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New legal challenge looms as racing rebels reject 'flawed' Oakbank ballot

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A growing split in SA’s horseracing community over the future of jumps racing could be headed back to court, with prominent members of the Oakbank Racing Club rejecting the re-election of the organisation’s board.

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A board election had been called as part of a settlement with prominent life members of the club – including prominent parole board chair Frances Nelson QC, former Supreme Court and Federal Court judge John von Doussa and racing legend and former club chairman John Glatz – who launched legal action against the club arguing it was complicit in a decision by Racing SA to stop jumps racing.

That meant the abandonment of Oakbank’s annual fixture the Great Eastern Steeplechase, with the group adamant the change was responsible for poor crowds at this year’s event.

The election was finalised on Friday, with the existing board, led by chair Arabella Branson, re-elected – but the rebel group has launched a fresh broadside, arguing the election was invalid.

Nelson, a former long-serving chair of Racing SA, said today: “The current committee was re-elected last Friday through a flawed ballot process that deprived a large number of members from voting.”

“Ballot papers were sent out so that they arrived so late that a large number of members could not return a vote by the deadline,” she said.

“Some members received no ballot paper at all.”

She said the group had “agreed to discontinue our Supreme Court action over the oppressive and unconstitutional behaviour of the committee of the Oakbank Racing Club upon them agreeing to reinstate memberships they had improperly revoked and holding a ballot where all members could vote for a committee, on the basis that the vote would be conducted at arms-length from the committee”.

“We entered into that agreement in good faith,” she said in a statement.

“The committee has declined to give details of how many ballot papers were sent out, how many votes were counted and whether any were rejected and, if so, why.

“Understandably, those members deprived of a vote are angry and feel betrayed.”

She said the committee was thus “in breach of the agreement and further legal action is now likely”.

The group has signed a requisition calling for a Special General Meeting at which another committee election would be held.

“As this committee has twice denied members’ requisitions in the past, it will necessitate court proceedings if they refuse it again,” Nelson said.

“The club is owned by the members. It is not the personal fiefdom of the committee, who presided over the worst Easter race meeting in history.”

Branson told ABC Radio Adelaide today that the election had been “fair” and the voting process was “something we agreed on when we settled the legal proceedings”.

“They agreed the auditor should oversee the process, they agreed we’d have an independent chair at the meeting [and] that would be the end of the matter,” she said.

Branson reiterated that “the decision about jumps racing was made by the governing body of racing in this state, Racing SA”.

“It was not made by our club,” she said.

“Frances and some other members were upset we didn’t consult with members – we’ve now consulted with members… and they don’t like the result.

“We say: we’ve given them what they want… they need to stop.

“They need to stop killing our club with these relentless legal threats and unreasonable demands.”

Branson said the specific results of the ballot were confidential, but insisted “there were a very, very significant number of votes received by the auditor”.

“I’m not sure what else we can do besides walking away and giving her the keys, but we’ve not done that because that wouldn’t be in the best interests of the club,” she said.

It comes as parliament prepares to vote this week on a bid by Greens MLC Tammy Franks to ban jumps racing outright in SA.

The Liberal Opposition will oppose the measure, but Labor says it is still consulting.

“That’s something I’m looking forward to having active discussions with Tammy Franks about,” Premier Peter Malinauskas said today.

“We’ve received reports there are large elements of the racing industry that actually does support the ban on jumps racing – that’s something we’d take into consideration.”

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