Winston drops the ball with try-line open

Winston Peters playing rugby for the Parliamentary team in 1988 aged 43

by Brian de Lore
Published 20 December 2019

From all accounts, our Racing Minister Winston
Peters was a pretty good rugby player in his day. He played alongside All Black
number ten Mac Herewini when the captain of Auckland Maori and regularly turned
out for the University Club in the early 1970s before he graduated as a lawyer
later that same decade.

In those days, he could obviously catch the
ball and one could imagine he had a snappy sidestep. However useful he was at
rugby, he has been a better politician – longevity is the proof of that claim. Forty
years in Parliament and although never an elected Prime Minister, he has been
‘Acting’ and ‘Deputy’ PM in the current government and a significant player in
previous terms of power.

When the 2017 General Election came around,
Winston got the racing vote which was critical in the final result whereby NZ
First assumed the position of powerbroker to form the Coalition Government. The
analysts said the racing vote made the difference and the anecdotal evidence
supports that view.

By mid-2017, NZ First distinctly had the best racing
manifesto, and after nine years of National Party neglect it was, for many racing
people, Hobson’s choice. Winston Peters had been a previous Minster of Racing
in 2005-08 and during those three years achieved a substantial tax rebate for
the industry of $33 million in the first year which has continued annually and
is today worth no less than $65 million each year – without that money, the
industry would have gone broke – an alternative view is that without those
funds the NZRB would not have mushroomed into the rudderless, money-wasting, nepotistic
organisation it became.

And on the subject of NZRB, today is CEO John Allen’s last day in the job, and nothing comes to mind more than good riddance along with the thought that racing should fess-up and be accountable for three CEO disasters in succession. Accountability has been an ever-increasing shortcoming of this industry, and administrative mediocrity has been the norm – legislate against that!

Winston Peters: a good rugby player, an outstanding politician and the best previous Minister of Racing

But I digress, back to Winston – a good rugby
player, an outstanding politician and the best previous Minister of Racing,
although he had nothing much to beat. In this term as Minister, however, he has
seemingly dropped the ball close to the try-line, and so far, the referee
hasn’t blown the whistle.

In several conversations with Winston during
the pre and post-2017 election period, our now Minister clearly outlined the
legacy he wanted to leave on the racing industry. He envisaged a revitalisation
of racing with self-determination at arms-length from government interference
with the legislation set in stone so that whoever the Minister was in 30 years
hence, racing would be protected and independent.

The second part of the legislation released on
December 5th is the antithesis of Winston’s preconception outlined
above. The document appears to be blatantly lacking input from industry-savvy
people because it’s overflowing with government control measures and is riddled
with ministerial interference, and in its current state would send racing back
to the dark ages.

“How could this be happening?” is the echo bellowing
loud and clear from industry pundits. How could we get so close to seeing the
Winston Peters vision for racing as outlined in 2017 come within reach only to falter
at the eleventh hour? Even a top rugby player who practices only two hours a
week will sooner or later drop the ball and ‘knock-on’ with an open try-line

Winston’s concentration on the racing industry has been interrupted to the extent that he may not have seen the pass coming, hence the knock-on. The result is the writing of racing’s future has come from the NZ First management team but mostly the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) who have penned this appallingly worded document.

…another bureaucratic load of confusion explicitly designed to cure insomnia rather than enlighten.

The document is murky on meaning and detail, ambiguous
and looks like a rush job with loads of cross-referencing. In other words, it’s
another bureaucratic load of confusion explicitly designed to cure insomnia rather
than enlighten.

Here’s an example: “Ministerial powers in relation to racing codes (1) The
Minister may, on joint written request of the racing codes, appoint a body by
notice in the Gazette to perform any or all of the collective
functions of the codes under section 8(1) in place of the codes for a
specified period or indefinitely. (2) The Minister may, by written notice, set
the appointment process for the directors of a racing code if the Minister is
satisfied on reasonable grounds that it is necessary to do so.”

Sources close to RITA say that Agency’s first
look at the legislation came only six days before it became public on Thursday,
December 5th. Under the Terms of Reference for MAC which then became
RITA on July 1st, all the business of the Agency happens only
following the approval of the Minister which, more likely than not on most occasions,
would mean Winston’s Chief of Staff and political scientist, Jon Johansson.

No doubt RITA will be looking into these issues
to have them remedied, and industry submissions on the legislation are to be
accepted by the Infrastructure and Transport Select Committee up until February
11th which is the same day parliament sits for the first time in
2020. A RITA roadshow with Executive Chair Dean McKenzie is also in the

It’s poignant to reemphasise the gravity of racing’s current state of destitution. Many are in denial, but go and talk to a cross-section of owners, trainers and breeders to gain a true understanding of the state of this industry. Racing has to insist that the legislation is fit for purpose because this is the last opportunity we get as an industry to stem the bleeding.

