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.

Former policeman Ash Rushton will assume the role on Boxing Day from current director Justin Helmich, who has been head of ORI through a tumultuous period in all three racing codes.

The top trainer in Tasmanian 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 high-profile investigation by respected integrity expert Ray Murrihy over allegations of race fixing, corruption and animal welfare issues.

In the meantime, ORI’s own culture has been put under the spotlight, with reports that two thirds of staff at the state’s racing watchdog have left the organisation since the start of 2021.

Helmich’s time in charge of ORI was recently extended for six months until March 2024, but it has now been confirmed that Rushton, who reportedly has over 38 years’ experience in emergency management, regulatory and statutory compliance, but none in the racing industry, has been appointed and will take up the role on December 26.

It means that he will be the eighth director of ORI since September 2016. Since that point, the role has been filled by Robin Thompson, Mark Sayer, Reid Sanders, Alicia Fuller, John King, Tony Latham and Helmich.

The issues with integrity have enabled all three codes of racing to become a battleground among the state’s politicians. Shadow Minister For racing, Labor MP Dean Winter, described the decision to appoint Rushton, someone with no direct racing experience, as ‘madness’.

“It will sentence our $200m racing industry to the same state of affairs it’s been dealing with for eight years – a dysfunctional Office of Racing Integrity,” Winter said.

“The continued approach of internal recruitment processes and appointment of people with no experience in racing has failed three times before and yet [Racing Minister] Felix Ellis has just done it again.”

“It will sentence our $200m racing industry to the same state of affairs it’s been dealing with for eight years – a dysfunctional Office of Racing Integrity" - Dean Winter

Off the back of ORI’s ongoing issues, Independent and Green members of parliament have described the state’s racing industry as being in ‘terminal decline’ and having ‘lost its social licence’.

And it hasn’t just been at the top of the integrity body where there has been a revolving door of leaders. The current Racing Minister, Felix Ellis, is the third different member of the Liberal government to hold that role since the 2021 Tasmanian state election.

Under current Tasmanian law, racing integrity, specifically ORI and all stewarding, sits under the responsibility of the Department of Natural Resources and Environment, and is separate from Tasracing, which oversees all other racing functions.

The Monteith Report, released in 2021, recommended integrity be brought under Tasracing’s auspices as part of a raft of structural changes aimed at dealing with racing integrity issues. That move has received widespread support. However, despite the state government’s commitment to implement those changes, the required legislation has yet to be brought before parliament.