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Wednesday, 3 September 2008
Page: 6993

Mr TUCKEY (12:23 PM) —At the commencement of my remarks on the Horse Disease Response Levy Bill 2008 and associated bills, I should declare my interest in this matter. I am a racehorse owner and a racehorse breeder. I held a trainers licence for about 20 years. I am proudly a life member of the Carnarvon Race Club. I could spend the whole of this speech telling you about country racing. I was, for nine years, on the committee of the Western Australian Turf Club, including two years as its chairman. My son now holds the family trainers licence, and I am very proud to say that my daughter is the Chief Veterinary Officer of Racing and Wagering Western Australia. I think at the time when she was first headhunted and appointed as the chief vet of the Western Australia Turf Club, as it once was, she was the first woman in Australia to achieve that standing. By the way, I produced a maiden in an open race about a month ago. It ran third and paid 17 bucks!

Dr Emerson —What were the odds to win?

Mr TUCKEY —The evidence that I was not on it is the price! Nevertheless, I want you to understand that I attended as chairman of the Western Australian Turf Club at the old Principal Club meetings and I have been through all this debate over a long time. I also want to say that I have been appreciative and supportive of the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry’s efforts to date. In terms of this speech, whilst I will point out what I believe are the pitfalls, I do have a suggestion as to how the government might reconsider this matter in gaining a contribution from the overall racing industry.

The points that I want to make go to the difficulties in collecting a levy of this nature from the industry in which I have taken a long and great interest. I have just received some advice referring to levies on livestock. I notice that there is one called the Beef Production Levy, though I am not sure how that is associated. There is a cattle and livestock delivered for export levy, a livestock slaughter levy, a cattle and livestock exporters charge and a cattle and livestock transaction levy. These are all levies that are collected, for a variety of reasons, and are often government subsidised. They represent promotional levies and other sorts of levies. Importantly, they are all levied at a very convenient point in the ownership of animals—when they are sold, exported or slaughtered. That is a simple process, and it delivers the funds that are needed for whatever purpose. When we get to racehorses or other forms of horses, I am not sure the public would be too interested in a slaughter levy. But the point I want to make is that it is extremely difficult to arrive at a system as simple as that.

The first question is: how would you do it? The arguments made by the member for Cowper—with which I somewhat disagree as a racing man—included, ‘It is just not fair; what about the poor, old pony club?’ and ‘Racing has the capacity to pay’. Fortunately, I am not a heavy gambler, so I probably would have been in severe debt. I know how little financial return there is for the average participant. It is often said that it is the only form of entertainment where the actor pays to perform. About 95 per cent of those participating do so at a financial loss. Again, if I had some spare time, I would be spending it on talking about the way the taxation commissioner has gambled with the racing establishment over time. He typically seems to think that, if you are making profits, you should pay tax but, if you are making losses, you should not claim them. I note that one of the courts the other day disagreed with his view on the rights of someone conducting a business of racing to lose money and claim tax deductions.

Mention was made about how many yearlings are bred for the racing and pacing industries of Australia. It is a huge number, but the fact of life is that about 10 per cent of yearlings sold at auction actually get to the racecourse—let alone deliver a stake—and it is a very expensive process, including the purchase or breeding of the animal, which I do, which leads to finding out if they are any good. Then of course you find, as we did just recently, that a horse shows some promise but then he gets a throat infection and he has had to be turned out at additional cost. But I will front up again, because I love the industry. I would say that there is no greater level of excitement than having a horse win a race.

I need to draw to the attention of the House where the money is and, as the equine influenza proved, what a significant contribution the racing industry makes to the national economy. When I was involved at the administrative level, we used to claim to be the third biggest single employer in Australia. It is a big employer and it creates all sorts of opportunities for people with perhaps little skill or knowledge to gain employment.

That is another issue confronting us which I think I should draw to the minister’s attention before explaining how I would address the problem. I have a son who is five foot 10 who has an 18-year-old son, my grandson, who is six foot four. The trend amongst Australians is that we do not starve kids into weighing 40 kilos or 45 kilos as mature people; yet, by the time you put a saddle on a horse, if you weigh over 50 kilos then you would probably exceed the 53-kilo minimum weight. Furthermore, when we send horses out to do their exercise, it is not a good idea to put 100-kilo people on their backs for that exercise—notwithstanding the fact that I used to.

