The Hon. T.J. STEPHENS (17:20): I move:
1.That a select committee of the Legislative Council be appointed to inquire into and report upon—
(a)the sale of Cheltenham Park Racecourse;
(b)the rezoning of Cheltenham Park Racecourse;
(c)the relationship of decisions made in connection with the sale of Cheltenham Park Racecourse with proposals for the redevelopment of Victoria Park;
(d)matters of corporate governance within the South Australian Jockey Club up to and including March 2009;
(e)the role of Thoroughbred Racing SA in relation to the above matters; and
(f)any other relevant matter.
2.That standing order 389 be so far suspended as to enable the chairperson of the committee to have a deliberative vote only.
3.That this council permits the select committee to authorise the disclosure or publication, as it sees fit, of any evidence or documents presented to the committee prior to such evidence being presented to the council.
4.That standing order 396 be suspended to enable strangers to be admitted when the select committee is examining witnesses unless the committee otherwise resolves, but they shall be excluded when the committee is deliberating.
This matter has been played out in the media and it has not done justice to all parties involved, which is why I move for a select committee. Not all members are keen racing fans, unlike you, Mr President, so I will try to provide a brief explanation and make it simpler for all members to follow what has been happening within the industry of late.
Thoroughbred Racing is the umbrella body for horse racing in South Australia. The South Australian Jockey Club, with regard to assets, prize money and attendances, makes up the vast majority of racing in this state, but there are many other racing clubs, obviously much smaller, that make a significant contribution to the racing code and generally to their communities. Thoroughbred Racing South Australia appointed legal firm Lipman Karis in December 2008 to conduct an independent review of the corporate governance of the South Australian Jockey Club following allegations of membership and voting irregularities in the lead-up to board elections in November 2008.
The investigation was part of a deal done by Thoroughbred Racing South Australia and a group of racing club members who had launched legal action challenging the validity of memberships and therefore any decisions made by a board elected by those members. Their concerns went back to membership-based decisions taken since 2004, including the sale of Cheltenham. Those members abandoned their legal action in exchange for an agreement to an independent investigation and the eventual release of the Lipman Karis report, which has been made available to very few people. The full report has been provided to the Independent Gambling Authority for its review, the SAJC board has seen it, and the Minister for Recreation, Sport and Racing has had a copy. Any request made by the opposition for a copy of the report has been refused point blank. I would like to say that I have had discussions with Mr Bentley regarding the report on a number of occasions, and I have conceded that there may be names that could be blanked out to protect the identity of people who have given evidence, but no cooperation whatsoever has been given.
On Tuesday 10 March Thoroughbred Racing South Australia met with the South Australian Jockey Club and advised it as follows:
·the TRSA has key concerns about the involvement of individuals in securing members for the November 2008 board elections;
·the TRSA has key concerns about the involvement of individuals in influencing the way members voted;
·the TRSA has key concerns about the application forms for membership and the processing of memberships for the past several years;
·the TRSA has key concerns about the governance standards within the South Australian Jockey Club;
·the TRSA recommends the termination of the CEO, Mr Steven Ploubidis; and
·the TRSA recommends the resignation of the current board and the conduct of a fresh election, with fresh nominations, to be carried out by the Electoral Commission.
Opposition members, whilst not privy to the report, are concerned about the position in which Mr Ploubidis was put. We are not making a judgment on any of the allegations because, quite frankly, we have not seen the report, but it seemed to be very unfair that Mr Ploubidis’ employment was terminated yet he still has not seen the report or the allegations contained within it. In the interests of natural justice, I would have thought that a person could see the accusations made against them and be given the opportunity to defend themselves.
I will give a brief timeline of events to further assist members, as follows:
·in September 2004, the SAJC announced that Cheltenham racecourse would be sold;
·in November 2006, the Rann government commissioned Mr Philip Bentley, a close friend of the Premier, to write a report into the future of racing in South Australia;
·in December 2006, the Rann government announced its master plan for Victoria Park, with the SAJC committing to providing at least $10 million to the project, using funds from the sale of Cheltenham;
·in May 2007, Mr Philip Bentley released his report, ‘A Study for the Future of the South Australian Racing Industry’;
·in October 2007, Mr Bentley became chairman of Thoroughbred Racing South Australia, a move that was strongly criticised by the state Liberals (I do not need to revisit my comments of the time, but I believe I was reasonably clear on what I thought of that move);
·in November 2007, the South Australian Jockey Club announced the sale of Cheltenham racecourse for $85 million; and
·in December 2007 the South Australia Jockey Club walked away from the Victoria Park master plan after the Rann government announced it would no longer support the plan.
