If you had the power to create better lives and a better future for Canberrans and $40 million of public funds to do it with, what would you spend the money on?
Maybe you'd build more public housing for those doing it tough or subsidise more solar panels, plant more trees and build more bike paths.
You might create street festivals in the suburbs, and free music events in the town centres, or add some crucial extra staff to hospitals, schools and aged care.
What you probably wouldn't do is give it to the racing industry, no questions asked.
Yet this is exactly what is about to happen. The ACT government is currently negotiation to re-sign a memorandum of understanding that will provide at least $7.5 million per year for the next five years to Thoroughbred Park.
To put that in context, the ACT government will provide $2.6 million in yearly funding to the Canberra Raiders, $1.78 million to the Brumbies and $1.6 million over four years to the Canberra Capitals and Canberra United. That's for our elite sports. Our community sports got $10,000 or less in the latest round of Sports and Recreation grants.
The raw amount going to Thoroughbred Park is not the only issue. Of equal importance is the fact there is no public grant or procurement process to give the community confidence we're getting value for money and putting our priorities in the right place.
There is also no recognition the land on which the racecourse and its facilities sits was initially gifted, not sold, giving the industry a leg-up (pardon the pun) from the get-go.
The ACT Greens don't support public funding of the horse racing industry, and certainly not to this extent. We've met with and written to our ACT Labor colleagues, urging the phasing out of this funding deal and the development of a transition plan to support those who depend on the racing industry and whose livelihoods may be at risk if the industry needs to scale down.
It's now 11 years since a report by the Independent Competition and Regulatory Commission recommended the horse racing industry should be self-sufficient in the long term.
Their recommendation for short-term funding certainty was limited to 10 years. With this new MOU, we're committed to 15 years of funding, with no transition even started.
In the lead-up to the ACT election in October 2020, Thoroughbred Park asked all three major parties whether they would renew funding. The Canberra Liberals actually wanted to increase it, while Labor's position was it should be maintained.
The Greens' view is different. In an era of multiple challenges, not just systemic ones but challenges to the wellbeing of individuals and families, we think it's vital to take more care over the expenditure of public money, both with regard to transparency and to priorities.
Some of the money given to Thoroughbred Park might recycle back to the Canberra community. As with other forms of recycling, however, I think it's better to direct resources differently in the first place, rather than celebrating a partial return.
I think $40 million is too much to hand over to the racing industry when we have problems like climate change, COVID and homelessness to deal with. I'd be interested to know how many other Canberrans feel the same.
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