2019-2020 report – By Racing Integrity Commissioner Ross Barnett
The latter part of this financial year was significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and I would like to acknowledge the engagement and dedication shown by all of our staff in responding to the significant operational and administrative challenges that have arisen.
Racing was one of very few sports to continue operations and this was possible only through close co-operation by Commission staff across Queensland with Racing Queensland, industry representative groups, and all racing clubs. The careful management of the zonal racing system and measured enforcement of government hygiene and crowd directives ensured there was no transmissions of the virus among industry participants or Commission staff and no forced abandonments of scheduled meetings.
Revelations in the ABC’s 7.30 Report about the disposal of ex-racehorses at the Meramist Abattoir and the subsequent independent Inquiry into animal cruelty in the management of retired Thoroughbred and Standardbred horses in Queensland (the Martin Inquiry) focused attention on the traceability of retired racing horses and a lack of diligence by owners in meeting their reporting obligations when retiring horses under the Rules of Racing.
Although retired racing animals are outside our legislated remit, recommendations in the Martin Inquiry tasks the Commission with a greater future role in educating owners about their responsibilities to properly retire their animals, and auditing and enforcing rule compliance. The Commission will also assist Racing Queensland with the governance of a new Off-the-Track equine rehoming program to operate across Queensland. This initiative will complement the Commission’s Racing Animal Welfare Grants program, which was introduced to fund eligible organisations that deliver projects focussed on the retirement, retraining and rehoming of racing animals.
The accelerated conversion by Racing Queensland of non-TAB country meetings to TAB meetings in 2019-20 resulted in staffing and budgetary pressures on the Commission. This strategy has shifted expenditure outlays such as veterinary services from clubs to the Commission which, combined with a required commitment of additional stewards, contributes to an overall cost increase to the Commission of 35% per meeting.
To manage this transition, and support other expansions of the racing calendar across Queensland since we commenced, the Commission has employed additional stewards, veterinarians, and Integrity Investigative Stewards as well as increasing sample collection and analysis by over 2,500 samples annually. Our ability to continue to sustain these increased costs within our existing budget will be tested with an additional 52 new greyhound meetings scheduled in Townsville and a further 26 at Capalaba in 2020-21.
The year in review saw the implementation of a restructured Racing Science Centre (RSC). The restructure resulted in the appointment of Dr Shawn Stanley, formerly head of the Singapore Racing Laboratory, as the new Director of Analytical Services. Dr Stanley has already implemented new testing procedures which will enhance the breadth and volume of testing conducted at the RSC and complements the Queensland Government’s commitment to fund the purchasing of new equipment to extend current capabilities.
The past year saw the Commission record a record number of positive test results for prohibited substances across the three codes of racing. While disappointed that participants continue to break the rules, it is reassuring that the Commission’s sampling strategies, testing volumes and upgraded laboratory testing equipment are detecting those attempting to cheat.
A significant milestone was achieved with the completion of the Queensland Greyhound Racing Industry Commission of Inquiry (the MacSporran Report) recommendations for which the Commission was responsible. This work commenced in 2016 and has been steadily progressing through our investment in the RandLE system, an on-line licensing and registration portal. Completing the required functionality in the system will allow birth-to-retirement tracking of greyhounds and the recording of information required to satisfy the MacSporran Report recommendations. This system provides transparency and accountability for breeders, trainers, and owners to ensure that wastage does not re-emerge as an issue in the greyhound industry.
The Government committed to a review of the Racing Integrity Act 2016 when the Commission was established, and public consultation associated with the review occurred following an industry roundtable which canvassed areas of interest to the racing industry. Written submissions received were being considered by Government at the time of reporting. Thanks to the CEO and staff of Racing Queensland for their cooperation on several matters during the year, particularly during the heaviest restrictions of the pandemic. I am certain that racing activity would have faltered at some point without the focus and commitment of both organisations to work with all sections of the industry.
I commend the dedication and commitment of all Commission staff across Queensland. Under especially difficult circumstances this year, they have ensured that racing and racing animal welfare matters have been managed as safely and fairly as our resources permit.