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Racing board row: SAJC up in arms; Minister warned about "concerns"

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Racing Minister Corey Wingard was warned before endorsing a candidate for the Thoroughbred Racing SA board that there were concerns about the appointment, with one racing identity alleging the minister suggested the racing body’s constitution could be changed to resolve the issue.

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As reported by InDaily this week, Wingard approved the elevation of Darwin Turf Club chair Brett Dixon to the TRSA board, despite its constitution prohibiting the appointment of a board member who is a “committee member involved in the management of either a racing club or Industry Stakeholder group”.

While the constitution limits the definition of an Industry Stakeholder group to South Australian bodies, racing industry figures argue there is no such restriction on the definition of a “racing club” (see below for extracts from the constitution).

One of the TRSA’s key shareholders, the South Australian Jockey Club, is set to hold its regular monthly board meeting tomorrow night, with a source connected to the club revealing that it’s likely to discuss its deep concerns about the validity of the appointment under both the constitution of the TRSA and broader Australian Rules of Racing.

A list of potential board appointees was sent to Wingard for final endorsement by the TRSA’s new board appointment panel, chaired by former Liberal senator Amanda Vanstone.

Vanstone told InDaily today that the panel had told Wingard of “any concerns” about its recommendations when it forwarded him the list.

When asked about constitutional doubts about Brett Dixon’s appointment, she responded: “The minister was sent a list (of candidates), noting any concerns and how the minister dealt with that is up to the minister.”

Vanstone’s committee is part of a new governance structure for the TRSA, imposed on the body by the State Government after it provided a $24 million stimulus package for the racing industry in this year’s Budget.

InDaily was told by a racing industry insider earlier this week that the SAJC had raised concerns about the constitutional validity of Dixon’s appointment directly with Wingard.

Today, Murray Bridge Racing Club chairman Reg Nolan said the appointment might be in breach of the constitution, but it was a good one.

“I think he (the minister) might have said we’ll change the constitution,” he told InDaily.

“Brett Dixon is a very capable bloke. They have probably breached the constitution side of things, (but) he’s a very good appointment really.”

Wingard did not respond to our questions about whether he suggested the constitution could be changed, about Vanstone’s “concerns”, nor whether the SAJC had raised its concerns directly with him.

However, in a statement today, Wingard stood by Dixon’s appointment.

“I endorsed Brett Dixon because he’s one of the best people for the job,” Wingard said. “He’s done wonderful work at Thoroughbred Racing Northern Territory and I believe he can have a similar impact here.

“Frankly, the TRSA needs people like Brett Dixon on board and I stand by his appointment.”

Wingard also referred InDaily to a statement from the TRSA saying that “Brett Dixon is not involved in the management of a racing club or Industry Stakeholder Group in South Australia” (see below).

Neither the SAJC nor Country Racing SA have responded to InDaily’s calls about the issue.

Dixon has also failed to respond to InDaily’s queries.

Dixon was one of three new appointments endorsed by Wingard last Friday. The other two are Melbourne-based TV producer Cos Cardone, who, with Vanstone, is a Port Adelaide Football Club director, and Rob Rorrison, a senior adviser with Adelaide financial services firm Taylor Collison.

Opposition racing spokesperson Katrine Hildyard said Wingard must “rethink his new governance model and his role in it”.

“He must also take responsibility for the mess he has created,” she told InDaily.

“He has inserted himself into the governance of racing in this state and has done so in a way that has created mess, confusion and uncertainty.  It is not acceptable for him to now walk away and leave it to TRSA to deal with questions about the constitutional eligibility of a board member.”

Dixon has endured some controversy in the Northern Territory in recent months.

His construction company, Jaytex, which also operates in South Australia, was awarded a $12 million contract from the Darwin Turf Club to build a new grandstand.

A probity report found the tender process had been above board, prompting Dixon to tell Darwin radio earlier this month that there were “devious people” running a “false narrative” about him and the turf club.

“We are a tiny town,” he said. “There is one way around this and that is to manage the conflicts. Don’t exclude or preclude people from a right to trade. It’s a small town and we have done this very well. We couldn’t have done this better.”

The turf club says Dixon remained at arm’s length from the tender process, which was managed by a separate five-member panel.

In response to questions about the appointment process, TRSA chair Frances Nelson provided InDaily with a carefully worded statement earlier in the week, which is reproduced below.

“The selection and appointment of directors to the Board of Thoroughbred Racing SA (TRSA) 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. 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.”

Decide for yourself

Here’s the relevant section of the TRSA Constitution in relation to the eligibility of board appointments:

And here’s the definition of “an Industry Stakeholder Group” – there is no specific definition of “a racing club” in the constitution:

Clarification: A previous version of this story said concerns about the appointments process were on the agenda of the SAJC board. InDaily now understands it wasn’t on the formal agenda, but it was discussed.

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