An Open Letter to Leon Bignell MP, Minister for Racing

Dear Mr Bignell,

As a member of the SAJC, the Australian Jumping Racing Association, South Australian Jumps Racing and Oakbank Racing Club, I am writing to seek clarification as to your position regarding jumps racing in South Australia in the light of comments you made during a radio interview on 5AA on Wednesday 18 February, as well as comments that were reported in the Advertiser (online) and elsewhere.

In the interview and articles, you expressed disappointment that TRSA will continue to hold jumps racing meetings at Morphettville in 2015. You stated that public opinion in SA was broadly against jumps racing and as a consequence it should be confined to regional tracks and the Easter Carnival at Oakbank.

I am naturally disappointed that, as Minister for Racing, one sector of the industry you are charged with representing does not in fact have your support. My disappointment turns to concern, however, when your views as expressed above are read in the context of your further comments during the 5AA interview, when you said that the state government could consider banning jumps racing “under animal cruelty legislation.”

Do you therefore hold the view that jumps racing is cruel and should be banned? If so, how is it acceptable for jumps meetings to be held at regional tracks and the (highly lucrative) Oakbank Carnival? Is jumps racing only cruel when held at metropolitan tracks?

However, if you do not consider jumps racing to be cruel, then as the Minister for Racing I must protest in the strongest terms possible at your irresponsible, inflammatory and confidence-sapping comments in the 5AA interview, implying that the state government is considering a ban. As the Minister, surely your responsibility is to encourage and promote growth in the industry, yet how is this possible or even likely when there is an implied threat from the government, made in the public arena, that the entire industry could be closed down at any moment?

I would respectfully ask that you clarify your position. If you believe that jumps racing is cruel and should be banned, then surely logic would dictate that this is the case everywhere and not just at Morphettville, and that a ban should take place immediately. How can you, in any conscience as Racing Minister, support jump racing’s continuation for a moment, let alone a year or two, if you genuinely and sincerely believe it to be cruel to horses?

If this is not your view, and you don’t in fact consider jumps racing to be cruel, nor are you intending to implement a ban, then I would suggest that you have a duty as a member of the government to say so, and in so doing remove the uncertainty and sense of pessimism about the future that your comments have engendered in the South Australian jumps racing fraternity that their livelihoods could, on a whim, be destroyed if you and the government take the capricious decision now to ban jumps racing in SA.

Furthermore, in both public statements and in private correspondence with me, Premier Weatherill has asserted that, despite his own personal views, the government’s position remains that jumps racing is a matter for the state’s racing clubs, not the government. Do your comments therefore represent a change in government policy? Again, the industry deserves to have this point clarified.

If the government does intend to continue leaving this as a matter for the clubs, then this makes your comments on 5AA even more thoughtless and irresponsible, as they have sown strong seeds of doubt in the minds of the jumps fraternity about your government’s commitment to its own policy. If not, and there has indeed been a change in government policy and that your administration now intends to intervene in the running of jumps racing where it has previously stated quite categorically that it would not, then you as the Minister with responsibility for racing surely have a duty explicitly to inform the jumps racing industry that this is the case.

Thank you for your time and I look forward to a clarification of your position, as outlined above.

Yours sincerely,
Mark Angus

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