Second Reading: Caulfield Racecourse Reserve Bill 2017

Debate resumed from 24 August; motion of Ms D’AMBROSIO (Minister for Suburban Development).

Mr SOUTHWICK (Caulfield) — I rise to speak on the Caulfield Racecourse Reserve Bill 2017. At the outset I thank the shadow minister for the environment, the member for Gembrook, for giving me the opportunity to speak first on this bill, because for us and certainly for me there is nothing more important locally than the future of the Caulfield Racecourse Reserve. I note that when I first entered this house in 2011 one of the first speeches I made was about the Caulfield Racecourse Reserve, and I have been banging on about this issue ever since. I am very pleased to say that we now have legislation in place to reshape the future of the management of the Caulfield Racecourse Reserve to ultimately get the balance right between racing, recreation and sport. This is a really important time for us. At the outset I say that the opposition will be supporting this bill, and we will be supporting it because it is something that we have been calling for right from the very outset. I will talk a little bit more about that shortly.

If you look at Caulfield and its surrounds, there are a number of iconic buildings and a lot of features in my electorate. People would know it for Monash University, they would know it for the bagel belt, they would know it for Ripponlea Gardens and they would know it for Caulfield Grammar and a number of other great schools, but when you travel to meet people either interstate or overseas and you talk about Caulfield, there is one thing that tends to bring people back in terms of knowing where the area is, and that is the Caulfield Racecourse.

Caulfield Racecourse has over 250 000 people visit it each year, whether they are attending one of the 200 non-raceday events, whether they attend racing itself or whether they attend the famous Caulfield Cup, which has been made famous over the years and which has been held at that site since 1859. I will declare a special interest in this in that I come from a racing family. In fact I am very proud to say that my family, being my father and his brother, were the winners of a Caulfield Cup in 1972 with Sobar. It is a very proud moment to have not only a group 1 winner but also a Caulfield Cup winner. I am very proud to say that the one inheritance I got from the family was the actual cup, so that stays with me and is my pride and joy. It is a great memory for me.

One thing I did not inherit was the propensity to have a bet. I am not much of a gambler. I have seen my uncle make a small fortune out of a large fortune. It provides a good pastime for many others. We encourage sport and we encourage what racing can provide, but for me it is more about the importance of what racing has done for the community, for the sport and for Victoria itself and the revenue it provides.

What we are looking at here is an opportunity to open up the racecourse and not only look at racing but ensure that there is a fair and equal balance between racing, sport and passive recreation. I have said a number of times in this house that Glen Eira has one of the lowest open space availabilities of any municipality, and it is desperate for more space. We see increases in apartments. We also see fewer and fewer opportunities for young and old people to get around and get involved in playing sport locally. In fact there are a number of sporting clubs that actually have to play outside of the municipality because they cannot find grounds locally.

Many people have said — not just me but many former councillors, former mayors and former members, because this issue has been going on for some time — that we have a great opportunity to open up the middle of the racecourse and to provide active sport in the middle of it. I know this figure gets thrown around a bit from time to time, but certainly I have heard it quoted, and I think I have quoted it myself — there are up to 30 MCGs of sporting grounds available. I suppose that is when you take out the tracks and everything else, but there are certainly a number of grounds that could be activated to play sport in the centre.

Mr Dimopoulos — Fifteen.

Mr SOUTHWICK — The member for Oakleigh says ’15’, and when you add the tracks back and what have you, probably the opportunity right now is to look at 15 grounds. But whatever it is, if we can get sport being played in the middle of the racecourse, we will be able to help out so many of those young people coming through to get active and get outdoors. We will encourage sport and recreation, which is certainly an important thing for all people to get involved in, especially our young people as they grow.

The opportunity for this has been called on many, many times. Certainly this issue dates back to 1885, when a Crown grant was awarded for 143 acres or 58.23 hectares for a site for a racecourse, a public recreation ground and a public park at Caulfield. So it had the purposes of recreation, parkland and racing. There have been many committees and people that have managed this land for some time now, and unfortunately they have not got it right. It is interesting to note an article in the Glen Eira News back in 2006, ‘Caulfield Racecourse, getting the balance right’. This was certainly quoted by the then mayor, Cr David Feldman, who said:

There is no doubt that quality of life is linked very heavily to one’s surrounds and that open space need to be easily accessible to the public …

Also, a growing number of Glen Eira residents are living in apartments, flats or townhouses which provide little or no outdoor living areas.

