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Racing Victoria bosses have been economical with truth

Date

Chris Roots

ROOTS 'N' ALL

Damien Oliver will be out of the saddle for 10 months for having a bet, which has tarnished his reputation, but as the evidence in the case becomes more clear, it is Racing Victoria's image that has been trashed.

Oliver used the system to ride throughout the Melbourne spring carnival after allegations of the infamous $10,000 bet first appeared in Fairfax Media on October 14. From that point, the words ''due process'' and ''natural justice'' were used to support inaction by Racing Victoria.

All right in the courts, but racing inquiries have different rules and can compel licensed persons to give evidence or be stood down.

Instead of acting swiftly, Racing Victoria allowed the Oliver case to become a soap opera running in concert with the biggest races of the year. Revelations of his admission of guilt or otherwise played in the media.

Racing Victoria chief executive Rob Hines told Fairfax on November 14 in the lead-up to the Oliver hearing, ''Full details of the case will be explained and will be aired [after the hearing].''

He denied any suggestion Oliver was given special treatment.

''This process has been conducted as quickly as possible. The suggestion in the media that admissions were received prior to this point, an admission was received yesterday [on November 12, the Monday following the end of the Flemington carnival] and the investigation has been ongoing. We have acted as quickly as we could following sufficient evidence to lay the charge.''

The way Hines put a spin on the story should serve him well as he becomes a media consultant for Racing Victoria next year. But the facts are starting to show that statement was spun more than a Shane Warne leg-break.

When Oliver's penalty was handed down on November 19 and Racing Victoria released a statement that read, in part, that the investigative committee ''formed the view that its best prospects of securing a certain conviction was to obtain an admission of guilt from Oliver. Accordingly, the option of standing Mr Oliver down prior to the laying of charges was not pursued … on the basis that this would have most likely jeopardised an admission being obtained, which would be admissible in any stewards inquiry.''

That seems remarkable in light of last week's admissions from steward Rob Montgomery, who chaired the Oliver betting hearing. He said Mark Hunter, who placed the bet on Oliver's behalf, had been granted concessions for evidence he had supplied.

''Yes, Hunter had helped us during the course of the inquiry. And he had earned concessions for doing so. After all, it was his information that brought about the Oliver case, however, it is still an ongoing situation,'' Montgomery said.

Hunter was interviewed on October 25 by the investigating panel. That his evidence was not considered enough to stand down Oliver seems extraordinary.

Investigations into how the case was handled were started by Victoria's Racing Minister, Denis Napthine, immediately after the Oliver penalty was handed down.

''In the interest of natural justice and due process, I was careful to make sure the Damien Oliver inquiry ran its course without government interference,'' he said. ''However, I was very concerned about allegations of mishandling and delays into resolving the Oliver inquiry.''

The Melbourne carnival is the jewel in the crown and in an effort to protect it, Racing Victoria was misguided, at best, in protecting an individual over the sport as a whole.

Oliver has accepted his penalty - whether it was enough is open to debate - but Racing Victoria continues to deny it got anything wrong.

Hines admitted on November 14 that the image of Racing Victoria was tarnished. ''Well, obviously it's disappointing at this time of year, in particular, to have these issues, but perhaps short-term pain for long-term gain,'' he said.

If only he had come to that view a month earlier, we might not still be discussing the handling of the affair.

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