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Racing – Ben Yole Allegations

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 8 June 2023

Tags: TasRacing, Horse Racing, State Budget, Office of Racing Integrity

Ms O'CONNOR - Perhaps we could go back to that thread of questioning. Does the Office of Racing Integrity have a record of a complaint from Ms Ainscow relating to potential race-fixing? And, if so, what was the response to that complaint?

Ms OGILVIE - That was where we were trying to get to. I am happy to refer to the department. It is operational.

Mr JACOBI - The Director of Racing is happy to respond to that.

Mr HELMICH - The Office of Racing Integrity did receive a complaint from a current steward in relation to matters that have been referred to. The driver involved has been spoken to by the stewards and did not want to provide any advice in relation to that.

Mr WINTER - The ABC reported that the driver was never contacted.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is very interesting. Mr Winter has just reminded me that the ABC reported that the driver was not contacted. Is the Office of Integrity refuting that driver's response?

Mr HELMICH - I can confirm that the chief steward has spoken with the driver and the driver did not want to provide any further details.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, that's really concerning isn't it? You've got a steward who has provided information to the Office of Racing Integrity about potential race-fixing: a steward, a person with a statutory responsibility to oversee integrity on the track, has gone to the Office of Racing Integrity with race-fixing allegations, so, there's obviously a solid evidence base there.

Ms OGILVIE - I'm not -

Ms O'CONNOR - There would be a solid evidence base if you've got a steward, because it takes a fair bit for a steward to first of all identify that there's an issue and then report it to the Office of Racing Integrity. Is it the Office of Racing Integrity's testimony to this committee that once the driver was allegedly contacted and said they didn't want to speak that the matter was completely dropped?

Ms OGILVIE - I'm happy to refer that question as well. But as you quite correctly point out, it does turn on evidence. If the person doesn't wish to give that evidence, I guess it would be quite difficult to -

Ms O'CONNOR - Or if you're not looking for the evidence.

Ms OGILVIE - I think they spoke to the driver. But what I will say before I turn to the operational side is that the Murrihy review is investigating this matter, as I've said, so we'll only have to wait a matter of another three weeks before you will find out the answers to whether there was, indeed, a problem. But in relation to the operational issue that you ask, I will ask the department to respond.

Mr HELMICH - Can I get you to confirm the question?

Ms O'CONNOR - The question was you have a steward, who has a responsibility to oversee integrity on the track, who has heard information that has concerned her so much and must have had veracity to it -

Ms OGILVIE - We need to check that.

Ms O'CONNOR - Are you saying that steward would make something up?

Ms OGILVIE - No, of course not.

Ms O'CONNOR - So, there must have been a foundation of truth to it for the steward to go -

Ms OGILVIE - Well, there was a belief in her mind, I would assume, to make a complaint. Yes.

Ms O'CONNOR - I haven't heard of stewards sort of making up complaints to the Office of Racing integrity about alleged race-fixing.

Ms OGILVIE - Nobody is alleging that anybody's making things up.

Ms O'CONNOR - In this steward's mind, based on a conversation she'd had with a driver, there has been potential race-fixing. So, my question is, once there was alleged contact with the driver in question who apparently said they didn't want to provide evidence, was the matter just dropped by ORI, even though the complaint had been raised by a steward?

Ms OGILVIE - So the question is, what steps they took once it had been raised?

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes.

Mr HELMICH - I can provide the following information to the committee. The driver was spoken to in relation to the claims that were made. The driver did not want to provide any statement or evidence to the stewards. There was no information that was in relation to any specific -

Ms O'CONNOR - It strikes me that when you've got an allegation of such substance coming forward from a steward and then nothing happens once you've talked to a driver who apparently didn't want to communicate, so then it goes nowhere. isn't that part of the problem with the industry? The Office of Racing Integrity has just gone, 'Oh well, the driver doesn't want to talk. Moving right along'. Don't you think that's problematic?

