Racing Amendment (unauthorised access) Bill 2022

MELINA BATH (Eastern Victoria) (15:15): Thank you, Acting President Berger, and welcome to your role today. I am sure we will all be gentle on you. I am very pleased to rise today to speak and support, as a National Party MP, the Racing Amendment (Unauthorised Access) Bill 2022. Indeed it has actually been driven largely by the racing fraternity and the thoroughbred industry as a whole as they want to make sure that there is logic around the protection of animals, jockeys and also the public, the punters, and it is safety as a whole. I have often been engaged in many a good conversation with my dear friend the Shadow Minister for Racing and member for Gippsland East Tim Bull who has an extensive knowledge of the racing industry, an extensive fraternity and friendship within the racing industry and not one but multiple parts of ownership in racehorses and a passion for it. He also has a passion for the wellbeing of animals and the responsible nature of the Victorian racing industry and indeed also greyhound racing and harness racing. I will go into the importance of the racing industry in our regions and for our economy.

Let us look specifically at the bill. The bill takes provisions that exist for the Spring Racing Carnival for track and exclusion zones and that exist for the eight major racecourses and race meets and broadens them out to the entirety of the Victorian racing fraternity for race meetings and official meetings. It is important, as I said, that we protect the animals, horses, jockeys, track riders, the punters and the people that go to enjoy these races; prohibit the disruptive behaviour during these meetings; and provide assurity around the enforcement of these provisions. Now, we only have laws for a very small number of people. The majority of the population do the right thing and would not even dream of being disruptive at a race meet or a track meet and either injure themselves or potentially the animals to inhibit the ongoing nature of the race day.

There can be people who enjoy the race meets far too much and end up inebriated and lose their sense of self and sense of mind and stumble onto the track, but there are also persons, protesters, who feel it is their right as a means of demonstration to actually jump onto the track or go into the stalls or a variety of areas to actually disrupt the races, and as we have just heard before they feel that they have the right to photograph or interact with the horses. Now, this is not on. It is not an appropriate way to protest. I fully support people’s right to protest, but I do not support people’s right to potentially injure or endanger the lives of these great animals or anybody else. It can happen and indeed it is very serious when it does.

In terms of the background to this bill, the Major Events Act 2009 contains those crowd management provisions in the thoroughbred region, but as I said, it only looks at the Melbourne spring carnival. This broadens it. It sets out standards of behaviour in certain locations adjacent to mounting yards and on the racecourses as well, and it relates to various behaviours – throwing or kicking projectiles into restricted areas or climbing the fences or barricades adjacent to the restricted racing area. This bill is certainly required, and it really needs to be there as a deterrent with those protections.

As I said, the racing fraternity has really harnessed our interest and driven this bill. There was some questioning around the authorised officers and having police officers come and enforce this.

Now, we know that police officers are needed in a variety of ways across our great state but making them stand beside a racecourse for a country race meet is not necessarily the best use of their time, so I can see from this bill that you can have race stewards become those authorised officers to be able to ensure that those safety provisions are there. Often stewards, particularly in the country fraternity, can be volunteers, and being able to provide them with the training, the skills and the capabilities – but also not having a cost impost on them – is important. So the government through this bill will need to work with the industry to make sure that those stewards are able to be those authorised officers to take that hand. They have a busy role. Anybody who goes to a country race meet will certainly know that stewards on any given day lose weight over the day because they are constantly running around to ensure that all is well in the operation of that race meet.

Now, certainly if you have been to a country race event, you will know what a fantastic day out it is, and you will know the significance, as an economic driver, of our racing industry as a whole. I have talked about thoroughbreds, and this bill specifically looks at the thoroughbred region, but the harness industry and greyhounds are also important to our regional towns.

The Victorian racing industry is worth – and this is in a relatively recent report – a bit over $4.3 billion to the Victorian economy, with 33,000 full-time equivalent jobs. Those jobs can certainly be in a variety of areas. We have jockeys, trainers, stablehands and track riders. Also associated are the vets, the veterinary industry, to support the health and wellbeing of the horses, from foals through into their racing career and then post. We have associated suppliers with stockfeed and the like, and the very important area around just keeping up those country race meets and other meets as well.