We then move on to 2008:
·in September 2008, rumours surfaced of vote stacking at the South Australian Jockey Club when 400 new, young SAJC members were recruited over a short period of time;
·on 12 October 2008, the South Australian Jockey Club announced a $20 million upgrade of Allan Scott Park at Morphettville using funds raised from the sale of Cheltenham;
·on 16 October 2008, Mr Ian Hart quit as chief executive of Thoroughbred Racing South Australia (in a conversation I had with Mr Hart, he mentioned that he could no longer work with Mr Philip Bentley, the chairman);
·on 25 November 2008, the South Australian Jockey Club board was served with a Supreme Court injunction on behalf of Mr Bill Spear to prevent the election of four new board members;
·on 26 November, Justice Tom Gray ordered a two-day civil trial, but the South Australian Jockey Club advised that election votes and members lists had been shredded;
·on 1 December, an affidavit was filed in court by a law clerk stating that she allowed her ballot paper to be filled out by a third party prior to becoming an SAJC member;
·on 4 December, Mr Bill Spear reached agreement with Mr Philip Bentley to put his court case on hold after Mr Steven Ploubidis was ordered to take paid leave while an inquiry into the SAJC was conducted; and
·on 10 December, the TRSA announced that the law firm Lipman Karas had been appointed to conduct a review of the SAJC, as agreed in the out of court settlement.
Moving to 2009:
·on 5 March, the TRSA received a report from Lipman Karas and gave copies to the racing minister and the Independent Gambling Authority;
·on 9 March, the racing minister forwarded the report to police;
·on 10 March, the TRSA presented the SAJC board with the report findings and its five main recommendations, including the recommendation that Steven Ploubidis’ contract be terminated (there was no mention of Mr Ploubidis being able to actually see the report);
·on 11 March, the state Liberals announced that they would seek the establishment of an upper house select committee to explore untested matters relating to the operations of the SAJC; and
·on 14 March, Mr Steven Ploubidis held a press conference at Allan Scott Park and announced that he is not guilty of any improper or unlawful behaviour and, as such, would not be resigning from his position as chief executive of the SAJC.
It is a brief timeline leading up to recent events which have raised further concerns about issues of justice and secrecy, and about people being able to raise their concerns.
Some people have asked me what right the South Australian parliament has to investigate the goings-on of what is essentially a private club. From the outset, I would like to say that I believe all South Australians, directly or indirectly, have an interest in the industry; if you are a $1 punter who has one bet a year with the TAB, you certainly have an interest in the way the racing industry is conducted in this state.
However, it is more than that. At different times the taxpayers of South Australia have put significant amounts of money into what is acknowledged by the Liberal Party as being a very important industry for the state. Back in 1990, it is believed that around $10 million was committed to upgrading Cheltenham Park—a significant amount of taxpayers’ money.
In the last state budget, the Gawler Racing Club was given a $6 million grant for upgrade of its track and facilities and, whilst the Gawler Racing Club undoubtedly does a wonderful job, part of the rationale for this particular grant, I am sure, was to make sure that we had a backup course—a very important backup course—for Alan Scott Park if, for some reason, you could not race there.
A further $5 million was made available for a second turf track at Morphettville and, of course, the jockey club itself has committed to a $20 million upgrade of Morphettville, which has been bankrolled by the Cheltenham Park sale.
The Liberals have been very supportive of measures to get money back into the industry. The industry sorely needs increased stake money which, compared to other states, really has fallen way off the pace. Whilst that may not mean much to some people, it certainly damages our breeders in this state. It can damage the amount that breeders can fetch for what are essentially high quality horses in this state, and the actual wagering and tax reform from the government was a very welcome initiative.
However, to give members an idea of the sorts of moneys involved that are being given back to the industry, in 2008-09, the projection was $3.5 million; 2009-10, $5 million; 2010-11, $6.3 million; 2011-12, $7.4 million; and 2012-13, $8.4 million. So, to say that the taxpayers of South Australia should not have an interest in this is actually quite ridiculous and, as I said, whilst the Liberals support the taxation reforms it is incredibly important that there is a transparent and open industry in which everyone can, in fact, be well and truly confident.
Unfortunately, on this particular issue, the opposition and crossbench members have basically been left in the dark by the government. We have been told that it is on a need-to-know basis, and we are obviously not important enough to know, but we have followed with great interest this whole issue being played out in the media.
I am going to remind members of some of the comments that have been made by a number of journalists, and I think that will help paint a reasonable picture as to why we are actually concerned with all of these particular goings-on. I will start with Mr Craig Cook, writing in The Advertiser of 5 March under the headline ‘Reveal all for world to see’. This is his analysis:
Our parents told us honesty is the best policy. They advised from a very young age—if you are ever in trouble tell the truth and everything will turn out for the best. Racing in this state needs to follow that lead. Lipman Karas’ report into the activities of the South Australian Jockey club must be posted on the Thoroughbred Racing SA website—for all the world to see.
