2 November 2022

Canberra Racing Club rears at development option without the racetrack

| Ian Bushnell
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Race track

The Thoroughbred Park racetrack: Canberra Racing Club wants to redevelop parts of the site, but it isn’t going anywhere. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

A government planning option for Thoroughbred Park to be redeveloped without the racetrack put the skitters through Canberra’s horse racing community on the industry’s most significant day of the year.

The Melbourne Cup Day release of draft District Strategies and the draft Territory Plan included concept plans for the Inner North site with or without the racetrack, shocking the Canberra Racing Club, which has plans to redevelop part of the land to diversify its income and secure its future.

Club CEO Darren Pearce said the club knew nothing about the option despite talking with the government for some time about its plans, which will require a change to the Territory Plan.

“It felt akin to being a company in the middle of an AGM and getting a tap on the shoulder that a hostile takeover bid has been launched,” Mr Pearce said.

“It was a real shock to the system.”

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The reaction sent the government into damage control, and the Canberra Liberals seized on the document alleging the government was plotting the demise of horse racing in the ACT.

“This is an utter disgrace and what we see here is clear proof that the ACT is genuinely staring down the barrel of being the only jurisdiction in Australia without horse racing,” Gaming spokesperson Mark Parton said.

But the government said the District Strategy option was not a plan to end horse racing.

“The racetrack will remain at the current site in Lyneham for as long as Canberra Racing Club wish to stay there,” the spokesperson said.

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Chief Minister Andrew Barr also reassured the industry, saying the option would only be pursued if that’s what the club wanted to do, guaranteeing its future on the site.

“It’s up to Canberra Racing Club how much housing they want on the site,” Mr Barr said.

“If they want to move off-site, that’s allowed for as an option … but I imagine they will want to settle on that site and build around it.

“I hope they will bring the harness racing club into the precinct as well; that will free up space in Exhibition Park for a number of projects.

“All the district plan does is enable the fullest extent of the TPV [Territory Plan Variation] – that’s why there are two options.”

Thoroughbred Park Option A

Thoroughbred Park Option B: no racetrack but a green corridor. Photo: ACT Government.

But Mr Pearce said that without context, notice or even offering an alternative site, the planning statement came as a shock.

“There are a lot of employees of the club, racing industry participants who had a sleepless night last night worrying about what it meant for them, their careers, and their businesses and their families,” he said.

Mr Pearce said it was really important for the Chief Minister to clarify the position.

He said the first option presented was a profound step forward for the club’s development plans and was aligned with its master plan.

But Mr Pearce stressed property development was not the club’s first calling.

“Our charter is not to become property developers at the expense of the racing industry in the community we serve,” he said.

“We’re a not-for-profit enterprise and the net proceeds of the master plan development will be reinvested for the betterment of racing, horse welfare and the community.”

READ MORE Planning balancing act as draft Territory Plan and District Strategies released

Both Options A and B outlined a development path that included high-density housing close to light rail, community and retail facilities, parks and tree cover, but Option B included a green corridor through the current racetrack.

It did say the racecourse would be retained until an alternative site proves appropriate and viable.

A government spokesperson said they had been working with the club since February 2020 on a range of options for the future of the site.

“Canberra Racing Club had proposed a range of possibilities for the future of the site as a means of diversifying the club’s income, including the construction of housing on part of the site,” the spokesperson said.

“The ACT Government supports investigation of these options.

“The draft Inner North District Strategy released yesterday contains a range of ideas for the community to consider.”

Mr Pearce said the club had no plans to move from its current site.

“That’s what the master plan is all about,” he said. “Building a race course from scratch is not an inexpensive exercise.

“We will be pursuing vigorously Option A in the plan, which is great for the community.”

Mr Barr said the release of the planning document on Melbourne Cup day was coincidental.

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Horrendously handled as always by ACT Gov.

There is a reasonable rationale for considering other sites for the race club beyond Thoroughbred Park – the argument it needs to be on a fairly prime site so close to the city centre is weak.

In my opinion, the best outcome would be a new greenfield facility for the whole region – i.e. combining Canberra and Queanbeyan as one club). Couldn’t care less if it is on ACT land or NSW land – but in reality, the best hope of sustainability for Canberra Racing is likely to be something that brings them as part of the Racing NSW umbrella in some form. Both from a funding perspective, but also from addressing other issues like insurance that are key impacts for the industry’s viability.

