Queensland racing authorities would like us to believe their industry is clean. But Hugo Kelly reports revelations of conflict-of-interest will not go away.

Last week, Crikey reported that questions were being asked about those involved in the proposed developments. We planted a spy in last Wednesday’s Brisbane Turf Club AGM – a cosy affair closed to the media – who reported that former Supreme Court Judge Bill Carter raised a revealing conflict-of-interest question.

Carter wanted to know whether the property consultant engaged by the Queensland Thoroughbred Racing Board to provide proposals on the future direction of the industry, Rick Parris, was the same Rick Parris who is a director of Devine Ltd – the housing developer pushing the sale of the racecourses.

BTC Chairman Ian Baxter told the meeting he was not aware of this situation, that his lawyers (our good mates at Clutz) would conduct ASIC searches in the morning, and that he would be writing to the QTRB, the Minister for Racing and the Premier advising of what appeared to be a conflict.

Not surprisingly, Baxter’s inquiries revealed that the Rick Parris advising the industry on its future directions was the same Rick Parris, property consultant for Devine Ltd, the company spruiking the sale of the two racecourses.

You would think this revelation would cause some concern amongst the Queensland Thoroughbred Racing Board and the relevant minister, Queensland’s colourful Racing Minister, Merri Rose.

But, amazingly, it appears the Sunshine State’s racing authorities are quite content with the situation. Late last week, Merri Rose’s media advisor, David Smith, sent us a media release which demonstrates what’s wrong with Queensland racing.

The release quoted QTRB chairman Bob Bentley as saying the appointment of Parris “as project manager in redevelopment plans for Eagle Farm and Doomben had been nothing but transparent”.

“Rick Parris declared from the outset his involvement with Devine Ltd, a Queensland-based public company specialising in land development, housing and inner city residential living,” Mr Bentley said.

“It is most unfortunate that Mr Carter raised the issue without first contacting the QTRB where information would have been available to him, or anyone else who was interested.”

Now, Bill Carter is no ordinary BTC member. He is a Human Rights Commissioner and former Criminal Justice Commission chief who has been critical of Bob Bentley’s appointment this year as Chairman of Queensland racing’s new controlling body. Particularly the notion that Bentley would be able to continue as a member of both the Queensland TAB Board and chairman of the Queensland Thoroughbred Racing Board.

It also concerns Crikey that a person in such a responsible position as Bentley apparently was incapable of understanding his own obvious conflict of interests. Does Bentley understand the notion of conflict-of-interest in important public positions, and if not, is he the right person to assess whether Parris himself is hopelessly conflicted?

The Merri Rose/Bob Bentley media release does not satisfactorily answer the conflict-of-interest questions surrounding the appointment of Parris.

According to the media release: “At a media conference at Doomben this morning, BTC chief executive Sean Kelk confirmed that Mr Parris had fully disclosed his involvement with Devine Ltd throughout the consultative process.”

So why, the previous day, was Kelk’s Chairman, Ian Baxter, unable to identify whether Parris was conflicted?

Who is right? The Chairman, who told the BTC AGM he was unaware of a potential conflict, or chief executive Kelk, wheeled out the next day by the Minister to try to hose down the story?

It’s clear that people in senior political and racing positions are seeking – not very successfully – to cover their backsides. Why should we believe the protestations of Merri Rose and her QTRB chairman Bob Bentley that the appointment was above board, in the face of Baxter’s assertion he didn’t even know Parris the property developer was the racing industry consultant?

And finally, the statement in the Minister’s media release that Judge Carter should not have raised the matter at the BTC annual meeting shows just how shy Queensland racing authorities are of scrutiny. When politicians want potentially embarrassing issues of public propriety dealt with quietly behind closed doors, we should conclude there is something to hide.

It’s not as if racing in the Sunshine State is in good health. In the words of the Courier Mail upon the appointment of Bob Bentley: “Deep-seated hatred, political intrigue, claims of corruption and an industry in decline. This is Queensland horseracing.”

When even the Curious Snail – usually the last to get off its backside and report the news – starts getting stuck into you, you know you’re in trouble. As the racing website Punter’s Choice observed: “There’s an acute need for a new direction in racing ideas and their implementation. Crowds are down, prizemoney is inadequate to attract good horses year-round, facilities are in desperate need of refurbishment, trainers and jockeys are drifting South to greener pastures, while owners and sponsors of events are bemoaning the fact that a whole generation of young potential racegoers have turned elsewhere for their entertainment and leisure pursuits”.

It’s an issue we’ll keep under close scrutiny.

Here’s the Courier Mail’s story of last Tuesday: click here

Here’s the media release issued in response to Crikey’s original report last Thursday by the Minister’s office.

No Conflict in Rick Parris Appointment

QUEENSLAND Thoroughbred Racing Board chairman Bob Bentley said today that the appointment of Mr Rick Parris as project manager in redevelopment plans for Eagle Farm and Doomben had been nothing but transparent.

Mr Bentley was commenting on a question raised by former Judge Bill Carter at the annual general meeting of the Brisbane Turf Club on Wednesday night.

Mr Carter, a BTC member, asked club chairman Ian Baxter whether or not the property consultant recently engaged by the QTRB was the same Rick Parris who is a director of the housing development company, Devine Ltd.

“Rick Parris declared from the outset his involvement with Devine Ltd, a Queensland-based public company specialising in land development, housing and inner city residential living,” Mr Bentley said.

“It is most unfortunate that Mr Carter raised the issue without first contacting the QTRB where information would have been available to him, or anyone else who was interested.”

Mr Bentley said the QTRB was fortunate to acquire the services of a project manager with the background and skills of Mr Parris.

“Rick has an outstanding track record in the planning, funding, acquisition and development of major capital works programs throughout Queensland.”

At a media conference at Doomben this morning, BTC chief executive Sean Kelk confirmed that Mr Parris had fully disclosed his involvement with Devine Ltd throughout the consultative process.

QTRB WEB NEWS: September 26. For further information, contact: Bob Bentley on 0419 964 210.

David Smith

Senior Media Advisor

Minister for Tourism and Racing and Minister for Fair Trading Ph: 3225 1005

Mob: 0409 496 534 Fax: 3229 0434

[email protected]

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW