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Thursday, 22 March 2012
Page: 2695


Senator BACK (Western Australia) (20:17): I wish to draw the attention of the chamber this evening to the importance of an industry that I believe is under the radar and should not be: the importance and relevance of the horse industry to this country. For too long Australians have failed to recognise and accept the horse industry as a genuine industry in its own right. It may be of interest to the listening audience and to those in the chamber that we believe there are in excess of one million horses in this country. The horse is intimately associated with the history and romance of this country, which I hope in the next few minutes to outline to the chamber.

It was in 1976 that I commenced the first university course on the horse industry in Australasia. In 1979 I took a group of students to the UK, France, Germany and Italy. It became apparent that there was no equivalent course of study there either. I then had the pleasure, opportunity and privilege in 1979-80 and again in 1984 to work at the University of California at its Davis campus and in 1980 to be on the faculty of the University of Kentucky in Lexington during the horse breeding season. So it was with some pride that I was able to come back and report to my Curtin University in Perth that we had the first university course of study on the horse industry in the world. Why did I start that course? It was in recognition that an industry so valuable and important to Australia needed an improvement in terms of tertiary qualified people.

It might be of interest to know what the impact the horse industry has on this country. Regrettably, we do not have adequate figures from all sectors of the horse industry, although certainly over time they are improving for the thoroughbred industry through Racing Australia. I know that the standardbred industry in Australia is also collating more accurate figures. In addition to what I will refer to as the commercial horse industry—being the thoroughbred and standardbred racing and breeding industries—we also have the enormity of the pleasure horse and the performing horse industries in this country.

Wagering alone on horses in Australia exceeds some $20 billion per annum—20,000 million dollars. That breaks down into some $14½ billion on thoroughbred racing and some $2½ billion on standardbred racing, and we know that greyhound racing is also a popular pastime and sport. Of equal importance to the Australian community is the fact that federal government and the state governments enjoy the benefit of some $1 billion per annum without any risk or investment from the horse industries, that being made up of some $560 million into federal coffers and some $610 million in 2010-11 into the coffers of the states and territories. I remind you again, Mr President, those amounts are created without risk and without any investment by the federal government or the state governments. There is a further sum of money, that being the revenue from unclaimed winnings that go into state government coffers. It has been a regret for me over time that state governments have not been willing to at least share some of those dollars back to the horse industry. I think, for example, of horse industry diseases, which would have benefited from some income back from the unclaimed dividends. I think also of the wonderful project near the Tullamarine airport in Victoria called Living Legends. Living Legends is a farm for older geldings. Of course, the stallions and the mares go in for breeding purposes, but the older geldings end up at Living Legends and people can go and have a look at those wonderful thoroughbred champions of the past—those that have given us so much joy and so much pleasure. They are there for people to view. But it is unfortunate that governments have chosen to not even share a small portion of funding from that.

The horse industry's contribution to GDP exceeds 0.6 per cent. In cash terms, the thoroughbred industry alone contributes some $6.3 billion a year to the Australian economy. When you include the contribution of volunteers, that figure goes up to a figure exceeding $8 billion. At the moment we contribute some $800 million of exports from all states, particularly the eastern states of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria and, to some extent, Western Australia. The potential will be when the Chinese racing industry becomes established—it is now in its infancy—and Australia will be uniquely positioned to be able to compare.

I will now conclude and, at some stage in the future, I hope to have the opportunity to continue my comments on the importance and significance of the horse industry—on the emotional tie, on the historic tie, and on those who took horses away in World War I. And of course we know only one horse ever came home—that being Sandy, for the occasion of General Bridge's funeral. Whilst time does not permit me to develop the theme, I would like to leave the chamber and those listening with the view that the horse industry rightfully stands in this country as a legitimate industry in its own right and one that should receive recognition. I hope during my time in this place to make sure that it earns that rightful place.