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.

Two weeks ago, the NSW Labor government, headed by Premier Chris Minns, announced they would seek to change the state's legislation to extend Balding's time on the Racing NSW board from 12 to 14 years; the third time laws had been amended to give him longer in the role.

The opposition, led by Mark Speakman, was widely expected to back the Thoroughbred Racing Amendment Bill 2023 un-amended, but there has been increasing concern in Liberal and National Party ranks about waving the extension through.

A ‘robust’ opposition party room meeting on Monday saw many Liberal MPs, including Speakman, speak against the unconditional extension. The issue was discussed for more than an hour with the shadow racing minister, Kevin Anderson, arguing for Balding to be given two more years.

Anderson put forward three amendments to the Bill in the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday evening.

“The opposition is firm in its belief that the extension of the chair’s term should be met with appropriate legislative changes to ensure the good governance of Racing NSW.” Anderson told parliament.

The first amendment gives greater powers to the members of New South Wales parliament to hold Racing NSW to account.

The second amendment makes the financial reports of Racing NSW subject to the Auditor General, providing much greater government oversight on aspects such as spending and finance.

The third is a review of the Thoroughbred Racing Act, to be conducted every five years. This will periodically review the legislation that sets up Racing NSW and would including how board members are appointed going forward.

“The opposition’s amendments strengthen the probity, the governance and oversight of Racing NSW. It helps give greater confidence in the future of operations and allows extension of the chair’s term,” Anderson said.  

With several cross benchers opposed to the extension of Balding’s term, and speaking against the bill on Tuesday, the Minns government faces the likelihood of having to negotiate with the opposition if it is to get the Thoroughbred Racing Amendment Bill 2023 through and continue Balding’s term.

“The opposition’s amendments strengthen the probity, the governance and oversight of Racing NSW. It helps give greater confidence in the future of operations and allows extension of the chair’s term." - Kevin Anderson 

It is the latest twist in a process which has proven difficult for the Labor government and has exposed major rifts within the thoroughbred industry.

When industry figures Katie Page, Vin Cox and John Messara requested a meeting with Minns earlier this year, the relatively newly minted New South Wales premier was about to get a lesson in the complexity of racing politics.

While the broader public perception was that Racing NSW enjoyed widespread support within the industry, and that the backing of key stakeholders for the extension of the chairmanship of Balding was universal, it quickly became clear this was not the case.

The illusion of united front behind Racing NSW, Balding and chief executive Peter V’landys evaporated in a manner of days as Messara, Page, and then, most significantly Hall Of Fame trainer Gai Waterhouse, came out publicly to oppose Balding’s term being extended. There have also been threats of legal action from Thoroughbred Breeders NSW.

Lobbying of all sides of the New South Wales parliament has been intense over recent months, with a view to convincing Minns, and more specifically his racing minister David Harris that a third extension of Balding’s term on the Racing New South Wales board was not the right move.

Harris, however, has been unequivocal in his support of Balding, stating that his continued tenure was crucial to the stability of the industry.

“Corporate stability during some challenging negotiations in coming months is crucial to the future continued success of the industry,” he said in parliament last week.

“My strong expectation with this appointment is there is increased transparency around welfare and rehoming, greater support for provincial races and a continued commitment to supporting a responsible, sustainable and competitive racing industry.”

The Thoroughbred Racing Amendment Bill 2023, a one-page piece of legislation, was put forward to parliament last week, and is solely concerned with extending Balding’s term as both chairman and board member for another 24 months.