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Decision imminent on Racing SA inquiry

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The Auditor-General will soon decide whether to conduct a special investigation into the process of appointing directors to the state’s peak horse racing body.

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In an estimates committee hearing today, Premier Steven Marshall, appearing alongside Auditor-General Andrew Richardson, said the auditor was considering whether to launch an inquiry into the probity of the appointment of directors to Racing SA.

Earlier this month, SA-Best MLC Frank Pangallo wrote to Richardson, asking him to investigate the process.

Under questioning from Labor leader Peter Malinauskas, the Premier said the Auditor-General was still considering Pangallo’s correspondence but he would make a decision “within the next week or so”.

Pangallo’s letter came 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 and this week released a statement reported by the Northern Territory media saying he had launched legal action to overturn the ICAC findings.

The document said the findings made against him were “untenable” and that he had not sought favours – rather, he had followed “suggestions I received from the (NT) government all along”.

He said he did not play any part in preparing the bid for the grandstand project nor assessing his company’s bid.

Dixon insists the ICAC findings have “no legal status”, partly because the club’s board members should not be considered public officers under the ICAC Act.

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