As you no doubt know, I was a community representative on the Board of Wentworth Park Sporting Complex Trust for something over ten years, the last fifteen months as Chair. That all came to an end on 26 May when the Board’s three-year term expired, and the Minister for Lands and Water decided to appoint Mr Jason Masters as administrator. The Minister was at pains to point out that this appointment had nothing to do with the past performance of the Board or any of its predecessors. By the time you read this, the Special Commission of Enquiry into the Greyhound Racing Industry in NSW will presumably have reported to the Government (it was due to report on 31 May), and the Minister no doubt took into account the possibility that the report could recommend that greyhound racing should cease at Wentworth Park, or even that it be banned outright.
My last act as Chair of the Trust was to thank my Board members, and I thought it might interest you to read my email to them. It sets out in some detail the challenges we have faced over the last three years, and the challenges that remain for the future.
Here is my email to Trust Board members on 25 May 2016:
Well, it looks like we are all going to be feather dusters. The Trust’s three-year term comes to an end tomorrow, and I finally heard from the Minister (with two days to go) what we all suspected, that he has appointed Mr Jason Masters as administrator for an ‘interim period’ of three months. So before I depart, I would like to say thank you to all of you for your thoughtful and courteous contributions to the deliberations of the Trust over the last ten-plus years, and particularly since I took over as Chair.
By way of background, when the present Trust was appointed in May 2013, it was transparently obvious what the Government’s agenda was in relation to Wentworth Park Sporting Complex – deliver it to Greyhound Racing New South Wales, and none of this nonsense about it having been dedicated as a public park in perpetuity. Two community representatives, Susie Cleary and Jeremy Gilling, were not reappointed (and I might say that the Minister never bothered to contact either of them before the event or, so far as I am aware, to ever thank them for their years of voluntary service). Instead, three new ‘community representatives’ were appointed, none of whom lived anywhere near Wentworth Park, and all of whom were heavily involved in the greyhound racing industry. Percy Allan, formerly chairman of Greyhound Racing New South Wales, was appointed Chair, and he set about the task of preparing a long-term lease to GRNSW (to replace the current licence to NSW Greyhound Breeders Owners and Trainers Association). I must say that Percy, despite my initial misgivings, played it with a very straight bat, frustrated at times by the bizarre antics of GRNSW. Eventually, after months of effort and at huge expense to the Trust (and no doubt to GBOTA), a compromise was reached in the form of a long-term draft lease that, whilst nobody liked every aspect of it, was at least acceptable to all relevant parties. That is the essence of a good compromise – nobody should feel they have won, but everybody should feel they have only lost to an acceptable extent.
We all know what happened then. Percy Allan presented the Trust’s handiwork to the Minister for approval. And despite the fact that the job had been done at the Minister’s request, the Minister saw fit to decline to approve it. So Percy resigned on the spot, and I (very reluctantly) became Chair on 2 February 2015.
It has been an interesting 15 months. It had become apparent during the course of negotiations for a new lease to GRNSW that there was a significant backlog of capital works that needed to be addressed with some urgency. Under the proposed lease, that obligation would have fallen on GRNSW. But with the Ministerial backflip, it fell back onto GBOTA under the terms of the licence agreement, which all parties agreed was in many ways anachronistic. It is a tribute to GBOTA, and particularly to its Executive Officer Brenton Scott, that a way was eventually charted through this minefield, and the most urgent work was attended to, partly at the expense of GBOTA, and partly at the expense of the Trust. Then, later in February 2015, came the Special Commission of Enquiry into the Greyhound Racing Industry in NSW prompted by the obscene exposure of animal cruelty on the ABC Four Corners program. The board of GRNSW was effectively sacked, and we ceased to have any meaningful input from its representative on the Trust. More importantly, GBOTA found itself in a position of no longer being able to call on GRNSW to help it to fund its obligations under the licence agreement, which led to considerable difficulties for GBOTA and tension between GBOTA and the Trust.
[Wentworth Park] is one of the jewels in Glebe’s crown. Since at least 1878, the whole of Wentworth Park has been ‘set apart and dedicated in perpetuity for a park or place for public recreation’ … I will certainly do my damnedest to make sure that nobody forgets the purpose for which the land was dedicated 140 years ago. If it was important in 1878, it is vital now.
Another major distraction was UrbanGrowth NSW and its plans for the so-called Bays Precinct. First we were told that Wentworth Park was not part of the Bays Precinct, then all of a sudden (without any consultation with the Trust) it was. Like all other machinations of the NSW Government, this was a breathtakingly transparent ploy to set off our ‘green space’ against any obligation to provide public open space elsewhere in the Bays Precinct. But it didn’t stop a developers’ consortium from pushing a daft proposal that the dogs should move to the Penrith Panthers’ complex, the move to be funded by selling Wentworth Park and building high-rise apartments! And if that wasn’t silly enough, there was a proposal to build a 14,000 seat indoor stadium – this apparently without any consultation with UrbanGrowth. I hope the administrator has a highly developed sense of humour – he will need it if this sort of nonsense continues.
One of the Trust’s top priorities has been, and as far as I am concerned remains, to complete the Southern perimeter of the complex by demolishing the old Ledger and associated buildings and completing the new palisade fence. This work was commenced and substantially completed on Susie Cleary’s watch, and I would dearly have loved to have seen it completed on mine. As you know, the obligation to pay for this work falls upon GBOTA under the licence agreement, but that obligation was ‘traded away’ in the course of the negotiations for the aborted long-term lease to GRNSW. However, the Department of Education has a proposal to temporarily relocate Ultimo Public School on the site, and to complete the Southern perimeter on departure in about two years time – a genuine ‘win-win’ arrangement. I sincerely hope that this proposal is followed through by the administrator.
The way the Trust is currently structured, there is virtually no way of avoiding inherent conflicts of interest, particularly on the part of the representatives of GBOTA and Sydney City Council, but also of the various Government and Quasi-Government Departments represented – GRNSW (until it imploded), Crown Lands, and Liquor, Gaming and Racing. As mentioned above, even two out of the four remaining ‘community representatives’ are heavily involved in the greyhound racing industry. Alison Stone recognised this conflict, and removed the Crown Lands representative from Trust membership, but I am extremely grateful to her and her deputy Dave McPherson for their help and guidance as observers. And as mentioned above, I would like to congratulate every member of the Trust Board for rising above narrow representative interests and making the interests of the Trust paramount.
Finally, I would like to thank Peter Mann for his support to me and the Trust as Chief Executive. Wentworth Park has been at the centre of Peter’s life for many years, and Susie Cleary, Percy Allan and I all relied heavily on his knowledge and experience. Good luck with the administrator, Peter!
As President (soon to be Past President) of the Glebe Society I will be keeping a close eye on Wentworth Park, albeit from the outside rather than the inside. Whether the greyhounds continue to race there or not, it is one of the jewels in Glebe’s crown. Since at least 1878, the whole of Wentworth Park has been ‘set apart and dedicated in perpetuity for a park or place for public recreation’. This is in no way affected by the presence or absence of greyhound racing on part of the Park, and I will certainly do my damnedest to make sure that nobody forgets the purpose for which the land was dedicated 140 years ago. If it was important in 1878, it is vital now.
Again, my thanks to you all.