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Auditor-General asked to investigate Racing SA board appointments

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SA-Best MLC Frank Pangallo has asked the Auditor-General to investigate the probity of the process of appointing directors to horse racing’s peak body in South Australia.

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Pangallo’s letter to Auditor-General Andrew Richardson comes after Racing SA’s deputy chair Brett Dixon was the subject of adverse findings of the anti-corruption commissioner in the Northern Territory.

Dixon has taken leave of absence from the position but has not resigned from Racing SA, formerly known as Thoroughbred Racing SA.

Dixon’s original appointment to the board in 2019 was the subject of controversy, given that his long-standing position as chairman of the Darwin Turf Club appeared to contradict the South Australian racing body’s constitution, which prohibits the appointment of people involved in the management of other racing clubs.

Dixon’s appointment went through a new process imposed on racing by minister Corey Wingard, as a condition of a $24 million “stimulus” package provided to the industry.

Under that process, Wingard appoints the majority of members to a director selection panel which in turn makes recommendations to the minister. The minister then has the final right to endorse the appointees.

Pangallo’s letter requests the Auditor-General to investigate a number of matters, including the “probity governing the appointment of directors to Racing SA – overseen by a Director Selection Panel and approved by the Minister for Racing, Corey Wingard”.

The letter asks the Auditor-General to investigate “whether any appointment may have contravened the organisation’s constitution and any legislation covering the governance of registered companies, organisations and associations”.

He specifically mentions the appointment of Dixon, who stood aside from the board earlier this month.

Late last month, 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 found Dixon and four others – including Alf Leonardi, the former chief-of-staff to Labor Chief Minister Michael Gunner – 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 found that the turf club’s submission for $12 million of funding for a grandstand at its Fannie Bay racecourse was not based on a costing.

According to the report, the club’s chairman, Dixon, and the DTC board failed to declare and manage conflicts of interest in the process. The contract to build the grandstand was given to one of Dixon’s companies, Jaytex Pty Ltd.

Dixon has denied any wrongdoing.

Pangallo’s letter to the Auditor-General also seeks reassurance that the taxpayer funding provided to Racing SA has been spent appropriately.

InDaily has asked Minister Wingard for his response.

Racing SA would not comment.

Pangallo, the Greens and the Opposition have all called on Wingard to take action to remove Dixon from the Racing SA board.

Wingard has previously indicated that he has no power to require Dixon’s resignation and has referred InDaily’s questions about the board to Racing SA.

Racing SA has previously said that board appointments are a matter for the director selection panel.

The chair of the panel, former Liberal Senator Amanda Vanstone, would not comment on Dixon’s appointment following the ICAC findings.

However, after the original appointment of Dixon and two others in 2019, she told InDaily that the director selection panel had flagged any issues with candidates to the Minister.

When asked about constitutional doubts about 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.”

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