Harness racing ready for a comeback

A PUSH to reintroduce harness racing in North Queensland has gathered pace with the vocal support of Hinchinbrook MP Nick Dametto.

Mr Dametto said a rebirth of the sport in the North would benefit the region’s economy as well as support job creation in the industry.

“Harness racing has a rich history in North Queensland and I believe it’s time to start a new chapter,” he said.

“There are economic and social benefits just waiting to be realised and I know there is a passionate local community behind this proposal.”

North Queensland Harness Racing Club spokesman Troy Clive said the organisation had been working tirelessly with all sides of politics over the past two years in an effort to reintroduce harness racing back into the North after it collapsed in 2004/05 due to turnover not matching prizemoney allocated.

However, at the time, Northern clubs were not given the chance to be a TAB race meeting and had to rely on southern race meetings to source turnover.

“Local Members of Parliament and Townsville City Council have supported the reintroduction of harness racing as an achievable concept,” Mr Clive said.

“We are only asking for a three year trial to prove our viability. If in three years we cannot make a go at this, we are willing to walk away and go peacefully. The potential GST revenue for the State Government over this period would exceed $400,000.”

In April 2017, the club submitted a proposal to Racing Queensland to re-establish harness racing in North Queensland at the Cluden (Townsville) and Ooralea (Mackay) racecourses.

Following a meeting with Mr Clive in May 2018, State Racing Minister Stirling Hinchcliffe requested Racing Queensland CEO Brendan Parnell reassess the club’s proposal with “a fresh set of eyes” after several aspects of the proposal were not addressed or considered.

Racing Queensland then met with the club last October to discuss a range of aspects of the plan put forward, tweaking these to suit what Racing Queensland believed would be the most achievable outcome. Part of that included a proposed change of venue from Cluden Racecourse to Townsville Showgrounds, which had sufficient lighting for Sky Racing broadcasts. The re-introduction of harness racing in Mackay would also be delayed until sufficient lighting could be installed at Ooralea racecourse.

But in December, Racing Queensland wrote to the Minister and the club stating they felt the venture would not be commercially viable and were rejecting the proposal regardless.

“Harness racing is booming in other states where the racing industry is healthy and growing. Racing Queensland only seem to be interested in the galloping industry,” Mr Clive said.

“The State Government needs to look at what is happening in NSW and Victoria and take a leaf out of their book because they are thriving and Queensland is dying.”

Mr Dametto said he was sceptical of Racing Queensland’s claims that harness racing would not be commercially viable and called on Mr Hinchcliffe to “stand up and ensure all forms of racing have a solid future in regional Queensland”.

“Racing Queensland has not supplied any real details supporting how they have come to the conclusion that harness racing is not financially viable in the North,” Mr Dametto said.

“When the club requested those figures from Racing Queensland, they were refused under the excuse the figures were confidential. That doesn’t seem transparent to me.

“I think the Minister needs to back harness racing in North Queensland for the good of the industry and Townsville’s three Labor MPs need to apply some pressure and make it happen.”

Mr Clive branded Racing Queensland “out of touch” and called on the government to provide leadership on the matter.

“They need to look at the bigger picture. We have provided a paper demonstrating increased GST revenue, increased income for Racing Queensland and opportunities for employment and other social and economic benefits for the region,” he said.

“The Racing Queensland model is not working and they are not looking at harness racing and greyhounds in the same light as the gallops.”

Nick Dametto MP