Total transparency is the only way to clear racing’s name, regardless of what is contained in the most eagerly awaited report in the history of South Australian racing. Never mind the naysayers who claim the sensational headlines of the past few months have damaged the sport and more headlines will only damage fortunes further.
The only permanent taint on racing’s image, if, as is now openly anticipated, the report reveals concrete errors of serious wrong-doing, will be if the sport’s authorities try to keep it all in-house.
Profound words, I say. Mr Cook continues:
Airing your dirty washing in public might be unpalatable but shoving it in a cupboard and locking the door ensures the stench will pervade. If there are evident legal constraints resulting from the report, then an abridged version might be acceptable. The names of witnesses and their specific evidence need not be revealed but anyone complicit cannot be spared and every recommendation must be detailed.
There will be no opportunity to hide behind ‘confidentiality agreements’ or claim this is an independent organisation dealing with matters in its own sweet way. The racing industry is not the Ku Klux Klan—or any other kind of secret society—and it is time its administrators stopped acting as though it is. TRSA chairman Philip Bentley is on notice to ensure there is no semblance of a cover-up and to set racing on the path to absolution.
If the rumours sweeping the racetrack are true—and they have rarely been far from the mark in this saga—then there will be a minimum expectation at the end of this process. Senior figures at the Jockey Club will have to go. And if there is the slightest whiff of criminality, the police must be involved.
Furthermore, if the findings of the Lipman Karas report are as anticipated, then the whole of the SAJC board should stand down. Racing must have a clean slate. A new board without any links or associations with the immediate past is the only way forward. Racing has had many false dawns in recent years and this is its last chance to get it right and regain the confidence of its benefactor—the paying public.
In an article dated Thursday 5 March under the headline ‘$110,000 bill to see if racing is all above board’, Russell Emmerson, state political reporter, writes:
A report into South Australia’s racing industry cost taxpayers almost $110,000—double the original estimate. The report’s author, Thoroughbred Racing SA chairman Philip Bentley—who is widely acknowledged as a friend of Premier Mike Rann and is now investigating allegations of alleged vote-stacking at the SA Jockey club—claimed room hire and secretarial fees of $9,686 paid at $170 per hour, a cost described as ‘excessive’ by Racing department officials.
‘I thought the amounts sought to be reimbursed were at an excessive rate…but that, in any event, his agreed expenses were capped under my budget allowance of $10,000’, a departmental briefing note says. However, Racing Office director Denis Harvey said payments for an additional $9,600 were fair and reasonable because of the additional media interest in the report and the two-month extension of the inquiry.
‘I can vouch for this extra time on the basis that he has kept me regularly informed of the progress and contacts he has had with industry representatives as they proceed to digest the content of his report,’ he wrote. Mr Bentley, who received almost $90,000 last financial year from his government board memberships of WorkCover SA and the HomeStart finance board originally estimated the inquiry would take 50 days and cost $50,000 to $80,000.
The HomeStart Finance Board, as an aside, I actually think is wrong. I think there was a retraction of that. It continues:
Treasurer Kevin Foley said the bills were justified as ‘Mr Bentley would work a lot harder than a lot of public servants’.
The article goes on to talk about how I had made the comment that secretarial service costs left a lot to be desired. The article goes on to state:
Racing Minister Michael Wright demanded a copy of Mr Bentley’s current report into vote-stacking at the SA Jockey Club in mid-December, but told Parliament yesterday that he was still waiting. ‘I’ve only had a briefing about the process, not the content,’ he said…’To the best of my memory, the discussion was more about process.’
A spokeswoman said Mr Wright was expected to receive a copy of the report ‘in the near future’ and would ensure that any allegations of a criminal nature would be referred to SA Police.
I now move on to Saturday 7 March. An article entitled ‘SAJC report under wraps’ stated:
An explosive report into allegations of corruption and impropriety at the South Australian Jockey Club will not be made public. Thoroughbred Racing SA has received the highly anticipated report from specialist legal firm Lipman Karas, but claims it is a confidential independent document and it has no obligation to make it public.
‘The report provided by Lipman Karas will not be publicly released because it is confidential legal advice to TRSA,’ says a media release.
Lipman Karas was appointed by TRSA in early December to conduct an investigation into allegations of membership and voting irregularities in the lead-up to SAJC’s November election. The investigation began after TRSA stepped in to end legal action taken by SAJC board member Bill Spear against the jockey club late last year.