That was in 2006. Fast track now to 2017 and I think that need would be multiplied tenfold in terms of the lack of availability of space. People are living in apartments and are desperate for open space.

In 2014 the Victorian Auditor-General found that the Caulfield Racecourse Trust had failed the community. After years of inaction one of the report’s recommendations called on the then environment minister to undertake an urgent review of the Caulfield Racecourse Trust in September 2015 to kickstart the reforms.

The report was done in September 2014 under the former government — our government — and can I say that all of the 15 recommendations were accepted by the department then. It was then up to actually getting things going and kickstarting the process. Unfortunately a lot of time had gone by without any activity happening. I know this is complicated, but I think every day lost is a lost opportunity for open space, certainly for the residents of Caulfield and others living around this great piece of land.

The Auditor-General suggested that we needed to act quickly. After two years of inaction following this report, I put out a media statement on 21 August 2016, where I said:

… the Andrews government needs to act swiftly and introduce legislation into the Parliament that both clearly defines the use of the Caulfield Racecourse and installs an independent management authority for the reserve. Only after this is done will sporting clubs and other community organisations have the opportunity to gain access to this fantastic —

as the member for Oakleigh said —

15 MCG grounds worth of open space in Caulfield.

Opening up the centre … and establishing sports grounds is the solution to solving Glen Eira’s open space headache and support sporting clubs which are desperate for space and deserve to play locally.

This is what we called for in 2015, and certainly we have been pushing for it ever since. Unfortunately there has not been the action to get it done.

If I could just go through some of the background to the bipartisan working group. First of all, the Victorian Auditor-General report outlined there were real issues in the governance of the Caulfield Racecourse Trust, and it called for a complete overhaul of the trust to bring transparency back into the management of the trust and the racecourse reserve. On 1 September, a year later — after a year of inaction not implementing the report — I made an urgent call to the then minister for environment and asked the minister, now the Minister for Police, and asked if she would undertake an urgent review of the racecourse trust to kickstart the space.

I want to commend the then minister for taking up that call. There are not often times when you can talk about the importance of bipartisanship, but in this case I want to particularly say that when I sat down in this chamber and asked the minister, she said to me then, ‘What do you think we need?’.

I said, ‘We need a bipartisan review to make this happen, otherwise we will be sitting here talking about this, another election will pass and nothing will happen for the Caulfield Racecourse and for the constituents in my area and for Victoria more broadly, because this is an iconic facility that should be used by all’. So the bipartisan working group was set up.

I want to particularly acknowledge the member for Oakleigh, who sat on that committee with me, and Ken Ryan, who was our chair on this committee. We were able to work together. We were able to work to ensure that we got a way forward. One of the key recommendations of this review was to say that we need the legislation that we are talking about today.

That is why we are supporting this legislation, because a key part of what the bipartisan working group said was, ‘Let’s get some legislation in place. Let’s get rid of the old trustees. Let’s bring in a new independent group that are not aligned to racing, that are not aligned to council, that do not have their own areas of conflict of interest coming forward but are there to be independent with their own expertise’ — similar to the way the Kardinia Park bill was introduced into this Parliament. We wanted to ensure we found a way forward to get the balance right between racing and open space, and between sport and passive recreation at the Caulfield Racecourse Reserve, and that is why we are very, very supportive of this bill.

I will point out one concern that I have, and I want to put this on the public record now. That is the fact that we do not have a lease signed between the Melbourne Racing Club and the government right now. That is a real issue and is something that this new trust will need to negotiate. When we undertook the review of the racecourse we said that in the interim the department would be able to step in, negotiate a lease, get a lease signed and hand it over to a new trust that could then manage the racecourse. I flag this as a concern, because at the moment we have the Melbourne Racing Club on a peppercorn rent of $100 000 a year, and that means all Victorian taxpayers are missing out on revenue, and ultimately that money that could be used to inject into public recreation is not being utilised.

