Why do we still need a racing minister? A look at the problems plaguing what used to be a pillar of Kiwi life

Horse racing has lost its biggest champion with Winston Peters out of politics but his successor has promised to complete the reforms aimed at reviving the industry.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Grant Robertson has taken over the reins, saying there’s plenty to do in the job.

As one of the biggest racing weeks of the year, Cup Week in Canterbury, winds up The Detail looks at the state of the industry with two key players; broadcaster, horse owner and driver Sheldon Murtha and Sir Peter Vela, former chairman of the thoroughbred auction house, New Zealand Bloodstock and owner of Pencarrow Stud in Waikato.

Murtha says a dedicated racing minister is not needed and the government should not inject more money into the industry, after the emergency package of $72.5 million dollars.

“It’s inflicted on New Zealand from the past, it’s a bit like racing in its halcyon days – 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s 80s 90s massive – not so much these days. The racing industry has been very lucky to have a racing minister for the last three years who has saved them and it’s not the first time Winston Peters has done that with funding and handouts.”

Murtha says the industry cannot expect or warrant any support like that in the future.

The $1.6 billion industry was part way through a series of reforms aimed at getting it back on track when the pandemic hit, taking the industry to the “brink of insolvency,” according to Peters.

He said the support was a matter of urgency to help it rebuild. Around 15,000 people are employed in the sector and around 60,000 more in indirect work. When he announced the emergency package in May, Peters said all parts of the industry from jockeys to vets to the breeders who produced world class stock were all facing an unprecedented threat.

Several years of poor performance led to a report in 2018 pointing to a state of serious malaise. The report led to sweeping reforms with new legislation, an overhaul of the TAB betting agency, track closures and upgrades.

Murtha says the report was put in play as a strategy to re-align and future-proof racing, without making the mistakes that had been made in the past.

“Reports dating back to the 70s have been saying the same thing, with the industry ignoring them,” he says.

On The Detail today we look at the Sport of Kings and the drastic – and controversial – reforms needed to rescue it.

Want more from The Detail? Find past episodes here.

Sharon Brettkelly is co-host of The Detail podcast.

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