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NZTBA Waikato seminar crystallises racing policies

Just as the NZTBA Waikato's Election 2005 Seminar began at Te Rapa Racecourse, Hamilton on Thursday 16 June, the planet Jupiter emerged from behind the Moon where it had been hidden for an hour. Astronomers were excited just to observe this rare event, but for racing people aware of Jupiter's astrological association with horses the symbolism was apt and powerful. Is New Zealand thoroughbred racing and breeding about to emerge from relative darkness into light?

It's still too soon to say, but the 500 or so people who attended the Seminar had a few reasons to feel optimistic about the future. On the previous day National Party leader Don Brash and his racing spokesman Lindsay Tisch had announced the party's racing policy:

* Align betting duty with that paid by casinos (releasing about $25 million for investment in the racing industry)
* 100% write-off of stallions over two years
* 100% write-off of broodmares aged 12 or over
* Develop a new consensus on Section 16 of the Racing Act 2003 so that no code is disadvantaged

This is major progress but it didn't happen overnight, or even in a couple of months. Along with other industry organisations, notably the New Zealand Trainers' Association, the NZTBA has been working for several years with any and all politicians and parties interested in gaming tax reform, stallion and broodmare depreciation and the matter of how TAB profits are distributed. Lindsay Tisch is one MP who has kept in touch with the issues, and has been prepared to argue the industry's case with his colleagues.

It hasn't been easy to build broad industry support for such work. After concerted efforts to amend the Racing Bill failed in 2003, it was clear that only racing's continuing decline would impel people to act.

Two years later nothing has improved, and the grass roots revolt has finally happened. In April TV One journalist Owen Poland began a series of items on the racing industry for ASB Business, and a ginger group chaired by Rob McAnulty launched the innovative, media-friendly Fair Tax campaign. In an election year that's been enough to focus attention on racing and elicit the political response the NZTBA and others have long sought.

The NZTBA Waikato branch decision to invite the Minister of Racing, Hon. Damien O'Connor, Rt. Hon. Winston Peters (New Zealand First), Hon. Ken Shirley (ACT), Lindsay Tisch and Sue Bradford (Green Party) to speak at an Election Seminar was perfectly timed. Ably chaired by Tony Ryan, the seminar could not have been better organised by Branch president Vicki Pascoe and her dedicated committee. They were rewarded with one of the most representative and attentive crowds seen at an industry forum – and there have been plenty of them over the years. Furthermore, the seminar fulfilled the Branch's objective of crystallising each party's racing policy.

Damien O'Connor was happy to defend the Labour party's record on racing matters, refused to offer "false promises or false hopes" and asserted his optimism about the industry's future. He warned that equalising racing and casino taxation may require changes to the way that clubs and other stakeholders are taxed, and added that the industry's negativity made it harder to encourage his colleagues' interest in racing or support for reform.

Ken Shirley referred to the 2001 McLeod Tax Review which concluded that the levels of taxation imposed on gambling are indefensible. In line with its policy that "you know best how to spend your money, not the government", ACT would remove gaming taxes completely and enact immediate, across-the-board personal and corporate tax cuts.

Winston Peters reminded the audience that tax equity with casinos, changes to stallion and broodmare depreciation rates and tax advantages for on-course betting have been New Zealand First policy for some time now. He renewed his party's commitment to its racing policy and made a direct plea for electorate votes: "Don't give us a microlight and expect us to fly to the Moon."

Sue Bradford said the Greens recognise the role that racing plays in the economy and the community, and especially the importance of small racing clubs in towns and rural areas. The Green Party supports the National policy on racing and giving the industry a fair deal, but benefits need to be spread throughout the industry.

Lindsay Tisch provided background to National's racing policy, emphasising that the proposed tax changes were matters of equity, not handouts.

There were several questions and comments from the floor, none more pertinent than Peter Egan's summary of his wife Joan's racing season with six horses. They've compiled six wins from 29 starts, including a Group Two victory by Belle Femme. Their earnings total $75,400, but Joan's expenses for the season are $121,500 – a loss of $46,100, despite an excellent year. Peter concluded "That's the crisis facing this industry. Why would she breed?"

Rob McAnulty had already highlighted the false presumption that this kind of equation doesn't matter because people race horses as a hobby. He asked hobby owners to identify themselves by standing up.

No-one stood.

This year's General Election is shaping up as a much closer and more interesting contest than seemed likely a few months ago. It may also turn out to be the most important election ever for the thoroughbred industry.



Full written racing policies for each party will be posted on the NZTBA website when they are received by the Association.
Videos of the Election 2005 Seminar are available for $20 each from the NZTBA Waikato secretary Justine Sclater or Ph: (07) 888 2816

- Susan Archer