I raise that as an issue which I will talk to a little bit after question time. It is a very important issue to raise because we need to inject some funds into upgrading parkland and sports ovals, and obviously it costs money to do that. The best way to do that is to negotiate a commercial lease, which Melbourne Racing Club will pay for, and inject those funds back into the Caulfield Racecourse Reserve and open up the middle. We need to enhance the racecourse reserve to benefit the community, my Caulfield constituents and certainly all Victorians so that there will be opportunities for people to play sport there, to visit the racecourse and ensure that it gets used properly.

This bill provides a great opportunity to inject funding for both passive and sporting activities at the racecourse reserve, but it also ensures that racing is protected. Racing is an absolutely important activity in Victoria, and certainly the history of Caulfield is something that we should protect and maintain and racing should be protected and maintained. I think opening up the middle will enhance racing. It will actually ensure that more people have more opportunities to visit the racecourse. That is something that we think should happen, and we will talk more about how we will be able to open up Caulfield Racecourse Reserve.

Business interrupted under sessional orders.

Mr SOUTHWICK (Caulfield) — As I was saying earlier, the Caulfield Racecourse Reserve is one of the iconic pieces of land in my electorate, and it is something in relation to which we really need to get the balance right between racing, sport and passive recreation. This legislation that we have before the house now is an important step in doing that, and that is why we will be supporting the legislation. It was something that the bipartisan working committee suggested needed to be implemented, and it was certainly something that the member for Oakleigh and I advocated very strongly for.

What I was saying earlier is that the concern I have in particular is that we do not have a commercial lease negotiated between the Melbourne Racing Club and the department, effectively the government. The situation now is that there is still a peppercorn rent being paid.

The legislation the government is putting forward will in fact ensure that we have new trustees, independent trustees, who will act effectively as directors implementing the appropriate governance and managing the way forward for the reserve itself. Again, acknowledging that they will bring certain expertise to the table, they will be effectively part-time managers as they will be conducting other work. The fact that we have an interim arrangement that has been in place for the more than 14 or 15 months since the bipartisan working committee reported and that within that period of time the government could not negotiate a commercial lease really concerns me because we could be potentially setting up these directors to fail. I would hope not, and certainly from our side we will do everything possible to give them the support that they need, but I say this: the future management of this piece of land — the allocation that will be used for sport, for public access and for racing — needs to be negotiated.

The fact is we have a Tabaret sitting there that creates a whole lot of revenue for the Melbourne Racing Club, we have the Guineas car park and we have Monash University effectively paying rent to the Melbourne Racing Club, but it is all Crown land let on a peppercorn rent of $100 000 a year. Most shops in our electorates would be paying more than what the whole of Caulfield Racecourse is going for. The fact that this has been allowed to go on for five-plus years and the fact that there is no lease in place and there has not been a lease in place for over five years is really concerning. I know that the department could not arrive at an agreement in negotiating a lease and is hoping that this bill will be able to solve that — and certainly we hope that too — but it is disappointing that, while we have this important piece of legislation, we do not have a deal set.

What I would have liked to have seen and what I want to point out is what we said in our report, which was very particular around this issue. We said:

The working group felt that the history, complexity and volatility surrounding the reserve make the department the most appropriate interim manager, as a first step to appointing a new body. It is considered unlikely that capable, well-credentialed and independent people would accept appointment to a new body without these significant longstanding structural issues being first resolved.

The fact is that we have not resolved these issues. We also said that:

The department, as interim land manager, has significant advantages. It would enable discussions and negotiations with MRC to settle the lease and licence arrangements. The working group understands that the department has a well-established lease determination process that involves the valuer-general Victoria. This matter could be resolved prior to handing the management of the reserve to an appropriate independent organisation.

They were under 4.3.1, ‘The department as interim land manager’. That was on the basis of what we felt going forward. I understand that the minister at the table, Minister D’Ambrosio, has accepted this report, and we appreciate the fact that she did take these recommendations up, because they were certainly well considered with a lot of input from the community. This issue is something that will not go away. The fact is that we do not know how the land is going to be carved up — who is getting what, what racing needs and ultimately what the community needs to activate sport — and I am going to spend some time talking about that.