But you’d think it isn’t hard to talk to people before you flag these sorts of options as a possibility, and do things in a co-ordinated manner. But that would be way beyond the capability of ACT Government it seems….

vengefulvegan6:11 pm 03 Nov 22

Horse racing is not cruel? Tell that to the 139 horses who died on track in Australia in the last 12 months. And I wonder how many were injured that we don’t hear about. And I suppose that there is nothing cruel about keeping a horse in a stall for up to 23 hours a day, being bored out of their brains and feeding them an unnatural diet because they don’t want them eating ‘too much grass’. Oh yeah, then there’s the whipping and don’t forget about this recent new fad of ‘tongue tying’ which looks horrendous. I’m sure there’s nothing cruel about any of that. And then there is what the industry refers to as ‘wastage’ being the thousands of horses who don’t run fast enough that they love so much they send them to the knackery or worse. But I’m sure they love the ones who make money. Nothing to see here at all……

You know we keep humans locked in 3×2.5 m cells at the Maconochie centre sometimes for more than 23 hours a day. Covid, short staffed any reason they can think of they do it. This happened on over 100 days last year. Where is the outrage there?

What’s wrong with sending horses to the knackery? They don’t these days but did in the not distant past. If you ever owned a dog and bought dog food then it most likely had horse meat in it. Many countries eat horse. Out here we eat various animals not you obviously but the majority of people and those animals are reared only to be killed, no love, no other purpose. They’re also fed different food to their natural environment too. Why are horses more special?

The whips these days are more a persuader than to inflict pain. Again Gymkana’s, equestrian events all have the same. Wheres the outrage?

Animals like humans die doing extreme things. These horses would not exist if it were not for humans. Are they better off not existing or existing for our pleasure?

jancarewsmith6:28 pm 07 Nov 22

You’ve got a problem. It’s generally a lack of knowledge of a much wider industry than just racing. Respectfully you are entitled to be vegan, but you need to be careful not to try to impose your views on other people.

I don’t know why people think horse racing is cruel. Horses run naturally. The people in the industry bar a few love the horses and treat them very well. I wonder if their view isn’t tainted because they don’t indulge in horse racing? The greens agenda extends to equestrian events including childrens gymkhana’s as well. If they get there way you will only see horses in zoos in the future.

“If they get their way you will only see horses in zoos in the future.”

Do you really think the zoo is safe if/when horse racing gets banned by the Labor/Greens? Once this crusade is complete they’ll start making it illegal to use Aerogard, bug zappers, fly swatters and insect spray.

Capital Retro1:11 pm 04 Nov 22

Actually, a lot of horses that are abandoned by their owners end up at the zoo to be re-purposed into food for the exotic carnivores.

That would be great, horse racing is a cruel activitiy that should be banned, anyway, so closing the racecourse would facilitate that result.

I don’t know why you think it is cruel. Horses run naturally. The people in the industry bar a few love the horses and treat them very well. Are you sure your view isn’t tainted because you don’t indulge in horse racing? You do realise that the greens agenda extends to equestrian events including childrens gymkhana’s? If they get there way you will only see horses in zoos in the future.

jancarewsmith6:33 pm 07 Nov 22

Maybe disclose your credentials that allow you to comment on an industry that is licensed and accountable. Unlike some. Your background? How many horses you have owned and looked after? Maybe even ridden? Maybe even competed either at lower levels or dare I suggest, at high performance? In one sentence you have maligned thousands of people who care for and love their horses.

Get a grip people!! Thoroughbred racing continues to be a big industry in the ACT. The government has been in negotiations with Thoroughbred Racing over the past two years for the future of this land. I live in Canberra and have been following it closely. I haven’t seen any conspiracy. I also have an interest and live in Canberra. My family also breeds and races horses in Canberra and live on a property just outside the Territory borders. Yeh I know, the release date was a little unfortunate and I hope someone is getting wrapped over the knuckles for it. Mark Parton is also all over it of course suggesting that the government is plotting the demise of horse racing in the ACT. The Liberals even had one of their own standing as a candidate at the last Thoroughbred Park board elections. Her head seems to pop up at a lot of elections not having much success. Thoroughbred Park and its surrounds is prime land folks! The planning option just released is in two parts. It is ACT land and both Thoroughbred park and ACT residents should benefit from any negotiations agreed.

You can understand the mistrust of government after greyhound racing was banned in the ACT?

Live animals being chased and pulled apart by dogs Gary Stuart? Cats, rabbits and possums? You call that sport? Not to mention the killing of dogs that weren’t quite up to racing standard. Not all dog racers committed such barbaric acts. However many of those accused of such heinous crimes brought their dogs into the ACT from other states to race. This isn’t sport. I grew up with horse and dog racing. I didn’t witness such barbarity but knew of it. While I don’t agree with everything the government does, I put my trust in them on this issue!

Jack D,
Except the government shut down the greyhound industry with exactly zero evidence of any of that type of behaviour in the ACT whatsoever. Along with the fact that they didn’t change their minds when significant new regulatory controls were put in place in other jurisdictions.