Before the intervention by TRSA chairman Philip Bentley, Spear’s legal representatives were due to lay out in full his argument against the SAJC in front of a Supreme Court judge. The Lipman Karas inquiry has covered alleged wrongdoing over many years at the SAJC, including suspected vote-rigging for the approval to sell Cheltenham Racecourse. Racing Minister Michael Wright also received the report and immediately sought a legal opinion.
‘Last night (Thursday), I received a copy of the Lipman Karas report into corporate governance matters from the SAJC,’ Mr Wright said. ‘I have referred the matter to the Crown Solicitor’s Office for advice.’ The minister said that he would not make any comment about the report until he received and considered Crown advice.
TRSA will meet the SAJC board on Tuesday to enable the directors to consider the report and TRSA’s recommendations. Following the meeting, TRSA intends to make a statement to media and industry stakeholders.
So, it was starting to become quite clear that this report was being withheld by a group of people who felt they were above the people of South Australia, notwithstanding the amount of money that has been committed to supporting this industry in this state. On Saturday 7 March, The Advertiser editorial, under the heading ‘Racing must come clean on SAJC report’, stated:
A report into the activities of the South Australian Jockey Club must be made public. The secretive approach adopted by the racing industry’s governing body, Thoroughbred Racing SA, to hide the findings of the report commissioned by TRSA chairman Philip Bentley, is unacceptable and does nothing to dispel suggestions of a cover-up.
It is time for the industry—on the eve of its biggest annual racing meeting, Adelaide Cup—to wipe the slate clean and take the first significant step in redeeming a reputation heavily tarnished by its bitter off-track battles.
The allegations against the SAJC are significant, with claims of corruption and a systemic failure to deliver positive outcomes for the industry by appropriate means. The processes under scrutiny are fundamental to the heart of racing’s structure. Many of the racing industry’s issues are of significant public concern.
The sale of Cheltenham racecourse to property developers still attracts high levels of public opposition, as does the SAJC’s decision to walk away from Victoria Park. The racing industry is the state’s fourth largest employer, with as many as 9,000 people working in the sport at any [given] time.
In June last year, the SAJC was the beneficiary of a $5 million government grant for improvements at Allan Scott Park, Morphettville. The State Government also has provided tax relief to the industry that is expected to reach $8.4 million annually by 2013-14. That alone is enough to make racing answerable to the public.
To declare the South Australian public should not be told the findings of the report, prepared by forensic legal firm Lipman Karas, is preposterous. Mr Bentley’s suggestion the report cannot be made public because it contains confidential advice simply does not hold water. The racing industry—and TRSA in particular—must face its public responsibilities, regardless of how painful that process may be. To prosper, the racing industry must first be seen to be transparent. Mr Bentley’s decision to keep the Lipman Karas report under wraps does nothing to enhance the public’s perception of racing.
The onus now is on Racing Minister Michael Wright to table the report in State Parliament. He must demonstrate leadership, even if Thoroughbred Racing SA refuses to do so. It is not good enough for Mr Wright to sidestep this issue and pass responsibility for leadership back to Mr Bentley.
How can the public have any faith in TRSA to act appropriately on the recommendations of the Lipman Karas report if those findings are not made public?
The pain of the SAJC controversy is worth every bit of the suffering if it can assist racing’s long-term prosperity and allow the sport to move forward. A fresh start can offer fresh hope—and that is the most logical option for any industry that must resurrect itself.
The editorial goes on to say:
Monday’s Adelaide Cup meeting at Morphettville will be a day to celebrate all things good about racing. Tuesday should be the day to acknowledge publicly the industry’s problems and set it on the road to redemption. It is time for the industry to put the dark days of recent months behind it and start building for the next generation.
I now move on to an article by Mr Michael Owen, well known ex-journalist of The Advertiser now working for The Australian. The article, dated 7 March, states:
A report into allegations of widespread corruption, fraud, embezzlement, money laundering and intimidation at the South Australian Jockey Club could result in criminal charges against key figures in the troubled racing industry.
South Australian Racing Minister Michael Wright was last night awaiting Crown Law advice on whether a case existed for the report to be referred to police. Mr Wright, who received a copy of the report on Thursday night and was forced to sign a confidentiality agreement, yesterday immediately forwarded it to the state Crown Solicitor’s Office.
Just on the point that ‘the minister was forced to sign a confidentiality agreement’ by the umbrella organisation for racing, a group that South Australian taxpayers have committed to giving over the next five years some $29 million, it beggars belief that the minister would be prepared to have the tail wagging the dog. The article goes on:
The state’s Independent Gambling Authority used its legal power as a statutory body to demand a copy of the report, and rightly so. A spokesman for Thoroughbred Racing SA—
which initiated a three-month inquiry by the legal firm Lipman Karas into the jockey club’s activities—
said that it had complied with the requirement but had not waived legal professional privilege. The inquiry was launched after claims of ballot rigging for the club’s election of four new board members last November.
