Deputy Chair Dr Saranne Cooke’s time on the Racing NSW board has been extended by two years as New South Wales Racing Minister David Harris confirmed that a search has begun for a permanent replacement for departing chairman Russell Balding.

Balding’s 12-year term on the Racing NSW board will come to an end on December 18 after the NSW Labor government last week withdrew its support at the last minute for a piece of legislation it had introduced to extend his tenure for another two years.

Keen to move on from the extraordinary circumstances of New South Wales parliament last week, which saw the Chris Minns-led government attempt to vote against its own bill before pulling it from the parliamentary agenda, Minister Harris confirmed that Cooke’s board tenure had been extended.

Having been appointed to the board in 2015, her second four-year term was set to end on December 18, but after the Minister’s approval, she will now serve as Deputy Chair for another two years and provide leadership for the board until Balding is replaced.

Racing NSW deputy chair Saranne Cooke
Racing NSW Deputy Chair Saranne Cooke (Photo: Linkedin)

“The reappointment of Dr Cooke will ensure the board can continue to make decisions and operate normally while the selection process for a new chair is underway,” Harris said. 

Cooke will preside at Racing NSW board meetings, effectively as an interim Chair, but without that specific title.

Harris also confirmed a process would begin this month to find a replacement for Balding.  

“This will include the establishment of a selection panel in accordance with the legislation, with a publicly advertised call for expressions of interest,” Harris said.

“The role of the selection panel is to prepare and provide me with a list of candidates based on merit and relevant experience.”  

The Gaming and Racing Minister thanked Balding for his service on the Racing NSW Board for 12 years including the past seven as chair.

“The Board, led by Mr Balding, has successfully guided the industry and helped position NSW as the leading racing state, with new marquee events such as The Everest, a revitalised Spring Carnival and record prizemoney to participants,” he said.  

“I want to thank Mr Balding for his outstanding contribution as Chair of Racing NSW. His legacy is a revitalised racing industry in NSW that this Government will continue to support.”

Balding to exit Racing NSW after dramatic u-turn by NSW government
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.

Following the events of last week, Harris released a statement saying the government had no choice but to back away from Balding’s re-appointment after the opposition and the crossbench united to attempt to amend the legislation to include greater oversight on Racing NSW.

“It is disappointing that the term of the Chair of Racing NSW will not be extended, given the strong support demonstrated across the racing industry and extraordinary success in revitalising the industry during his tenure,” Harris said at the time.

In that earlier statement, Harris said there had been an orchestrated campaign to prevent Balding from continuing. He said MPs were directly lobbied by specific interests within the thoroughbred industry, including thoroughbred breeders, to support the strategy to force the end of Balding’s term.