Ms OGILVIE - What I'd like to highlight is that there are problematic issues with all complaints. Because they are problems, that is the basis of the complaint. To formalise a response to a complaint in the affirmative, there needs to be evidence. If someone doesn’t want to talk - and you and I have had this conversation in parliament about people who wish to provide the evidence or not, it's a challenge to be worked through. What we do have is the Murrihy review. We have weeks to go before the decision comes out and that does look specifically at these allegations. We will have about three weeks before that review comes out and that will be helpful.

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes. But with respect, minister, I'm not going to work at the table if you keep fobbing off the questions to the Murrihy review.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, Janet Ainscow has decades of experience within the industry and her very sincere and informed testimony to the ABC about Ben Yole's property is that:

What I am seeing next door is probably the worst conditions I have ever seen horses kept in of any racing establishment I have visited. The paddocks in summer, there is just dirt, nothing but dirt and there are times where those horses are just wandering around sifting through the dust.

I know, minister, you have seen those pictures and they are eating faeces - 24 to 30 horses going around eating faeces. Despite all of this evidence, we heard from Mr Helmich, Office of Racing Integrity, that 'there is nothing to see here' at Ben Yole's property; there are no animal welfare concerns. I note that apparently, there was a visit yesterday to Ben Yole's property - just in time for Estimates. Given what we know, and given what a brave person from within the industry was prepared to say publicly, do you think that's acceptable?

Ms OGILVIE - That is why we have the Murrihy Review under way, Ms O'Connor and you would be aware of that. Nobody is suggesting that there is any lack of sincerity from anybody who speaks up.

Ms O'CONNOR - Okay, thank you, minister. Certainly, it sounds to me as though there has been a measure of retribution to Ms Ainscow for speaking up -

Ms OGILVIE - I don't agree with that.

Ms O'CONNOR - How many visits have there been to Ben Yole's stables over the past, say, three years, and when we are getting the answer to that question, how many were unannounced?

Ms OGILVIE - Announced and unannounced?

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes.

Ms OGILVIE - We did have to address that on notice in the other place, but I will confirm and check.

Mr HELMICH - I don't have the details for the last three years, as I indicated in my response earlier. There have been 14 inspections in the last 12 months. I've brought those details with me to provide the dates of them if you wish and again, I refer to the fact that the RSPCA have also visited the premises on a number of occasions in the last 12 months. We would have the records for to the last three years. They are held on the Harnessweb database and we can get those should you choose to, minister.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Mr Helmich. Minister, has there been a single unannounced visit by the Office of Racing Integrity to Ben Yole's stables?

Ms OGILVIE - Mr Helmich, could you respond to that?

Mr HELMICH - Yes, there have been. The vast majority of attendances at the Yole stable are unannounced. Some of them are announced; in particular, the visit by the secretary; me; Ms Jan Davis from the RSPCA; and Ms Dierdre Wilson. That was an announced visit, but the vast majority of the visits are unannounced.

Ms O'CONNOR - Given the pictures that we have, and we know you've seen them, and the testimony from an experienced steward with decades of experience in the industry - how can this be regarded as good animal welfare, when you've got beautiful horses, wandering around en masse in the dust or the mud, and eating their own faeces. Is it a deficiency in the act? Or in the rules of racing?

Ms OGILVIE - I have seen the photos. As I've said many times, I am an animal lover and I want our animals to be cared for.

Ms O'CONNOR - I have no doubt about that.

Ms OGILVIE - Thank you for saying that, because that has got lost in the mix at some point. Before I respond to that specific question, I will say that I have driven the reform of the act, the restructure of what we're doing to regulate the industry to boost the RSPCA's capacity to act, and also in relation to equine management rules.

In relation to the visits to that particular stable, I can also advise that there was an unannounced visit just yesterday.

Ms O'CONNOR - Just in time for Estimates.

Mr WINTER - It wasn't unannounced?

Ms O'CONNOR - It wasn't unannounced?