It is understood that the legal team widened its investigation after uncovering allegations of serious impropriety at the club over several years. A racing industry source familiar with the report’s contents yesterday said that there was no doubt that there were some serious issues contained in the report.
Thoroughbred Racing SA Chairman, Philip Bentley, said yesterday, ‘Representatives will meet the jockey club’s board next week. The meeting will enable the directors to consider the report and recommendations’, Mr Bentley said. ‘Following this meeting, the Thoroughbred Racing SA Board will make a statement to the media, industry and all stakeholders’.
That is big of him. I will now read into Hansard a copy of a transcript of an interview on 10 March with David Bevan and Mathew Abraham and Mr Philip Bentley, the Chairman of TRSA, and Michael Wright, the racing minister, as follows:
Bevan:…as things were unravelling very quickly for the SAJC late last year, we went down to the court and we heard all sorts of allegations being made about all sorts of practices…they were just allegations at that time, but a group of people within the SAJC were asking the court to take a good look at the membership records…they believe that people had been signed up for membership for the SAJC in recent months and perhaps several years ago when these people didn’t have a clue what really they were joining and there were also allegations that the SAJC had paid for the membership of these people…stop and think about that, here’s a club which is going to make some very important decisions and made some very important decisions just a few years ago…one was the sale of Cheltenham and here are allegations of people being signed up by the club, paid for by the club and then asked to go along and vote at meetings…there were also allegations that people were signed up in bulk and various organisations around Adelaide may well have been involved in that…the court was certainly very interested in that and was taking it very seriously…the SAJC, although it had pooh-poohed these suggestions for the last few months and going back several years [ago], the same group that were raising the allegations, each time they were dismissed…the court took them seriously, at that point, Thoroughbred Racing had to intervene…
Abraham:…the court action was effectively dropped in return…for an inquiry which has been run by a prominent, very thorough lawyer, Skip Lipman and his law firm.
Bevan:…we spoke to the chairman of Thoroughbred Racing, that’s the body that oversees racing in this State, his name is Philip Bentley, he’s a close friend of…the Premier and he’s been given various work by the Premier and by the state government over the years…he said to this program that he was going to take these allegations very seriously, but we then asked him, what about making the report public and that’s where things got interesting when we were talking to him back in December.
There is an excerpt of the interview:
Bevan: Will the report be made public?
The question of whether we release the report to the public will be TRSA’s decision and its decision alone…the most likely position will be that we won’t release it to the public.
Bevan: Why not?
Because it’s not public property, part of the reason for getting it out of court settlement was to stop racing image being tainted by the unfortunate events that have occurred.
Remember: this man has said that it is not public property. I have just quoted that we were about to give them $29 million out of taxpayers money for the next five years. The arrogant attitude is quite appalling. It continues:
Abraham:…there’s substantial public funding…of racing in this State?
No there isn’t.
Well, if $29 million is not substantial, I do not actually know what is. It continues:
Bevan:…you don’t get any money from the taxpayer?
We don’t get any money from the taxpayer, we pay taxes.
Bevan:…you don’t think there’s a public interest in the way racing has been administered in this State?
There is and will certainly be making a statement when the review has been conducted.
Bevan:…but you won’t release the result to the report?
No, I didn’t say that, I was just flagging—
Bevan:—I’m asking you [unclear] release the report?
No, I’m not going to give a commitment.
Abraham: Will you give the Premier a copy?
No, it is none of his business.
So, again, we are giving them back $29 million and his friend does not even rate the Premier as worthy of having a copy. It continues:
Abraham: You’re a close friend of the Premier and have been for decades.
That’s true, there’s a lot of friends I don’t tell things to, so it’s not an issue.
Abraham: Not all of them are the Premier though.
Abraham: Now that was Philip Bentley, as we said, good friend of Premier Mike Rann and Premier—
The Hon. J.M. GAZZOLA: I have a point of order, Mr President. If it will assist the Hon. Terry Stephens, the point of order is that he can table the transcript of the interviews rather than just read it to us. He can also table the newspaper, if he wants.
The PRESIDENT: I was hoping he would get to 1323 and start singing us a song.
The Hon. T.J. STEPHENS: Mr President, if it is okay, I have a number of transcripts that I would be very happy to table without reading them. It does confuse me that—
The PRESIDENT: Order! No, the honourable member cannot table the transcripts. If he is going to read all the transcripts, so be it. I would rather listen to 1323.
