The ACT Greens say time is up on public funding to the horse racing industry, despite the government indicating it will progress with updating and extending its current deal for five years.
Party spokesperson for animal welfare Jo Clay said members of the public are “shocked” when they learn the ACT Government provides millions of dollars in subsidies to the industry as part of an updated Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Canberra Racing Club and the Harness Racing Club.
Negotiations are currently underway to extend that agreement, which was due to expire this week, by another five years.
The new deal would be worth $40 million over five years, meaning at least $7.5 million in public funding would go to the racing industry annually.
Region understands the draft MoU went to Cabinet last week and Greens Ministers formally refused to support it.
Ms Clay said the Greens did not support public funds going to horse racing and she raised issues with how it was being administered, arguing it did not go through any grant or procurement process.
“I think a lot of people aren’t aware that the public subsidy is happening, and once they find out, they aren’t too happy. Instead, they make a long list of things they’d rather see $40 million be spent on,” she explained.
“To put that funding in context: this year, the ACT Government will provide $2.6 million in yearly funding to the Canberra Raiders [and] $1.78 million in yearly funding to the Brumbies.”
Ms Clay argued the money could be better spent on issues like climate change, homelessness and the COVID-19 response.
Along with a decrease in funding, the ACT Greens are calling for a transition plan so workers in the horse racing industry can be supported as it weans itself off public money.
Ms Clay argued no work had yet been done, despite a 2011 report from the Independent Competition and Regulatory Commission (ICRC) which recommended that the horse racing industry should become self-sufficient following a 10-year phase-out period.
Canberra Racing Club acting chief executive Matthew Kolek said he was “disappointed” in the Greens’ stance and their refusal to support the MoU.
“We are a progressive industry leader in equine welfare and we are looking at ways we can diversify our revenue,” he explained today (27 June).
One of those ways will be through a major precinct redevelopment which would include residential and commercial areas, which Mr Kolek said would help make the horse racing industry here in the ACT financially viable and self-sustaining.
He also argued the Greens’ analysis of horse racing did not consider the money the industry generated for the Territory.
“It’s also not quite so narrow [as the Greens portray it] because the ACT Government receives a wagering tax – the bulk of which we generate,” he said.
Over the next three to four years, it’s estimated the government will bring in $17 to $20 million a year through this tax, Mr Kolek noted.
“That’s $55 million in a value added to the Gross Territory Product, and add to that over 400 full-time jobs.”
He added that none of that tax revenue is shared back to the industry in the ACT, unlike arrangements that are in place interstate.
“We already receive a fraction of what the other jurisdictions receive in government funding,” Mr Kolek said.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Canberra Liberals went to the last election promising to increase the proportion of public funding to the horse racing industry under the MoU.
Opposition spokesperson for gaming and community clubs Mark Parton argued the ACT Greens had proven themselves unable to understand the importance of horse and harness racing to the Territory’s economy.
“This is official proof that the ACT Greens want to stop thoroughbred and harness racing in the ACT,” he said.
A spokesperson for the ACT Government argued the financial support provided through the MoU is but a very small component of the Territory’s total Budget and, if terminated, would lead to the loss of local jobs.
Furthermore, the spokesperson said a range of new key performance indicators had been added to the MoU which related to animal welfare, traceability, transparency and economic diversification.
They said the clubs will work with the government to meet these KPIs.
For the ACT Greens, it might be a start, but it’s not enough.