Indeed from my experience the country racing clubs have an amazing role in terms of supporting community sporting organisations and community clubs. I know that quite often the local football club will be the car parking attendants, or it might be the local Rotary club or Lions who will actually run the car parking there. They will certainly also monitor the gate and support catering – and I have been to some fantastic ones, which I will speak of soon. The local caterers do the most amazing job, showcasing the produce from that local area, the quality; it really adds to the value of tourism and adds to the overall standing of Gippsland or the Eastern Victoria Region in my patch. The money can then go back into the community. Those caterers employ young people to come on board as casuals and really make those days an enhanced experience. Over 120,000 people are directly involved in the industry – and I have touched on some of those – but also those part-timers as well.

When we look at some of the most wonderful, wonderful racing experiences you can have in my patch in Eastern Victoria Region we know the Pakenham races are really strong in the industry. Certainly some of the cream that go on to those group 1 races are out there at Pakenham. The Drouin races are also a great experience. The Moe Cup – there is a trainer out there called Manny Gelagotis, and he has trained some really great winners out there. The passion that the trainers have for their steeds is very commendable. They read a different language and at a higher level than those of us who are not actually in that space, andwe can appreciate the work they do.

The Latrobe Valley Racing Club in Traralgon is just a great club. I think the previous speaker spoke about 480 full-time equivalent persons working in that area at Traralgon at Glenview Park. Indeed Frank Bezzina is the president and manager of the LV club. He is a passionate guy.

He was talking to me recently about the importance of regional race clubs working together, and that is particularly what he thinks is the very strength of the Gippsland clubs – they promote each other; they plan out the calendar of events so that they can really complement each other and people can move through the different days and enjoy them. He also said that only recently the Asian Racing Conference was on. Part of that conference – and he said people came from everywhere – spoke about the opportunities to embrace diversity in our race meets and in our clubs. That is about not only encouraging everybody to come and enjoy – families, singles and the works – but accessibility in that diversity. In his case in Traralgon they are still looking to get a lift to get up to the second floor where the major club event occurs, but in other smaller clubs, ramps for accessibility. So really, hats off to the Gippsland racing fraternity.

Also let me cover off on a few more – the Sale Turf Club is fantastic. The CEO Brad Evans will unashamedly plug his club as the best country racecourse in the state. I think he may be a tad biased, but I will back Brad because with 18 race events a year he certainly keeps a very busy club and keeps a quality track. Congratulations to him. The Bairnsdale club and the cup there – Patties Foods sponsor that. It is again a great one. The Woolamai races in Bass Coast are fantastic. If you want to come out, it is often a hot day in summer when those race meet events occur. The picnic races – let us have a quick chat about picnic races. There are the Omeo races, Buchan and Gelantipy, Tambo River and one close to my home, the Stony Creek Cup. I just want to highlight the Stony Creek Cup as being an example of how the whole range of different community organisations and traders can get involved. A shout-out to Judy Stone, who has been a long-time supporter and sponsor of fashions on the field. Sometimes we can go, ‘Oh, this is so last century or so last month’ or the like, but when I go and talk to people in terms of fashions on the field I hear the lovely experience that everybody in the community has, such as the primary school teacher from Mirboo North. Everybody comes down and enjoys celebrating all things fashion. Local milliners have a turn to show their experience, show their flair and show their creativity, and the fashion houses can enjoy that, as well as accommodation and tourism.

So I highly endorse this bill. Country racing and the racing fraternity as a whole is an extremely important and professional industry, and I think that is one thing that my colleague Tim Bull presses upon us to understand. The racing industry should always aim for the highest quality in terms of professional standards and in terms of animal welfare. I think we have seen that evolve over time and I am sure we will continue to make sure that that standard is raised and kept across all of our race meets. I want this bill to go through because we want it to be safer for humans and safer for animals, and we want to say, ‘In actual fact this is not an appropriate way’ to those very few but entitled people who think that they can jump on and disrupt racing services and racing events. I hope this has a speedy passage through the house.