The Hon. T.J. STEPHENS: I am going to have to read them. I heard your ruling the other day. I will continue:
Now that was Philip Bentley, as we said, a good friend of Premier Mike Rann and Premier Mike Rann has been very up-front about it and saying well yes he is a friend, I appointed him because he is the best person for the job to Thoroughbred Racing, however that was the stand back then, didn’t take long for the Government to say well bad luck, we don’t know what took place behind the scenes, but certainly Sports Minister, Michael Wright ended up with a copy of this report late last week and very quickly handballed it to the Crown Solicitor.
Bevan: That’s right, he handed the report to the Crown Solicitor.
Abraham:…and appropriately I might add.
Bevan:…that report, we’ve been told by the government, has now been handed on to the police, this is before the report’s even been given to the SAJC, they don’t get their copy until this afternoon, so the government has ended up working very quickly in the last week to make sure this report gets to the hand of the police, that wasn’t always their position, this is Michael Wright back in December.
This is an excerpt of minister Wright. It continues:
Bevan: What will this inquiry do if allegations of an illegal nature are made?
Well, I suppose that’s more a matter for Thoroughbred Racing SA and would depend upon the nature of what the investigation finds, but if it finds that there have been irregularities, I think there would be serious ramifications.
Bevan: What I’m putting to you though is that you wouldn’t want any investigation by Thoroughbred SA to perhaps contaminate evidence … we don’t know what may or may not be put to this inquiry, but if … an allegation of an illegal nature was put to this inquiry, wouldn’t that inquiry be required to be refer to it immediately to the police or the Director of Public Prosecutions?
I would imagine that would be the case, I think if there were illegal situations that took place, obviously it is a matter for TRSA, but I would imagine anything of an illegal nature that was proven or needed to be tested, may well become a police matter.
Bevan: As Racing Minister wouldn’t it be a good idea for you to send a very clear message to Mr Bentley and say to him as Racing Minister, I would like an assurance that any allegation of an illegal nature is immediately referred to either the police or the Director of Public Prosecutions?
I’ve already spoken to Mr Bentley about this particular situation, he has assured me that he will keep me brief on a regular basis and I am sure we will have regular dialogue.
Bevan:…would you like to send him that requirement?
I’ll have my discussions in private with Mr Bentley.
Bevan: You don’t think our listeners would be reassured if you gave him that instruction?
I’m sure your listeners know that I have a very passionate interest in racing and I want this to be cleaned up in every department.
Abraham:…are you going to get a copy of his report?
Well I haven’t discussed that with Mr Bentley…
Bevan:…he suggested to our listeners that he wasn’t going to hand it over to the government…and it wasn’t going to be made public.
I guess it’s TRSA’s report, it’s Mr Bentley’s decision as to where the report goes.
So the minister is saying, ‘I’ll be at Mr Bentley’s behest again, given that we have committed $29 million over the next five years.’
The Hon. J.M. Gazzola interjecting:
The Hon. T.J. STEPHENS: The Hon. Mr Gazzola badgers me, Mr President. I think that is most unfair.
The PRESIDENT: I think he is waiting for the 6 o’clock news.
The Hon. T.J. STEPHENS: It is only five minutes away; he will be fine. I will go on to read an interview with Mr Rod Sawford, a member of the SAJC and a former very prominent federal member of the Labor Party, as follows.
Bevan: Rod Sawford has been a member of the SAJC for many years, he’s a former federal MP, he represented the Labor Party in the seat of Port Adelaide …good morning…Rod Sawford, I think it’s fair to say that you’ve been part of a relatively small group who have been agitating for reform within the SAJC for many years, you’re a good friend of [Mr] Bill Spear, it was [Mr] Bill Spear who brought this court action back in November, which forced the inquiry…how far back do your concerns go regarding the governance of the SAJC?
Well it goes back to the election prior to 2002 when in my view the state Labor policy was to save the open space of Cheltenham, whether it be used for racing or not was irrelevant, it was to save it for stormwater management and of course South Australians all realise now that we’ve got a huge water problem and a third of Adelaide’s water supply could come from the underground aquifers if floodwaters were put in to the Cheltenham racecourse, that was the original reason, I’m a racing person also and I wanted to see racing also remain at Cheltenham, but that was another issue, the most important issue was water…the Labor Party policy, as far as I was concerned prior to 2002, was to save the open space at Cheltenham whether that was used for racing or not…in particular, the 2004 annual general meeting of the SAJC, in which the vote was taken, it was certainly two thirds to one third, but there were a lot of people there none of us knew and I was sitting with a group…we looked at a group in front of us, about 100 people who none of us knew and there were people on the right of us who we also didn’t know and so even though the vote was two thirds to a third to sell Cheltenham, we were very suspicious about these people, the racing industry is a very closed [industry] everybody knows everybody and all the questions we asked around that night, nobody knew who these people were…we knew some of them came from the Norwood community club and there was some mention, the number of staff, people and people associated with staff and families seemed to be there, but they’d never been known as members before, so we suspected a bit of a voting stacking, but we didn’t have any proof at that stage.
