Jim Rundle’s two-point plan to reinvigorate Qld racing
JIM Rundle has been the president of the Queensland Trainers Association for the past three years.
And in that time the Rockhampton trainer has seen just as many Queensland Ministers of Racing.
The latest racing minister, Grace Grace, comes into the role as part of the Palaszczuk government's Cabinet reshuffle earlier this week.
And the new minister enters the job at a time when Racing Queensland (RQ) is at the crossroads.
Prior to her appointment, on Thursday, December 3, the then racing minister Bill Byrne announced $21million for country racing, the Queensland Country Racing Support Program.
The program has been designed to give country racing time to adjust to the cuts the industry faces in April next year. These cuts are detailed in the Transition to Sustainability report released by Mr Byrne on the same day.
The report was in response to the RQ recording a deficit of $28million last financial year
"There is a lot of fear, a lot of concern in the industry right now," Rundle said.
"There will be cuts to prize money as well as the number of races, by up to 50 race meetings. That is a lot of racing disappearing."
The Transition to Sustainability report was prepared by Queensland Treasury with a directive requiring RQ to return to profitability by July 1, 2016.
"Basically, they are saying no handouts," Rundle said.
"The industry has to stand on its own two feet. And the consequences of that is cuts; cuts to prize money and cuts to race meetings."
According to Rundle, the crisis the Queensland racing industry faces has not just appeared. It has developed over a number of years of mistakes and poor management.
One example he cites is a former government deciding to sell the Queensland TAB.
Now in its present, private form, UBET is struggling to generate revenue as it loses market share to the large, multinational bookmakers like William Hill and Ladbrokes.
This is the industry's main source of revenue, with 6.5% of UBET's wagering coming back as revenue.
"UBET must conduct market research and determine why punters are deserting in droves to bet with the corporate bookmakers," Rundle said. "They then need to act on this information and develop business strategies in order to compete effectively."
Meanwhile, the large corporate bookmakers only return 2% to RQ revenue.
But according to an argument put forward by the Thoroughbred Breeders Queensland Association (TBQA), the corporate bookmakers haven't been audited in the last six months, since Labor came to power and sacked the previous RQ Board, so there are question marks surrounding how much they are actually contributing.
"The industry could be losing millions of dollars in revenue because the 'bookkeeping isn't being done by RQ," TBQA president Basil Nolan said.
Rundle says there are also deeper issues at play. But it is not all doom and gloom.
He has what he believes is a simple two-step plan to rescue the horse racing industry in Queensland.
And based on the success of the racing industry in the southern states, it would appear to be common sense.
"I am calling on the Queensland Government and the new racing minister to conduct an independent review," Rundle said.
"It must be independent of RQ and this review should consider a two-point plan."
The first component of Rundle's plan is make the Queensland thoroughbred industry a stand-alone sector.
Under the present system, RQ is responsible for horse racing, harness racing (trots) and greyhound racing (dogs).
"In NSW and Victoria they have moved horse racing to a stand-alone model and been very successful," Rundle explained.
"We want to do the same and want racing to be a stand-alone racing code. At the moment RQ is hobbled by the trots and the dogs."
Part of RQ's problems lie in the sheer geographical size of the state, with the concentration of infrastructure and powerful vested interests in the south-east corner.
"South-east Queensland wants all of it on its own," Rundle said. "They don't care about country racing. They want to slash and burn country racing because it costs money to run and they want all the money themselves."
The trots are a case in point. At one stage there were harness racing tracks right up the Queensland coast.
"They tried this with the trots," Rundle said.
"All the harness racing was centralised and concentrated in Brisbane. And it almost collapsed. There are very few country harness racing clubs left and the industry lost $7million last year."
Another problem with having the three codes under the one administrative body, Rundle said, is the cross subsidisation which takes place.
"When the trots lose money, that cost is shared by horse racing," Rundle said.
The second part of Rundle's plan he wants the government to consider is to move from the present TAB model back to the former provincial club model, which he calls a spoke and hub model.
"We have moved to a TAB model, where provincial races are held mid-week, set by RQ, and funded by betting," Rundle said.
"And the metro clubs race on most Saturdays.
"The infrastructure is already in place to return to a hub and spoke model so it cost negligible.
"A place like Rocky becomes the hub and the spokes are our country races. We have more autonomy and can decide our own race meetings. Everything still goes through RQ, but they become administrators, not operators. The provincial and country clubs are their own operators.
"As the operators, RQ has always had a problem with the clash of race days with nearby clubs. The hub and spoke would alleviate this problem. It gives autonomy back to country race clubs."