Also ironic that you can’t see how the exact same arguments can apply to horse racing. People have used drugs, electric shocks, cruel training techniques etc. on horses elsewhere, so the government should ban the industry here.

Be careful what you support Jack, your friends in government have form and the Greens literally have banning horse-racing as a policy platform, so there’s no need to exaggerate their position.

I didn’t mention anywhere in my comments chewy whether or not the same arguments should apply to horse racing. I never expressed an opinion either way. I have never seen written or expressed anywhere the Greens supporting a horse-racing ban in the ACT. Maybe they do, I don’t know but I haven’t seen it written as a Green policy platform. The Greens have however been up front in calling for an end to the public funding of horse racing in Canberra. This funding amounts to $41 million annually. They believe the funding could be better used for other essential services. Reading media reporting on this there appears to be significant support in the community. And, despite the rhetoric coming from Mr Parton, he seems to be flip-flopping around on the issue of greyhound racing in the ACT. I remember clearly Mr Parton stating before the last ACT election that greyhound racing would not be a priority under a Coe Liberal government if elected.

Seeing that you “didn’t witness such barbarity” all your allegation’s are hearsay.

As Chewy14 said, the Labor/Greens government shut down greyhound racing with no such evidence.

I don’t know whether you deliberately don’t read stuff so you can claim you’ve never seen it, or whether you’re telling porkies.

You tried to excuse the government’s banning of greyhound racing with the exact same spurious arguments that can be applied to horse-racing. You can’t say the government has no plans to end horseracing whilst saying they were correct to ban greyhound racing. The arguments are identical.

The ACT Greens are part of the government and shared anti horse-racing material just two days ago across their social media. Their local leader has repeatedly posted material calling for the end of horse racing as has most of their MLAs regularly.

The Greens policy is to ban horse racing:


Surely no one is as dense to claim they haven’t seen this stuff if they follow politics to any level.

As for the “subsidy” it isn’t one. The government receive significant extra taxation revenue from horse racing along with the increased economic activity generated. Then some people want to claim its a subsidy when the government gives a tiny amount back to the local industry. It’s a deliberate attempt to mislead those unable to read the detail.

Once again you seem to want to focus on the Liberals despite them not being in power. The excuses are telling as to your ability to view any issue with even a modicum of objectivity.

Hearsay with no such evidence!!! The widespread cruelty was filmed and broadcast widely on TV. It caused a public outrage!! The greyhound racing industry admitted the cruelty and trainers were charged for goodness sake!! It was debated extensively in the Assembly and had widespread public support. We even had busloads of violent mobs from NSW and Victoria converge on Canberra during debates.

Perhaps you should try comprehending first?
I’ll repeat:
“the government shut down the greyhound industry with exactly zero evidence of any of that type of behaviour in the ACT whatsoever.”

There was literally zero evidence presented that there was any illegal activity within the ACT industry of the nature claimed.

They solely relied on evidence gathered about participants in NSW as part of the NSW investigation into the NSW industry. None of these participants were involved in the ACT industry and they only represented a tiny fraction of the national industry regardless.

If you think there was evidence of cruelty in the ACT, you’d be able to provide links right?

Also, you’re claims about busloads of violent mobs from NSW and Victoria converging on Canberra during the debates is just fiction, no such thing happened. Once again, links please. Stop making stuff up to suit your political bias.

And strangely, you still seem not to get how the identical thing applies to horseracing. The ABC ran an expose on QLD racing, showing cruel actions from a minority of participants. There have been people banned in all states for the same.

But the correct response is a robust regulatory framework with strong controls in place, not banning.

Also funny to see you completely ignore the evidence provided against the Greens now your claimed ignorance to their position has been rectified. You should be thanking me for pointing out how you’re actually opposed to the Greens.

Just a few quotes from the above article for those who are unable to read it. “Busloads of protesters from NSW and Victoria joined members of the Canberra Greyhound Racing Club at a rally in Garema Place before marching on the Assembly building…the rally was marred by conflict between those who were opposed to the ban and those who backed it…Supporters of the greyhound racing industry hurled abuse at about 10 animal welfare activists who turned up with banners in favour of the ban. One woman yelled “got undies on today love” at an activist…Alistair Coe and gaming and racing spokesman Mark Parton received raucous cheers from the crowd”.

Those protesters were union supporters of the industry and they also weren’t violent in anyway as you’ve claimed.
You also made it seem like they were protesting for the ban when it was the exact opposite.

I would also take the sentence you’ve taken out of the article with a grain of salt when there was a hundred people involved, the vast majority of them were local union members. But I suppose to be fair, “busloads” could be 2x 12 seater “buses” if you want to put it in context.