Abraham:…that was a crucial meeting…the 2004 meeting in terms of the vote to sell Cheltenham.
Bevan:…those concerns were repeated last year, why so?
Rod Sawford goes on to say:
They were repeated last year because basically the late Jim O’Connor was a very good friend of mine…the former secretary of the SAJC Mr Ploubidis [sic] was suing me for a matter of defamation and Jim O’Connor said to me that he believed I was correct and that he would get information that would help me in a court case, but then it formed a coalition of people like Bill Spear, SAJC, a board member … Joe Canazaro, a former vice-chairman of the SAJC, the late Jim O’Connor, myself and a media person who I don’t think wants to be named at this stage…we knew something was wrong, something smelt, it just wasn’t quite correct, well the late Jim O’Connor got the information that we needed and as you know, I showed that information to you confidentially and also to Craig Cook and Ben Scadden of The Advertiser on a confidential basis…this I think gave us good grounds to suspect what we’d always suspected that the vote in 2004 was stacked and that the decision to sell Cheltenham was not valid.
Abraham:…when we were talking to Phil Bentley about this, this inquiry was not designed to go back to the sale of Cheltenham…
Bevan:…he was very clear about that and he said it would not be going back…I don’t know how that transpired in the end, did the inquiry go back that far, do you know if allegations were put to Skip Lipman who conducted this inquiry about 2004?
I’m certain that the situation went back further than 2004, I think people who went and were interviewed by Skip Lipman would have gone back even further and put in context the whole development and what’s happened at the SAJC for probably the last 20 years…
Bevan:…were the concerns that you raised put to Philip Bentley, the Chairman of Thoroughbred Racing, when he conducted an inquiry into the various [racing] codes some two, three years ago?
I can certainly speak on behalf of myself, I did, not entirely all the allegations because all the information we didn’t have available, but in general those allegations were put to Mr Bentley and I know there were at least a dozen other people who put similar allegations to Mr Bentley at the time…we understand subsequently they were dismissed as hearsay and scuttlebutt, well I don’t think they’re hearsay and scuttlebutt any more.
Bevan:…lets get this quite clear, Philip Bentley is the man who’s running the board as Thoroughbred Racing, which oversees racing, that is the board which has required this latest report, which has now been referred to the police, which will be given to the SAJC today, but you’re telling our listeners that Philip Bentley was given at least some of these allegations two or three years ago?
Yes that’s correct, by me and others and I can name those others…it could even be as many as 20 or 30, but I know at least a dozen, I was trying to count those names this morning…
Bevan:…should the report that’s been handed to the Government and to the SAJC today be released publicly?
I believe it is subject to the needs of the police if it’s going to be a criminal investigation, of course people will have to be patient, but I believe the public need to understand what has been going on, they put a lot of money—Cheltenham for example had $14m of taxpayers money, in the latest round of Government assistance to racing, we’re talking about millions of dollars for Morphettville and for the Gawler race club and maybe country race clubs, so the taxpayer has an interest in this and the SAJC, of which I’m a member, have been for 20 years, is not a private club, it depends on the public and the public have a right to know what is going on in their racing clubs.
[Sitting suspended from 18:01 to 19:48]
The Hon. T.J. STEPHENS: The interview continues:
Bevan:…so make the report public, but on the proviso that it doesn’t prejudice any other inquiries done by the authorities.
…you want to protect staff.
Abraham:…there is also a presumption of innocence on all parties involved here under our legal system, so you could effectively…remove the names or blank out the names because you don’t want to compromise any inquiries and you also don’t want to unfairly reflect on people who haven’t had a chance to defend themselves if it ever came to that in court…but you’d still know the substance of the allegations and the concerns raised by Skip Lipman.
Bevan:…here’s another alternative, if the authorities say we don’t want any of this made public—
The Hon. R.P. Wortley interjecting:
The Hon. T.J. STEPHENS: Russell, I’ll tell you that I am shortening this substantially, but I can easily do the lot; so, just shut up. It continues:
what about releasing a copy of the report on a confidential basis to the opposition so that both sides of politics in this state could be absolutely satisfied that they understand what’s been going on…and we wait for the authorities to deal with it.
