Tasmania’s new racing integrity manager, its eighth in seven years, has quit the job before he even started in the role, as the state’s racing integrity crisis hits a new low.

Ash Rushton was appointed to the role of General Manager and Director of Racing with the Office of Racing Integrity (ORI) less than two weeks ago and was due to start on Boxing Day, but failed to even make it to the starting line.

In a farcical situation, the Department of Natural Resources and Environment has now been forced to appoint Robin Thompson into the role of temporary director until a full-time replacement has been found.

Thompson, the manager of Game Services Tasmania, has previously served in the ORI role on an interim basis as a succession of appointees have cycled through the role since 2016.

Tasmania’s major integrity challenges in all three codes have been compounded by the leadership void at ORI, an organisation that has had two-thirds of its work force leave since 2021.

The integrity body’s structure has been under a cloud since 2021 following the Monteith Report which recommended integrity services be brought under Tasracing’s auspices.

The current Liberal government, led by premier Jeremey Rockliff, has promised to legislate this change but has yet to put the proposal before parliament.    

Under current Tasmanian law, racing integrity, specifically ORI and all stewarding, sits under the responsibility of the Department of Natural Resources and Environment.

That has led to a string of appointees to the Director role who do not have any direct racing integrity experience, including Rushton, a former policeman who had served as regional manager and project director for the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service since 2008.

Rushton replaced Justin Helmich, who had only been re-appointed to the role for a further six months in October, and whose performance had been put under scrutiny in the report by Ray Murrihy into misconduct in the harness racing industry, which has yet to be fully released by the state government.

A DNE spokesperson put forward Thompson’s credentials for the interim Director role.

“Due to unforeseen circumstances, Mr Rushton has had to withdraw from the role as general manager and director of racing prior to his commencement date,” the spokesperson said.

“He (Thompson) is a highly experienced regulatory and compliance officer who has previously acted as GM of the Office of Racing Integrity.”

Indeed, Thompson is one of the eight names who have been appointed to the role since September 2016, along with Mark Sayer, Reid Sanders, Alicia Fuller, John King, Tony Latham, Helmich and Rushton.

‘Madness’ - Tasmanian racing gets eighth integrity head in seven years
Tasmania’s trouble-ridden Office Of Racing Integrity (ORI) has appointed its eighth director in the past seven years as the state battles ongoing major integrity issues in all three codes.

The latest development has been described as a ‘complete mess’ by opposition racing minister Dean Winter.

“The ninth Director of Racing also has no experience in racing, working in agricultural policy before being tasked with keeping the racing industry together through its most important period.  His only experience is having stepped into the role during previous controversies,” Winter said.

“Where is (Racing Minister) Felix Ellis?  This is the third appointment of a Director of Racing in three months and he has not made a statement about any of them.  He has now had the Murrihy Review for a month and appears determined to not release it.  Just how bad must it be?”

Winter called for a national search for a qualified and experienced racing person but Ellis said in a statement the opposition was politicising Rushton's departure.

“Mr Winter hasn’t asked a single racing question in Question Time since I came into the role, hasn’t taken up a briefing on our new legislation for months and seems more interested in parroting Greens talking points on racing and attacking public servants, than the long-term future of the racing community,” Ellis said.

“On racing it’s become clear his approach is all sook, no substance.

“As leaders, we should all be understanding when people need to withdraw from roles due to unforeseen circumstances.” 

It has been a tumultuous 2023 for the Tasmanian racing industry.  

The top trainer in thoroughbred racing, Scott Brunton, had his licence revoked by ORI in September after the Australian Tax Office ordered the closure of his business due to a reported $1 million debt.

Meanwhile, the leading trainer in greyhounds in Tasmania, Anthony Bullock, was given a life ban by ORI over live baiting charges in October, a decision which he is currently appealing.

And the state’s top harness trainer, Ben Yole, is part of a yet-to-be-publicised high-profile investigation by Murrihy over allegations of race fixing, corruption and animal welfare issues.