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Racing SA deputy steps aside after damning ICAC report

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The deputy chair of Racing SA has taken “leave of absence” in the wake of a scathing report from the Northern Territory anti-corruption body, with the minister who endorsed his local appointment, Corey Wingard, under pressure to push for his resignation.

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Brett Dixon was controversially endorsed as a board member by South Australian Racing Minister Wingard in 2019, despite concerns being raised that his appointment was in clear breach of the peak horse racing body’s constitution. He was elevated to deputy chair last October.

Dixon informed the board of Racing SA yesterday that he would be taking leave as a member, the day after he also took leave of absence as chair of the Darwin Turf Club.

“In line with actions he has taken in the Northern Territory, Brett Dixon has advised the board of Racing SA that he will be taking a leave of absence from the board at this time,” Racing SA said in a statement.

Racing SA refused to comment further.

Wingard’s office has refused to respond to questions from InDaily about Dixon’s appointment and the appropriateness of his ongoing role with Racing SA.

Labor said Wingard had shown poor judgement in endorsing Dixon and must now insist he be permanently removed from the South Australian racing body’s board.

Last Friday, the Northern Territory anti-corruption watchdog handed down a report into a multi-million dollar government grant to the Darwin Turf Club, which resulted in one of Dixon’s companies getting a contract to build a new grandstand for the club.

The report made findings of misconduct, unsatisfactory conduct, breaches of public trust and detriment to the public interest, alongside findings of corruption, failure to manage conflicts of interest and mismanagement of public resources.

The report found Dixon and four others had engaged in improper conduct and Dixon’s actions “may be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions for the consideration of criminal charges”.

The ICAC inquiry focused on an NT government announcement in 2019 that $12 million of taxpayer funds had been awarded to the Darwin Turf Club to build a new grandstand at its racetrack.

The NT Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Ken Fleming on Friday released a report following a year-long investigation into the grant, finding that the turf club’s submission for funding, following three years of lobbying, was not based on a costing.

It was also supported by so-called economic benefits and employment creation that had no justification in fact.

The club’s chairman, Dixon, and the DTC board failed to declare and manage conflicts of interest in the process.

This resulted in the contract to build the grandstand being given to one of Dixon’s companies, Jaytex Pty Ltd.

Fleming also found that the board breached its obligations under its funding agreement with the NT government, which was executed by Dixon on behalf of the club.

It failed to disclose a conflict of interest which meant that an NT government investigation into potential breaches of the grant agreement was thwarted, he said.

Chief Minister Michael Gunner has urged the DTC board to resign, saying measures had been taken to ensure such a situation never happens again.

Gunner said civil action could be instigated against any private entity or person who benefited from the grant.

Corey Wingard must accept he made a big mistake endorsing Dixon and remove him.

Thoroughbred Racing SA, which rebranded as Racing SA in January, attracted controversy in October 2019 when Dixon joined the board because the organisation’s constitution clearly precluded the appointment of anyone who is involved in the management of another racing club.

The situation resulted in blame-shifting between Thoroughbred Racing SA and Wingard.

At the time, the TRSA referred InDaily’s queries about board appointments to the Minister. And then the Minister referred InDaily’s queries about the constitutionality of Dixon’s appointment to the TRSA board.

However, Wingard did offer an enthusiastic endorsement of Dixon’s appointment.

“I endorsed Brett Dixon because he’s one of the best people for the job,” Wingard said in 2019. “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.”

The Marshall Government has a tight grip on the racing industry in this state.

In the wake of a $24 million “stimulus package” announced in the 2019 budget, the Government imposed a new appointments process on the industry.

The Racing Minister’s appointees not only dominate the appointments committee for the board of Racing SA, he also has the final sign-off on nominated appointees. Dixon’s appointment was recommended by an appointments committee chaired by former Liberal senator Amanda Vanstone.

In 2019, she told InDaily that the panel had informed 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.”

InDaily has attempted to contact Dixon for comment in the wake of the ICAC report.

However, in a statement released to members of the Darwin Turf Club and reported by the NT media, he denied any wrongdoing.

“Over the last 18 months the investigation and the recent ICAC report has devastated me, and my mental and physical condition has deteriorated to a point where I feel unable to function at my best,” the statement said.

“The whole saga has affected my family and I require time to support them as well.

“The ICAC report is biased and the evidence I gave was totally ignored, destroying my reputation and the goodwill I have built up in Darwin and at the Darwin Turf Club over the last 40 years.

“This has distressed me ­beyond compare, but please be assured that everything I have done at the Darwin Turf Club and the TRNT has been sincere and in the best interests of the club and the racing industry in the Northern Territory over the last 19 years.”

Labor’s racing spokesperson Katrine Hildyard told InDaily today that Dixon’s position with Racing SA was now untenable.

“Corey Wingard cannot run away and hide and pretend this has nothing to do with him,” she said.

“Brett Dixon was his hand-picked appointment to the racing board.”

She said Dixon must be permanently removed from the board.

“Standing aside until this blows over isn’t good enough.

“Corey Wingard must accept he made a big mistake endorsing Dixon and remove him.”

– with AAP

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