The search is on for a new chairman of Racing New South Wales after the Chris Minns’-led state government made the extraordinary move of pulling support of its own bill which would have extended the board term of current chairman Russell Balding.

The Thoroughbred Racing Amendment Bill 2023 was all set to be passed by the New South Wales parliament late on Thursday night, extending Balding’s term as a board member by two years to 14 years in total, but with three key amendments attached giving the parliament greater oversight of Racing NSW.

However, a dramatic turn of events saw Labor attempt to vote against the Bill at the very last moment in the Legislative Council, and while they were held to their original approval by parliamentary protocols, the government then decided to pull the legislation before it came back through the Legislative Assembly.

It means that Balding’s term on the board, which had already been extended twice previously by parliament, will end in mid-December and the search is on for a new chairman.

Opposition leader Mark Speakman condemned the Government’s decision to abandon the Bill and the stronger oversight measures contained in the amendments.

”Racing NSW has been successfully administering the state’s racing industry, but it’s important that any organisations managing taxpayer funds should be open to proper scrutiny,” he said.

‘The Government has mismanaged this process from the start. Despite knowing for months that it needed to deal with the succession of the Racing NSW chairman, it chose to introduce legislation at the last minute to try and force it through at five minutes to midnight.”

“Instead of proceeding with the Bill, that they told us was absolutely necessary, they decide to abandon it, rather than accept stronger oversight and governance.”

“Chris Minns now also needs to explain why Labor has decided that Racing NSW should not be subject to ICAC.”

The extension of Balding’s term became a political battleground this week, with Racing NSW CEO Peter V’landys joined by Racing NSW chief operating officer, Graeme Hinton, in holding a series of meetings at NSW Parliament House on Thursday.

The pair met with Racing Minister David Harris and were led around the building by Nationals MP and shadow racing minister, Kevin Anderson, who earlier this week – through his role in the Coalition leadership team - had been involved in a negotiation to support Balding with improved governance measures at Racing NSW.

Opposition demands greater scrutiny of Racing NSW if Balding is to stay as chairman
The New South Wales opposition is demanding Racing NSW be subject to much greater state government oversight after flipping on its unconditional backing of Russell Balding’s re-appointment as chairman of the racing body.

They lobbied heavily to try and get Liberal and National Party members to reject the amendments put forward by the state opposition after the party room meeting on Tuesday, and allow the extension of Balding’s term without any further governance measures put in place.

The Thoroughbred Racing Amendment Bill was the last piece of legislation to be discussed in the Legislative Council on Thursday night in its final sitting of the year. 

With Labor having 15 politicians in the upper chamber to support Balding’s extension, they were dependent upon the Coalition or cross bench MPs to get the bill passed. The Greens and other independent MPs opposed the bill, while the Coalition’s support came with the amendments attached.

The amendments were approved, and the Bill seemed set to be passed before a sudden change of heart from Labor. However, after a stern reminder of protocols and standing orders by Legislative Council President Ben Franklin, the Labor representatives returned to vote in support of the Bill.

The drama and politics were far from finished, with Labor then opting not to seek final approval for the Bill, effectively consigning Balding’s chairmanship to the history books.

The decision to end Balding’s tenure will be seen as a blow for V’landys, who had fought hard for his term to be extended. Racing NSW will avoid, at least for now, the extra level of parliamentary scrutiny which the Bill amendments had outlined.