Strange that you also didn’t include this quote from the article:

Flashing a question on notice signed by ACT racing minister Gordon Ramsay in July acknowledging there had been no animal welfare breaches in Canberra, Mr Tutt said: “This is the most unfair thing I’ve ever known since self-government was introduced in Canberra.”

Thanks for providing the evidence showing that the ALP minister made the decision despite freely admitting that there had been no animal welfare breaches in the ACT industry.

Thanks for making my point.

Capital Retro11:20 am 03 Nov 22

I recall being at the location on Melbourne Cup day in 1983. It was very crowded with lots of sponsor type hospitality tents. Then it started to rain and water was knee-deep in some places. It seems to be flood prone and unsuitable for any residential/commercial development.

And the run-off will exacerbate the worsening draining problems downstream at Sullivan’s Creek.

Just saying.

Capital Retro,
Flood maps for the area already exist and are available on the ACT Govermments ACTMAPi website.

There is little to no flooding risk to the racecourse area itself, the storm water drains that run through the area have significant capacity.

And any increased flood risk from development in the area would have to be addressed and incorporated into the development design.

I agree the plans should have been discussed with the racecourse before release- but how many people actually go to the races?
Our government apparently invests obscene amounts of money to keep this gambling industry afloat. The racing industry exploits animals for gain- this is not a sport. We don’t tolerate animal exploitation in circuses any more- why is our government funding it in horseracing?
The racecourse should go.

The government doesn’t invest obscene amounts of money to keep it afloat, they receive millions of additional taxation revenue from taxes on gambling along with the wider economic benefits, of which they return a piddling amount back to the local industry.

The situation is the exact opposite of what you claim.

$41 million public subsidy over 5 years- you don’t call that obscene? wow- In return the ACT collects less than $250,000 a year in wagering tax. In 2011 the Independent Competition and Regulatory Commission said the industry should be self-sufficient. The industry provides no public benefit and harms both animals and people (by encouraging gambling)- there are many better things the Government could be spending our tax-payer money on.

Except that’s just wrong, there is no subsidy, it’s framed that way by opponents of the industry to make a political point.

The government receives over $11million dollars a year from the industry in the form of their point of consumption tax alone. This is expected to increase to $20 million this year.

They received over $70m in gambling taxation total last year.

Not to mention the additional economic activity and taxation revenue generated by the industry and supporting services.

There is significant wider social benefit from the industry.

And you mention the ICRCs report which was extremely narrowly focused and completely misunderstands how the industry nor the wider sporting landscape works.

Their claims that there would be no detrimental impact to taxation revenue if there was no local industry ignores the reality of how people get involved and support the sport and wider industry. If you took their arguments at face value, all Australian racing could stop and there would be no impact on revenue because people would just support the overseas versions.

By the way, the same argument would also apply to other social pursuits such as wider sporting industries and the arts.

Apparently we wouldn’t be impacted by having no local industries, we’d just leach off global content to the same level without impact.

At an Australian wide level, you are correct Chewy with the commentary around the nonsense of suggesting no detrimental impact to tax revenue if it all local racing stopped.

But when taking a view with an ACT lens, as the ICRC was asked to do, their argument is difficult to dismiss.

The Canberra Racing Club and Canberra Harness Racing club are provincial clubs at best (and in case of Harness – a country club really) with relatively limited impact in terms of the Australian industry. Those involved in the local industry will talk your ear off saying how important they are – but the brutal reality is in the national market they aren’t. If they disappeared, they’d just be replaced by X club somewhere else, most would bet as they already do, and the direct impact on taxation revenue would be relatively minimal if at all (have the dogs closing impacted on greyhound racing better in the Territory – stats say not really).

One can argue about the nature of the industry and what is a subsidy/isn’t a subsidy. But the simple fact is the taxation revenue the Territory receives from betting on races put on by ACT race clubs is way below the amount they pay to them each year. That is a simple fact and that is a subsidy.

Now there are various arguments one can put up about how the national industry works (from a time where informal agreements and vis-a-vis you support your industry and we support ours ruled the racing world) to suggest this isn’t a true reflection of value, but in a world of Point of Consumption taxation that now exists, that is largely irrelevant. Taxation revenue depends on where someone lives, not what they are betting on. Yes there may be participation impacts – but do you really think many bet just because of the CRC or the CHRC.
And that’s all before the fact that a huge contributor to growth in taxation expenditure is sports betting, something that has zero to do with the racing industry.

The ACT Government: Putting the fun into dysfunctional

Vinson1Bernie1:55 pm 03 Nov 22

Isnt the ring road around parliament House the size of a smaller racetrack – excellent way to boost tourist numbers though trickier for motorists

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