Greens call on ACT government to end $40 million public funding of horse racing industry

The ACT Greens are calling for an end to the public funding of horse racing in Canberra.

The ACT government is in negotiations to re-sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Canberra Racing Club and the Harness Racing Club worth about $40 million.

Under the deal, the horse racing industry will receive at least $7.5 million in taxpayer funding each year for the next five years.

“There’s a much better way to use that public funding,” ACT Green’s spokesperson for animal welfare, Jo Clay, said.

“It hasn’t gone through a public procurement, it hasn’t gone through a grant process.

“We have so many major problems at the moment; we are dealing with climate change, COVID and homelessness, and I don’t think it’s the right use of $40 million of public money.”

Ms Clay noted the funding allocated to Canberra’s top sporting teams to “put the funding into context”.

“This year, the ACT government will provide $2.6 million in yearly funding to the Canberra Raiders, $1.78 million in yearly funding to the Brumbies and $1.6 million over four years to the Canberra Capitals and Canberra United,” she said.

Racing industry ‘should be self-sufficient’

Woman with long dark hair wearing grey jacket.
Ms Clay says funding allocated to the horse racing industry would be better spent on health and housing. (ABC News)

The Greens want the government to phase out the current funding deal and develop a transition plan to support workers in the industry.

“It would be great for us to say that this is the last MOU, and there should be a step-down in funding, in an eased transition to help the industry get used to not receiving public money,” Ms Clay said.

“If the Canberra community decides they support and value horse racing, I’m sure they will still pay for those services, and if they do not wish to pay for those services, it’s probably a good indication that the Canberra community does not support that industry.”

Ms Clay said only a quarter of the government’s funding was spent on wages.

“The Thoroughbred Park Annual Report states that last year they received ACT government funding of $6.6 million and paid out $6.1 million in prize money,” she said.

But Canberra Racing Club acting chief executive Matthew Kolek said the ACT racing industry would not be viable without government funding, and hundreds of jobs would be lost.

“We’d also like to point out that the industry in the ACT is one of the lowest per capita funded of every jurisdiction in the country, which means we aren’t that well supported in comparison to some of our competitors in the marketplace,” he said.

Public funding in turn generates ACT government revenue

Man wearing a suit.
Mr Kolek says hundreds of Canberra jobs would be lost if the government stopped funding the racing industry. (ABC News: Peter Lusted)

Mr Kolek said the industry was an important part of the ACT economy and the government made money from funding it.

“The ACT government generates revenue from wagering turnover in the ACT through the point of consumption tax,” he said.

“We expect, according to the ACT government’s budget estimates, that it’s between $17 (million) and $20 million a year over the next three or four years … and the bulk of that funding would be coming from the racing industry.

Mr Kolek said the Greens’ stance was “disappointing” given the industry was working towards becoming more self-sufficient.

“Continuing the MOU will assist us in delivering further benefits to equine welfare … and help us diversify our revenue further,” he said.

“We’ve got a range of different revenue diversification options on the table, one of which is continuing with our precinct redevelopment, which we hope to progress in the next five years.

“We’re hoping to redevelop the whole area that we have in Lyneham, looking to have some residential and commercial areas and upgrade our facilities for participants.”

Agreement to include new performance measures related to animal welfare

Two people watching horse being led around track.
The ACT government says it will continue its agreement with the Canberra Racing Club and the Harness Racing Club. (ABC News: Nicholas Haggarty)

In a statement, an ACT government spokesperson said the financial support offered to the industry was “a very small component” of the total territory budget.

“If the MOU were to be terminated, this would mean the loss of many local jobs,” they said.

They said new performance measures had been included in the MOU relating to animal welfare, traceability, transparency and economic diversification.

“The ACT’s racing clubs will work with the government through a new Joint Racing Industry and Government Committee to implement these KPIs, including developing proposals to limit the use of whipping in some ACT race meetings.”

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