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CENSORED: Why you can't read letter to Wingard about controversial appointment

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South Australia’s racing organisations wrote to minister Corey Wingard about his contentious endorsement of a new board member to its peak body, InDaily can reveal, but the letter’s contents have been heavily redacted by the minister’s Freedom of Information officer.

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In 2019, Wingard endorsed the appointment of three new Thoroughbred Racing SA board members, including the chair of the Darwin Turf Club, Brett Dixon, whose elevation to the board was widely considered to be in breach of the South Australian racing body’s constitution.

Dixon has since become embroiled in more controversy in the Northern Territory, with a Territory ICAC report making findings against him and four others in relation to the awarding of a tender to one of his companies to build a grandstand at the Darwin Turf Club’s Fannie Bay racecourse.

InDaily applied under Freedom of Information laws to see any correspondence between Country Racing SA, the South Australian Jockey Club, and Wingard in relation to Dixon’s appointment.

The application resulted in one document being found – a letter from the chairpersons of the two racing bodies to Wingard in October 2019, around the time InDaily first reported growing concern about the constitutionality of Dixon’s appointment.

The then TRSA constitution prohibited the appointment to the board of anyone involved in the management of another racing club. Dixon was then, and remains, the chair of the Darwin Turf Club.

Wingard’s FOI officer has heavily redacted the contents of the letter – down to the names of the then chairpersons – citing a clause in the FOI Act which precludes the “unreasonable disclosure of information concerning the personal affairs of any person (living or dead)”.

The document only reveals that the two bodies – who are the shareholders of TRSA, now known as Racing SA – wrote to Wingard about Dixon’s appointment.

InDaily had applied under FOI for: “Correspondence, including emails, letters or other documents, between the South Australian Jockey Club, Country Racing SA or Thoroughbred Racing SA and the Minister in relation to the appointment or recommended appointment of Mr Brett Dixon as a director of Thoroughbred Racing SA.
Timeframe 1/01/2019 to 2/07/2021.”

The FOI determination found, in part: “While there is no public interest test in this clause (about personal affairs), I have considered the protection of personal privacy against the public interest in disclosure and determined that the protection of personal affairs outweighs disclosure. Therefore, it would be unreasonable to release the document in full. Pursuant to section 23(2) I provide access to the document with the exempt matter removed.”

The letter was sent around the time that the SAJC chair moved from Bodelle Francis to Bob Holton. Wayne Henson is the longstanding chair of Country Racing SA.

In a series of reports in 2019, InDaily revealed concerns in the racing industry that Dixon’s appointment was in breach of the constitution of Thoroughbred Racing SA.

Dixon’s name was on a list of potential appointees to the board, sent to Wingard by a selection panel which is dominated by members nominated by the Minister and chaired by former Liberal minister Amanda Vanstone.

Wingard then endorsed the appointment. Vanstone told InDaily at the time that any “concerns” about recommended appointees were flagged with the minister.

That process of appointing directors was imposed by Wingard as a condition of a $24 million “stimulus package” for the racing industry.

Dixon was elevated to deputy chair of Racing SA last year.

The Territory anti-corruption body handed down a damning report in late June about an NT Government grant of more than $12 million that was used to build a new grandstand for the Darwin Turf Club. The contract to build the grandstand went to one of Dixon’s companies.

The ICAC’s report on the matter 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”.

Dixon has strongly rejected the ICAC report, and says he is taking legal action to clear his name.

He has taken leave of absence from his Racing SA and Darwin Turf Club positions.

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