Racing industry changes still met with opposition

Opposition to the New Zealand government’s radical changes to the racing industry has resurfaced after many months of behind the scenes discussions and negotiations.

The proposed changes include a reduction in the number of racing venues, increasing stakes and other changes to modernize the industry follow from a government-commissioned review by Australian racing industry expert Joe Messara published in 2018.

Many racing clubs in smaller cities and towns reacted negatively to the prospect of up to 20 clubs being closed or their races being switched to a bigger venue, and to their land being sold to fund the industry.

Graham O’Brien from Hawera a small town with its own club said the changes were about sacrificing small clubs and called the changes “the biggest land grab since colonial times.”

A local equine vet Murray Blue said in small towns the racing clubs were viewed as community assets, not as assets of the whole racing industry, and accused “self-styled elitists” (from bigger clubs) of seeing them as cash cows to fund the further development of already large clubs.

The Minister of Racing and leader of the New Zealand First party Winston Peters told AGB in an interview that the legislation before Parliament does not directly close any racing venues or clubs.

“It proposes that the racing codes decide which venues are no longer required for racing. An underlying principle is that the value of a racing property should be retained in the industry and used for maximum industry benefit.”

He said the racing industry was in decline and needed to change, beginning with dealing with the oversupply of race tracks a problem first acknowledged in 1970 and seen by the racing industry as necessary in their own development plans.

He denied that the reforms were a land grab as claimed but noted that the Racing Bill did give the Minister power to resolve deadlocks where codes, clubs, and communities couldn’t agree. He said the government favored a negotiated approach as the best way.

Responding to criticism that his party was abandoning its own supporters in provincial New Zealand Mr. Peters said “as champions for the provinces New Zealand First seriously understands the importance of saving the racing industry, as well as protecting community interests. This is to be balanced with community considerations including payments for the club and community, where warranted.”