“The single most effective lever available to reinvigorate the New Zealand thoroughbred industry is prizemoney.” – John Messara

Let’s not lose sight of what John Messara said in
his review: “The single most effective lever available to reinvigorate the New
Zealand thoroughbred industry is prizemoney; it rewards and supports owners,
trainers, jockeys, stable hands, and the entire supply chain including
breeders, vets, farriers, feed merchants etc.”

In the Terms of Reference for MAC/RITA the
brief was to enact the Messara Report but this legislation is more about bureaucratic
control and ministerial intervention than about Messara’s Review. A chasm of
disparity between the racing industry and these bumbling bureaucrats is the
fundamental problem which is a total disconnection – how do we get rid of these
dopes? Only God and Winston knows the answer to that one.

If you read through the legislation you may
also fail to see a connection to this part of the Messara Review: “A solution
which I favour is for the commercial activities of the TAB to be outsourced on
advantageous terms to a suitable major wagering operator enabling the TAB to
improve its product offerings, upgrade technology, improve customer service
etc. This process should drive cost savings and incremental revenue, and offer
New Zealand customers a compelling global product.

“This outcome will assist in the provision of
significantly increased prizemoney. In May 2017 Deloitte conducted an ‘Options
Analysis’ for New Zealand Thoroughbred (NZTR) which indicated that an
outsourcing agreement would generate significant potential benefits. In my
view, these benefits may be sufficient, if added to the positive financial
outcomes generated by the other recommendations in the Review, to enable New
Zealand stake money levels to be doubled.

“I calculate that the cumulative impact of the reforms recommended in this Review can enable a near doubling of prizemoney in the thoroughbred sector from $59.4 million in 2017/18 to $100 million. The overall approach to prizemoney has to be aimed at supporting investment and participation in the sport through equitable funding for the lower tiers of racing, while ensuring that aspirations are fuelled by lifting the rewards of the Group and Listed program.

“…this Review is only the beginning of the reform process and it is critical that the implementation of the recommendations be pursued urgently and in their entirety,” – John Messara

“Finally, this Review is only the beginning of
the reform process and it is critical that the implementation of the
recommendations be pursued urgently and in their entirety, as this is the step
at which previous reform efforts appear to have faltered.”

When John Messara wrote those lines 18 months ago,
he was showing empathy for the plight of the people in racing in NZ, had fixed similar
problems previously in NSW and knew the way forward. But read the legislation
on offer now and you realise the author possesses none of this knowledge – yet
is attempting to have the final say – how come Winston with all his cunning hasn’t
woken up to that?

Finally, here are some Winston Peters pre-election
quotes from 2017:

  • If you are losing the war, you don’t go out and start firing the platoon commanders; you fire the generals.
  • The problem is going to be solved at a higher level. A new government and a minister changing the structure from top to bottom and changing the financial structure as well, so this industry comes back to being a paying proposition for an owner. We are going to have to change the whole legislative structure and with the greatest of speed possible.
  • There’s been a lack of leadership from the top; those things don’t happen when a campaign is organised properly.
  • John Allen has only been symptomatic of the problem; my question is, ‘who appointed him.?’ Start with the Minister, start with the government; you have got to get rid of them.
  • The industry better start with a bit of damn humility and realise their specialty is horses and not politics. My message to the industry is, ‘had enough, then vote NZ First.
  • Anybody helping me in this campaign is going to get it back ten-fold. It’s now or never. I used to go to the races and look at these politicians and think, these politicians have got no frecking idea what they’re looking at.
  • It’s now or never; you can’t go another three years of this stuff.
  • Ten days out from the election Winston said, this is seriously appalling – they have squandered it all the reserves and they’ve got no answers.
  • I want to say to the industry you have got to make up your minds whether they want a change and start shouting from the rooftops.
  • We need a flush-out with the greatest of speed and the moment the election is over we need to know who’s in the administration and what’s to be done.
  • This business is getting like going to a Casino and offering all your money and then being okay with getting only a bit of it back.
  • There is a salvation, and the salvation is in some cost-efficient changes, and the second one is you need more of your tax money back. The industry will not survive unless it happens.

The Last Word from the Messara Report:

“I acknowledge the challenge that this Review and the associated recommendations present to you, your Government and the overall industry. However, I am confident that with strong leadership, and the support and commitment of all sectors, organisations and participants, the industry can be turned around and achieve sustainability with consequential favourable impacts on the New Zealand economy.”

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