The industry is desperately short of people to work in it, across the board. I personally visited South America and went to the Buenos Aires racetrack to talk with jockeys and others there who would be most excited and delighted to come to Australia. Whilst their remuneration in Buenos Aires in their currency is about the same as ours, our currency was at the time worth three times theirs. So they could come here, earn good money and repatriate some of it back to their family or relatives if they chose. I choose South America as an example because it has a horseracing culture. Little kids ride horses there. In some areas you can go to a restaurant and they will ride their horses in, with their Mexican type hats on and everything else. They are the people we want. Trying to bring people down from Asia does not mean there is a horse culture.

I encourage the minister to talk to his colleague minister about a simple fact: you cannot apply 457 visa principles to the racing industry. Everybody gets paid on a contract basis. A track worker today gets paid anything between $10 and $20 for five minutes work to ride a horse around the track. Jockeys typically get $100 for a losing ride and a percentage of the stake money, which, when it comes to the Melbourne Cup, would set you up for a couple of years. It is a lot better than what we earn. But the fact of life is that those principles apply, so when people come here they should not come on a guarantee of $50,000 a year, notwithstanding that they have much potential to earn more. The award for some of these people is probably $20,000 to $25,000.

It should be recognised that there is a special problem which relates to the size of the individual. It is a skilled category, I guess. Those people should be allowed to come here with a sponsor, probably the race clubs themselves, on a reasonable guarantee of the award wages for a stablehand but with the recognition that they will be paid the moneys they earn if they become track riders or take on jobs in any other of those categories. It is only the people who muck out the boxes who are on a wage. The reward system, otherwise known as a sling, also goes well throughout the industry. So someone needs to look at it as a special case. There is a need throughout the industry to bring these people in, if only to meet those special criteria.

I will return to the matter I really want to raise today. Gambling on racehorses is a great earner for state governments. The figures that I obtained from the statistics put out by the Australian Racing Board tell me—I presume it was last year, but it would not matter that much—that the New South Wales state levy delivered $228.68 million to state coffers. The figures for the other states were as follows: Victoria, $187.85 million; Queensland, $69.78 million; South Australia, $18.77 million; WA, $63.78 million; Tasmania, $6.23 million; the ACT, $5.2 million; and the Northern Territory, $9.16 million. It, by the way, gives nothing back to its local racing industry, and that is probably because most of the betting is not on its local industry; it is a device to give people the opportunity to bet worldwide.

At the same time, from the profits of those TABs, similar amounts do go to racing. In fact, the totals are comparable. The total of the state levies is $589.45 million. The payment to racing, which of course then materialises in stake money in most areas, is what keeps the industry alive and people paying large sums of money for animals to compete in these races. But many do it for the prestige. The late Jack Ingham complained in my presence once that he had to register 150 yearlings, poor fellow, in his own name. To get the prospect of a start for all of them in the Golden Slipper he had to pay upfront $100 or something. I am sure Jack could afford it, but the fact of life is that all of those contributions are frequently not taken into account.

Because of the complexity of collecting the proposed levy, I would encourage the government—wall-to-wall Labor, as we know, but maybe not after Saturday—to talk to the states. The fact of life is that there are sufficient funds accumulated by state governments for them to pick up this responsibility. The Commonwealth does not get them. By the way, I think in the interests of racing it is time that the Commonwealth looked at Betfair and other internet type gambling companies to find out whether they are making a contribution relevant to where they take their bets. But otherwise I think some fees through the licensing system should be levied to make their contribution. One of the tragedies of the English system, now slightly repaired, was that all the private bookmakers paid nothing for racing. Unless you were an Arab oil sheikh or an otherwise very wealthy racing person you could not get into it. The worst thing in the world is to have a situation where owners have to gamble to cover the costs of racing, because that is when they start to cheat—and historically they did start to cheat. They cheated magnificently, because they were taking on the public. Big stake money puts a lot of integrity into racing.

I would ask the minister to have a look at the state agricultural departments, which have all the basic responsibilities for stock inspection. The pony clubs do not contribute to the revenue of state governments. I accept that. It would be virtually impossible, because you would spend more money trying to get money out of them than it is worth. Any taxes ought to be applied to the registered racing industries and maybe showjumpers—think of the cost of getting them to the Olympic Games! But I think we would be better avoiding a levy, because it is not practical. The state governments, under their constitutional responsibility, should be responsible for this. There should be some form of agreement. Maybe the Australian government could be a participant in forming a fund for that purpose—taken from the levies they place on the gambling interests generated by horse racing and all the other animal racing industries.

I will close on that point. As I have said, I have found that the minister has been available to take my point of view on other matters, and I thank him for that. He knows that I represent a very large proportion of Australia’s agricultural industry. It is not my job to look for fault when I can look for benefits for my people, but I believe the government’s interests and the horse owners’ interests would be best served if this money were accessed from the current revenue arrangements.