements, words will mean little.

That is why it is also a difficult meeting for the Racing Alliance. They do not want to strike. They want to race and keep the door open for negotiation and that might leave them conflicted because they might be tempted, in good faith, to get back to ‘normal’ and accept a verbal compromise which, as racing has found all too often to its detriment, has little to no value.

Betting on government coming through on their word could be a dangerous route to follow.

Can a leopard really change its spots?

That is likely to be racing’s dilemma going into, during, and after the meeting.

To put that comment in perspective let’s look at the events of the last week.

On Wednesday … Hinchliffe in hiding. Trad treading water. Palaszczuk procrastinating.

Well, that was one possible interpretation of the events that unfolded on the government side of things in the last days leading up to Racing Queensland’s forced formal cancellation of four race meetings on Saturday, Cox Plate day, following the racing stakeholder’s confirmation that they would follow through with the previously threatened industrial action.

And don’t take my word for it.

Wednesday’s Nine News ended their update on the strike reporting that Racing Minister Stirling Hinchliffe was ‘nowhere to be seen.’

Alan Jones, on his breakfast show, stated, ‘I invited the Treasurer Jackie Trad onto the program to explain this. She suddenly was not available … simply because she can’t explain it.’

Premier Palaszczuk faced the camera with a condescending smile. Unfortunately, contrary to her manner, the facts suggest she does not ‘know better’ than anybody else. Jones had a simple message for her as well … ‘A disgrace, Annastacia. A disgrace.”

Paul Murray on Sky News also had his say … and so the power of the racing alliance movement, in one short week since announcing strike action, has grown into a cause which has reached the national stage.

Now government wants a meeting.

Without that coverage and the build up of that massive resistance movement would government have come to the table?

Don’t get me wrong, it is good that racing’s ‘push back’ seemingly has the government off-balance and that they are coming to the table now, but are they really coming willingly with the real intention of sorting things out?

That is one thing the Racing Alliance representatives will have to judge at today’s meeting and it will be an important judgement call as it could come down to being the whole crux of the matter moving forward.

All credit to Cameron Partington and Robert Heathcote for being the face of the alliance but there is an army behind them and clearly the government, who thought nothing of it before, are now in the early stages of realisation that this is not going to go the same way it has gone so many times before when there were always murmurs against their apathy but their lack of performance was never seriously challenged.

It has been challenged now.

We all want a happy ending but, for now, you’ll have to keep turning those pages.

The next chapter is under way.

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Dear Premier Palaszczuk / Minister Hinchliffe,


My name is Ben Ahrens and I am a thoroughbred horse trainer based in Beaudesert, one of the horse capitals of Queensland. I employ eight full-time and two part-time workers. All my employees have dedicated their lives to working with thoroughbreds and have limited training outside of the racing or breeding industry. Sadly, I have witnessed the steady decline of our industry over the past thirty years, and I have real concerns about the viability of my business going forward, and consequently the future of my employees if I choose to close the doors. Ten years ago, if I were to “shut up shop”, there would be several opportunities available to my staff in similar local businesses, however with the decline in our industry, these opportunities have become either rare, or no longer exist. And, if there are limited opportunities for horse people in Beaudesert, one of the horse capitals of Queensland, I’m not sure where else they would go, except for New South Wales.

During the 2015/2016 racing season my stable experienced good results. For a stable based in Beaudesert, we finished 18th on the Metropolitan training premiership and had the best winning percentage of the top 20 trainers. On the back of those buoyant results I invested any funds I had into upgrading my facilities and purchasing yearlings from the sales. Unfortunately, off the back of those good results, my business experienced negative growth in the following seasons. Not only have I had difficulty in attracting new owners to racing, I have found it difficult to keep the clients I already have. Of course, there could be several reasons why I find it difficult to grow my business from Beaudesert, many of which could be of my own doing. However, the main reason I’m given when pursuing new owners is that racing a horse in Queensland is no longer viable. Specifically, “why would we race a horse in Queensland, when we can race for double the prizemoney in New South Wales”. It has got to the point where I feel like a fool for trying to persuade them otherwise.

Queensland’s thoroughbred breeders face the same headwinds as thoroughbred trainers. It will take some sort of advertising wizardry from stallion farms to stop breeders sending their mares to the Hunter Valley. The same sentiment exists, “why breed a horse to race in Queensland, when you can race for double the prizemoney in New South Wales”. The QTIS scheme, in my opinion, is the single thread holding the Queensland thoroughbred breeders from falling into the abyss.

I also have reservations about having all three codes under the one Queensland Racing banner. The current framework lacks accountability in my opinion. The best way to get each of our industries working at their optimum is to increase competition between the three codes, other sports and other betting and wagering avenues. Competition may not be the word I’m looking for, maybe a friendly rivalry is a better description. Whatever the motivation, separate the three codes, appoint officials approved by their peers, put their feet to the fire, and watch each of the codes fight for their share. Problems will always exist no matter the model, but at least the days of “robbing Peter to give to Paul” would be over, and accountability would be returned.

I may be in the minority on my next point, but I’m willing to give the QRIC the benefit of the doubt, for now. I see some benefits in keeping the integrity unit independent from the three codes, but only if their budget can be maintained. I see no sense in weakening the broader industry for the sake of maintaining an ideological folly, like putting lipstick on a pig. If QRIC cannot sort out its “teething problems” quickly, the industry cannot afford to keep “forking out”, while the rest of the industry is eroded. After all, a broken racing industry would be the perfect breeding ground to encourage integrity breaches.

In summary, the Thoroughbred Industry is on life support. It may be presumptuous, but I would assume the Harness and Greyhound Industries are doing it tough also. The current situation is not the fault of the current government alone, but it doesn’t seem to recognise the dire situation we are in. Claims by government officials that they are “tired of giving handouts to the racing industry” is a slap in the face to many proud, hard-working Queenslanders, who are paying for the sins of government and industry predecessors. This would be akin to berating my children for paying their school fees. They don’t have the means up front to pay for it, but they’ll pay you back in time if you give them confidence and invest in their future. At present, there is no confidence and the Queensland government has effectively, and possibly unknowingly, invested heavily only in the future of the New South Wales racing and breeding industries.

The talent drain is upon us. It’s only a matter of months before we lose our top trainers, our biggest owners, our best racehorses, our best broodmares and best stallions to the juggernaut of Racing New South Wales. Once they’re gone, the only way we will get them back is if we can offer them better than what they receive over the border, and realistically that is never going to happen. The government has the rare opportunity right now to stem the flow. I would suggest a new tax of 15% on betting and wagering revenue, be applied in such a way as to increase our current prizemoney levels, and to sustain them going forward. It is reasonable to expect a commitment from government to apply a minimum of 70% of this tax or equivalent of $50 million per annum back to the racing industry to bridge the gap between us and New South Wales.

I repeat, the talent drain is upon us. Peter V’landys and the New South Wales racing industry have their hands on the plug, we just need our Premier or Racing Minister to turn off the tap.

Thank-you for your time.

Ben Ahrens
Queensland's Own www.horseracingonly.com.au Queensland's Best