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Blame-shifting as Minister's pick for racing board faces constitutional barrier

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UPDATED | Racing Minister Corey Wingard has signed off on a key appointment to the board of Thoroughbred Racing SA, despite concerns the selection is in breach of the body’s constitution.

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As revealed by InDaily on Friday, Wingard has endorsed three new appointments to the board – media professional Cos Cardone, financial industry figure Rob Rorrison and Brett Dixon, the chair of the Darwin Turf Club.

It’s the latter’s selection that has raised questions in the racing industry because the TRSA’s constitution precludes the appointment to the board of anyone who is involved in the management of another racing club.

The constitution says: “A person who is a committee member or involved in the management of either a racing club or an Industry Stakeholder Group or any staff of TRSA is not eligible to be appointed a director.”

Darwin Turf Club chief executive officer Keith Stacy confirmed to InDaily this morning that Dixon remained chair of the club.

On Friday, the TRSA referred InDaily’s queries about board appointments to the Minister.

Today, the Minister referred InDaily’s queries about the constitutionality of Dixon’s appointment to the TRSA board.

A spokesperson for Wingard said that “from the minister’s perspective, he endorsed the best candidates for the job, including Brett Dixon, and he stands by those endorsements”.

“Your query re whether the appointment is unconstitutional is one for the TRSA board,” the spokesperson said.

This afternoon, the TRSA confirmed the appointments were now official.

TRSA chair Frances Nelson released a statement to InDaily distancing the TRSA from the appointments process, but also suggesting that Dixon’s appointment could be constitutional due to a clause defining “Industry Stakeholder Group”.

“The selection and appointment of directors to the Board of Thoroughbred Racing SA is a matter for the Director Selection Panel – which is made up of representatives from the SAJC and Country Racing SA (one each) and three representatives endorsed by the Minister for Recreation, Sport and Racing – and for the Minister, who has the final power of endorsement,” she said.

“Three new directors were appointed last week; Cos Cardone, Brett Dixon and Rob Rorrison.

“TRSA is not involved in the Director appointment process.

“The TRSA Constitution notes that a person who is a committee member involved in the management of either a racing club or an Industry Stakeholder group is not eligible to be appointed as a Director of TRSA.

“Industry Stakeholder Group is defined in the TRSA Constitution as being a body incorporated in SA that represents the interests of SA based thoroughbred horse racing trainers, breeders, owners, jockeys or bookmakers. The reference to racing clubs is noted within the same eligibility clause.

“Brett Dixon is not involved in the management of a racing club or Industry Stakeholder Group in South Australia.”

The definition she mentions above says: “Industry Stakeholder Group means any body incorporated in South Australia that represents the interests of any South Australian based thoroughbred horse racing trainers, breeders, owners, jockeys or bookmakers.”

There is no definition for “management of a racing club”.

InDaily has asked Dixon whether he intends to stay on as chair of the Darwin Turf Club and put to him concerns about the constitutional validity of his appointment.

The State Government has tightened its grip on the racing industry in South Australia, in the wake of a $24 million “stimulus package” announced in this year’s budget.

The Racing Minister’s appointees not only dominate the appointments committee for the board. He also has the final sign-off on nominated appointees.

In a statement released on Friday after InDaily published our story, Wingard announced that Cardone, Rorrison and Dixon would join the board “in the very near future”.

He said their appointments were “huge news for racing in South Australia”.

However, Dixon’s future in the role is now unclear.

An industry insider told InDaily today that there was anger and confusion in some quarters of the racing industry about Wingard’s announcement.

They said Wingard had been warned that Dixon’s appointment would breach the constitution, giving the industry veteran’s ongoing involvement in the Darwin Turf Club.

“How can anyone justify people being appointed against the constitution?” they said.

They said the issue highlighted problems with the governance model introduced as a result of the Government funding injection.

As part of the Government’s move to tighten control of the TRSA, the minister appoints the majority of the five-member selection committee for board members.

Government appointees on the five-member committee include chair Amanda Vanstone, a former Liberal senator, Infrastructure SA boss Tony Shepherd and finance industry executive Andrea Slattery.

The TRSA held its AGM last week.

The new appointees replace former state Liberal leader and now businessman Iain Evans and Gawler racing figure Judith Jones, who will not be reappointed, while another member, Steve Kelton, has resigned recently.

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