Mr WINTER - I knew about the inspection happening yesterday. How could you say it's unannounced?

Ms OGILVIE - Well, I didn't announce it. I'll ask the secretary to respond to that.

Mr JACOBI - I received advice this morning that Mr Murrihy inspected the Yole stables yesterday and it was unannounced. I passed that to the minister.

Mr WINTER - I was told yesterday morning he was being inspected, that they were visiting yesterday. I'm not sure how secret these things are.

Ms OGILVIE - Did you share that information with anyone?

Mr WINTER - Of course I didn't.

Ms OGILVIE - Good. I know it would cruel the opportunity for announced visit if you did; so, I thought I'd better confirm that.

Dr BROAD - A member of parliament hears about an unannounced visit, and then it’s up to the parliamentarian not to share that an unannounced visit is happening? What a ridiculous statement that is.

Ms OGILVIE - Not if you care about animal welfare.

Ms O'CONNOR - We heard from Mr Helmich just now about the vast majority of visits to Ben Yole's stables are unannounced visits. I'd like that to be reaffirmed and verified.

Ms OGILVIE - That's a fair question and it is something we traversed upstairs. I understand there's been a systems change that will allow that tracking that happen in a more regimented way in future. I will ask Mr Helmich to speak to what's transpired in the past.

Mr HELMICH - As you would expect, in preparations for the hearings today, I can confirm I spoke with my Principal Stipendiary Steward, who indicated that he undertook at least eight of the inspections and that all but one were unannounced.

Ms O'CONNOR - To clarify here, what's the record-keeping there? We've got a Chief Stipendiary Steward who states to his boss that eight of the visits were unannounced. How do we verify that? Mr Helmich says Eight of fourteen visits of the past year were unannounced; but how can we verify that? Given the integrity issues which have been raised about close connections between integrity officers or stewards and Ben Yole or Anthony Bullock, how do we verify that they’re unannounced visits? I don't think we can.

Ms OGILVIE - That is an operational matter, and it goes to record keeping, so I will ask Mr Helmich to respond to that.

Mr HELMICH - The recording of inspection data in the harness code is done through a system called HARBY. All the information is recorded on there. I reflected on this yesterday in the other place, in that we've just implemented a new safety culture system for recording of audits and recording of inspections. At this point in time there is no detail within the HARBY system which actually records whether an inspection is unannounced or announced, but what I am able to do, and I've had that confirmed through my team yesterday, is introduce that into the system moving forward so it can be detailed and it will have definition as to what details - announced and unannounced. Before I -

Ms O'CONNOR - So there's no actual evidence that those eight visits were unannounced?

Mr HELMICH - Through you, minister, I assume what you're asking there is what surety I have that my stewards aren't announcing without telling me.

Ms O'CONNOR - Just making a quick call to Ben Yole - Tasmania being what it is.

Mr HELMICH - I've certainly got no evidence of that but I think the important thing in this space is that we do unannounced visits and announced visits. There is an importance in doing announced visits as well; it comes down to a WHS consideration for my staff. We are obviously at Mr Yole's premises a lot but where there are instances where we don't visit as often, we do make those visits announced because it's an important screening process for us to understand what sort of health state the person that the stewards are visiting are in, and indeed mental health state, and if there are issues that are identified through that initial announcing screening, we can put in place some appropriate mitigations to protect health and safety.

That's not the case with Mr Yole's premises. We are there regularly and, as I say, we've got a variety of different inspections that we do. Some are full inspections, some are simply stewards driving past, they will attend the premises and view it, or alternatively there may be other reasons for the stewards to go and visit Mr Yole in relation to handing over paperwork and those types of things and they will consider that as part of their inspection process as well.

Ms OGILVIE - Thank you, Mr Helmich. Just to conclude the answer, clearly the Murrihy review is completely independent and I want to be very clear with you that I do not reach into that. I do not direct where they go and when they go. It is open to Mr Murrihy to take such steps as he sees fit.