I’m not here to explain to the opposition, but of course they should have a copy, I think it’s prudent for good government they have a copy and I believe eventually it will come out to be public and people who stand in the way of being made public and being made open and transparent are doing the industry a great deal of harm.
I move on to the editorial appearing in The Advertiser of Wednesday 11 March, entitled ‘Shed more light on racing’s woes’, which states:
The partial release of the report into allegations of impropriety at the South Australian Jockey Club is a significant and positive step in cleaning up a scandal that has consumed the racing industry in this state. Recommending the dismissal of the chairman, deputy chairman and chief executive from any organisation represents a need for a major change in culture and acknowledges deep-seated problems.
For such action to be taken within the staid and conservative walls of the SAJC, one of our state’s most prestigious sporting clubs with a history going back to 1838, confirms fundamental deficiencies within the industry’s governance structure.
While the areas of concern outlined by Thoroughbred Racing SA Chairman Philip Bentley yesterday may be incomplete, they alone portray a disturbing picture of racing administration in this state. The TRSA board has acted strongly and decisively, as was expected. But to truly cleanse racing of this stain and revive its public image, it is vital that a fuller and franker acknowledgment of the industry’s problems is delivered.
A three-page media statement is inadequate when informing the South Australian public of the darkest day in this state’s proud racing history. The immediate and natural temptation is to suppress the details in the hope these black marks can be washed away. But while doubts remain about the nature of the allegations against the SAJC, dark clouds will continue to linger over the industry.
While acknowledging sources who have provided confidential information must be protected, The Advertiser again urges the Racing Minister, Michael Wright, to table the report in State Parliament. This duty must rest with Mr Wright and we expect him to deliver on his responsibilities in the interests of rejuvenating this most important sport and industry.
For the Premier to claim that this is a stunt by the opposition and that we are just trying to turn this into some sort of political sideshow when so many groups, members of the public and the media are looking for some clarity just beggars belief. I move forward to 16 March and an interview with Matthew Abraham and David Bevan: report into the SAJC. The transcription reads as follows:
Abraham:…I think they might as well release [the report] now…it was an absolute bombshell by Nigel Hunt—
and we are talking about Nigel Hunt’s expose in the Sunday Mail—
…he’s one of the top journalists in Adelaide [and] he has impeccable connections certainly with the police but also with a lot of other figures around town. And here we’ve got this almost charade now of not even Steve Ploubidis who’s…going to lose his job out of this has been shown the report…
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Sir, I rise on a point of order. This evening I (and, I guess, many others in this chamber) have heard in the news that Mr Ploubidis is seeking some legal redress through the Federal Court. I invite your ruling on whether, in fact, it is appropriate for any member of this chamber to reflect on Mr Ploubidis or his potential case at this point in time.
The Hon. T.J. STEPHENS: Mr President, I am unaware of any such report.
The Hon. S.G. Wade interjecting:
The PRESIDENT: Order! I have also seen the ABC news, on which Mr Ploubidis was reported to be taking some sort of court action. So, I advise the honourable member to be very careful in any contributions where he might want to mention Mr Ploubidis, the CEO of the racing club. I understand that, in fact, Mr Bentley could also be involved. I advise the honourable member to be very careful.
The Hon. T.J. STEPHENS: Thank you for your guidance, Mr President. The interview continues:
They’re not allowed to keep a copy of the report but the Sunday Mail has obviously got a copy of the report and has splashed with it. And I would think there’ll be a sequel next week…it is quite a remarkable situation now.
Abraham:…that is right…for instance, the last conversation I had with the Premier on—well actually the last conversation I had with the Premier was a few minutes ago and I can’t repeat that one—but the last conversation I had with the Premier a week or so ago about this, he hadn’t read the report, he doesn’t want to see it because it’s gone to the police. Well, if you’re the Premier I don’t think there’s any—you’re not going to compromise the police investigation by reading the report. You’re allowed to read the report if you’re the Premier…if I was Premier I’d want to read it and perhaps you might then make a judgment and say…once the police have looked at this, once they’ve decided they’re going to do something, and…we need to maintain a presumption of innocence here, then I might want to have a royal commission for instance or I may not want to have a royal commission. But certainly you’d think it’d be something you’d be flicking through with your bedtime reading.
There are many more transcripts I could read into Hansard. There is an enormous amount of community angst. I would urge all members to consider the future of racing. We would like to lift the cloud off racing once and for all. The only way we will be able to do it is to have an open and transparent inquiry.
Given that this issue has been bubbling along for some months, and given that the government has steadfastly refused to release the Lipman Karas report, I am asking members to give this particular motion urgent consideration, and I suspect I will be calling for a vote within a couple of weeks. With that, I commend the motion to the council.