STATISTICS on the Australian racing industry explain why it has such political clout.
According to a Senate inquiry submission in 2015, the industry added more than $5 billion to the economy and provided more than 49,000 jobs. In that year it paid $610 million in taxes to state governments and $560 million in federal taxes.
Australia has more than 370 racing clubs, more than 4.5 million people attend race meetings each year, and more than $1.1 billion is invested annually by breeders, owners and trainers.
It is the sport of kings and princes that has a race that stops the nation, and another that uses the Sydney Opera House as an advertising billboard.
Racing routinely attracts the country’s most senior politicians to events where industry players have the ears of elected representatives while they munch on fine food and drink champagne.
The dark side of racing doesn’t make it to the glossy advertisements. Problem gambling and the “wastage” of thousands of horses each year that do not meet racing industry standards do not fit the narrative of racing as one of Australia’s favourite pastimes.
The death of Newcastle teenager Sarah Waugh in 2009 when she was thrown from a racehorse hired for a Dubbo TAFE beginners’ jillaroo course is also something the industry would prefer not to explore or explain. Which is why Sarah’s parents Juliana and Mark are determined to fight on for a national horse register and traceability system.
TAFE was fined $300,000 in 2014 after admitting staff made no checks on the horse’s history, which would have shown it ran a race days before it was hired to teach beginners professional horsemanship. Sarah Waugh’s death was preventable and foreseeable. Her parents must live with those dreadful words for the rest of their lives.
Their call for the Hunter to support a petition for a Senate inquiry into development of a transparent register and system to track all horses in Australia will introduce public accountability into how the racing industry deals with the thousands of horses bred each year that don’t make the grade.
On biosecurity, crime and animal welfare grounds a national register is also, as Juliana Waugh says, a “no-brainer”. The major hurdle is racing’s political heft and power.