OPINION: Racing NSW has backed us into a corner

ON November 27,  members of the Newcastle Jockey Club  will be asked to approve fundamental changes to the club’s constitution. 

Those changes include the reduction of directors from 10 to seven, of whom only four would be elected by the members.

The proposed changes are not the result of a club initiative.  Racing  NSW has offered to provide the club with $11.2 million but the offer is conditional upon the constitutional changes.

The funding would be used only for the redevelopment of the club’s racing and training track infrastructure.

The funding offer by Racing NSW  appears to be a generous one. However, members should query the need for such significant constitutional changes as a condition of the offer.  What justifies the condition and is it reasonable?

Does Racing NSW doubt the ability and qualifications of the existing board to implement and oversee the works to be paid for by the funding? 

If the answer is yes, there appears to be a simple alternative. 

Racing NSW  could contract the work direct and retain the control of all funding.  Racing NSW possesses both the personnel and expertise to do so.  This would alleviate any concerns about how and when the funding was spent.

The club held an information night last Monday to discuss the funding offer and its conditions.

During the course of the meeting, another reason was put forward to justify the constitutional changes. 

That reason was the lack of suitably qualified professional persons on the board in fields such as law, accounting and building. 

 I was privileged to serve on the board in the 1990s.  At that time, the board was strong and was fortunate to include directors with professional qualifications and directors who were leaders in the Newcastle business community.

I make no observations as to the qualities of the current board but maintain that it is the right of the club’s members to elect its  directors.  That right should not be usurped as a condition of Racing NSW’s funding offer.

It is important that Novocastrians understand the club’s unique position as freehold owner of its land.  Most race clubs occupy their race courses pursuant to Crown Leases and do not enjoy freehold ownership.  Broadmeadow Racecourse is owned by the Club.  A value of $150 million  has been suggested.

Having regard to such a significant asset, it is with some suspicion and scepticism that members are viewing the Racing NSW proposal, which could affect the club’s autonomy and control of its assets.

At last Monday’s meeting, Peter V’Landys, the chief executive of Racing NSW, said funding would be secured by a first charge over the club’s land.  If Racing NSW will enjoy that security, why does it insist on such fundamental changes to the club’s constitution?  

There is no dispute that the work, that is the subject of the funding offer, must be performed urgently.  

Members should query why the track has been allowed to deteriorate to this point. Failure to perform the work may result in Newcastle racing experiencing a slow death.  Mr V’Landys made it quite clear that Racing NSW  would not negotiate  on its conditions and failure to accept the conditions would  mean no funding.

Broadmeadow Racecourse is an asset to its members and the people of Newcastle. 

 It is an asset that I wish future generations to enjoy.

As a club member, I feel Racing  NSW has delivered an ultimatum that I have no choice but to accept.  I find this position to be objectionable.

However, I have reached the conclusion that in the absence of the funding, racing in Newcastle may not survive.

Paul O’Sullivan is a former director and current member of the Newcastle Jockey Club

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