Cessnock Electorate Racing Facility
Mr HICKEY (Cessnock) [5.25 p.m.]: I wish to tell the House about the concerns brought to my office by the greyhound fraternity in the electorate of Cessnock. They concern the funding allocation made by the Greyhound Racing Authority [GRA] for a premier track at Maitland. The site and associated funding has been the centre of concern and revolves around three groups vying for a premier greyhound facility. The Cessnock Agriculture Society and the Stanford Merthyr group ask for fairness in this matter. I am in no way questioning the probity of the Greyhound Racing Authority, which seeks only a fair decision for the betterment of the greyhound racing industry.
I shall provide a brief overview of the process that the two groups have related to me. In the first instance the premier track was offered to the Cessnock Showground Society. The conditions imposed on the committee were that the showground committee was to have a weighting towards the GRA—in fact, the GRA was to have a majority on the board, which would give a community facility and its future to the GRA; and that all trotting events were to be moved from Cessnock and taken up by Maitland. This would leave all local owners and trainers with no local facility.
The local community was not prepared to lose the right to host local events that have been a part of the coalfields heritage since the showground was built. At the meeting to decide the fate of the Cessnock Showground, members of the Cessnock Agricultural Society passed a clear, decisive motion that they would embrace the concept of a premier track only if the other users had continued access after the greyhound track was developed. Unfortunately, the vote in favour of the premier track development was 63 per cent, whereas the constitution of the Agricultural Society required such a motion to be passed by at least 75 per cent of members.
It is untrue to say that the local community was opposed to a premier track being based in Cessnock. What is true is that some sectors of the community were keen to see the new premier track constructed at a greenfield site at Stanford Merthyr, which again is in the Cessnock electorate. The Mindaribba Land Council would provide the funding, or part thereof, on a dollar-for-dollar basis, and this proposal would be seen as having the full support of the local land council. Mr Rick Griffiths of the Mindaribba Land Council contacted my office to discuss offers made by his organisation to the Greyhound Racing Authority and the stonewalling his organisation was encountering. The mayor of Cessnock and I contacted the Minister for Gaming and Racing and a meeting was arranged in a matter of days to discuss the issues outlined by the Stanford Merthyr group. At no stage was a commitment made by the mayor or me to the group promoting the Stanford Merthyr proposal. The only offer we could make was to have a meeting to discuss the pertinent points, and that was done.
I then met with representatives of the Cessnock Agricultural Society, who requested a guarantee to ensure that they would retain 44 events on the greyhound racing calendar. My office drafted a letter and relayed the sentiments to the Minister. A meeting was then called by the Greyhound Racing Authority to discuss the option of Maitland becoming the premier greyhound racing facility. In attendance at this meeting were only three members; two members were unable to attend because of personal reasons, and another member was in Queensland on holiday and was unable to be contacted. The decision to site the premier track at Maitland was made with the two members corresponding by fax machine. One must ask why there was such a rush to make a decision on this important issue. Why hold a meeting when half the membership was not able to discuss an important issue that affects the whole region?
One must also ask why the premier track should be sited at Maitland, where the facilities are not of the same standard as those at Cessnock? Why site the premier track at Maitland when trotting meetings are held there regularly? If trotting was an issue at Cessnock, why was it not an issue at Maitland? It seems that the goalposts were moved without due consideration given to the first few proposals. Members of the greyhound racing fraternity are simply asking for fairness. I believe that the book should not be closed on the Cessnock proposals. A new process should be commenced that is both fair and transparent to ensure that the best site is chosen for this important gaming and racing facility.
Mr FACE (Charlestown—Minister for Gaming and Racing, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Hunter Development) [5.30 p.m.]: During December 1996 the Newcastle Jockey Club advised me that it intended to discontinue greyhound racing at Beaumont Park on 30 June 1997 because of financial losses incurred in recent years. The decision by the club prompted discussions about the declining state of greyhound racing in the area, particularly in relation to the position of the Singleton, Cessnock, Maitland and Newcastle clubs. Consequently, I requested the Greyhound Racing Authority to undertake an examination into the future of greyhound racing in the lower Hunter Valley area.
In turn, the authority commissioned independent consultants to conduct the review. The consultants concluded that Cessnock Showground would be the most appropriate location for a premier track greyhound complex. In early 1999 the authority called for submissions from parties interested in being involved in the premier track concept in the lower Hunter. All the relevant stakeholders, including the Cessnock and District Agricultural Association and advocates of the establishment of a premier greyhound track at Stanford Merthyr, had the opportunity to make their case to the Greyhound Racing Authority.
I also received representations from other interested parties. On each such occasion I have advised that the decision regarding the location of a premier greyhound racing track in the Hunter Valley is solely a matter for the Greyhound Racing Authority. I am not empowered by the Greyhound Racing Authority Act 1985 to give the Greyhound Racing Authority board a direction on this or any other commercial matter. Such arrangements were agreed to by the racing industry during the post-TAB privatisation process. There was a clear intention that the industry wished to have deregulation on commercial matters.
The Greyhound Racing Authority has made a decision to locate the premier greyhound racing track at Maitland Showground. The authority's press release dated 7 November 2000, which announces the board's resolution, indicates that the decision was made only after considering the merits of the competing claims. I do not envy the Greyhound Racing Authority having to make such a decision. It is a difficult decision to make, and clearly all the aspirants consider their claim to be the most superior. However, I assure all the participants that the Greyhound Racing Authority has given due consideration to the merits of all the proposals. The authority's board has only the best interests of the greyhound racing industry in mind and has, in my view, acted in good faith.
Sadly, various players in this matter will not accept the Greyhound Racing Authority's proposal. The greyhound racing industry in the Hunter is on a collision course in terms of its future when different sections of the industry are tearing themselves apart and trying to destroy the industry if they do not get their way. No matter what the Greyhound Racing Authority or I do, sections of the industry will never be happy. It is a sad affair, but the decision has been made. [Time expired.]