I did want to particularly thank all of those who appeared before the bipartisan working committee, including the Minister for Racing, Martin Pakula; the member for Gippsland East, the shadow Minister for Racing; the member for Gembrook, the shadow minister for the environment; the trustees who appeared; the Melbourne Racing Club; councillor Jim Magee, who is in the gallery today and who was, I believe, the mayor at the time, and he has certainly been very active in this particular issue and has been advocating to open up the racecourse to the public; and the City of Glen Eira.

I wanted to also put on record my thanks to other mayors, including the current mayor, Mary Delahunty, who is also here in the chamber, for her advocacy on this important issue as well as Neil Pilling, Jamie Hyams and, as I said earlier, Cr David Feldman, who wrote an article when he was first mayor advocating for this to happen. We have had successive mayors of the City of Glen Eira who have been very, very strong on this issue, and it has been important because the city knows how important it is to open up this space. The residents, my constituents, also know how important it is, and I think it is now really important that we ensure this happens.

I also thank the Glen Eira Residents Association, which has been very active in representing local constituents; Paul Caine, Janice Caine and James Walker from Glen Eira Environment Group, who appeared before the working group; David Wilde, Spike Cramphorn, who is also known as Michael Cramphorn, and Barbara Gibson, who have been leading the Friends of Caulfield Park in advocating for this; of course Racing Victoria, who play an important role here as well, because racing, as I said before, is a key element of state revenue, and we certainly cannot downplay any of that; and also people within the department.

I also acknowledge people who have been fighting the good fight for the Caulfield Racecourse Reserve Trust for a number of years now. Don Dunstan and Sandy Anderson have been out on this for a long time. Frank Penhalluriack as a councillor was fighting to open up the racecourse and has certainly been advocating very strongly for this for a very, very long time, and I am sure he would be very happy now this bill has been put forward to the Parliament. Bette Hatfield, Mary Healy and Roslyn Gold, whether it be with the Glen Eira Residents Association or in their own capacity, have been fighting hard, as have Peter Broheur and Cheryl Forge, with Cheryl having advocated very hard for this as a former councillor. There have been a number of people who have been talking about this. Certainly I get it a lot in my office, and I think it is important to put on record the contributions that they have made.

Before I turn specifically to what we could be looking at for the centre proper of the racecourse, I want to bring the house’s attention to a book written about the local area, A Soldier Lived in My House, which is a history of Caulfield. In the book there is a specific section on the Caulfield Racecourse, which says that the Caulfield Racecourse had been a longstanding premier location for horseracing in Victoria since the first race in 1859. The book also talks about how the racecourse was used during war days. In World War I it was used predominantly as a fundraising opportunity to give back to the cause. There were times when free entry was provided to help fundraising efforts through other means. In World War II they used the racecourse as a recruiting station for many soldiers. It has a big history. Events are also held there, including the P B Lawrence Stakes Day, an annual event which we run to recognise the role of soldiers during times of war, and the racecourse will continue to hold that event.

There have been other community events held there as well. For a couple of years we ran fun runs with the Glen Eira Rotary Club and Bendigo Bank. In two years we raised just on $100 000 for the community. That was done through a lot of community organisations that put in teams, and they kept the money. We did that with the racecourse organisation. We did a fun run around the Caulfield Racecourse that brought awareness to it. It was not just about fundraising for local communities and charities; it was also about awareness and to say, ‘We have this unique opportunity to open up the racecourse and we should look at doing it’.

In my last few minutes I will just talk about some of the issues, particularly for sporting clubs. We have a 54 hectare parcel of land. Glen Eira City Council has just 45 sporting grounds to service more than 60 registered clubs, so already we have a huge shortage. We have the likes of AJAX Amateur Football Club, whose president, Ronnie Lewis, said that over 70 per cent of its players reside in Glen Eira and that having junior and senior teams at the same ground would really help. Currently the juniors play at Caulfield and the seniors play at Albert Park. It would completely change the landscape of community footy if they were able to play locally at the racecourse. Recently AJAX established the Jackettes, a women’s team. It would be great to get increased women’s sport. This could be a really good opportunity to do that at Caulfield Racecourse.

Monash University has cricket and football clubs and a lot of sporting activities. It is right next door to Caulfield Racecourse. Its student club has said on numerous occasions that they would like to be able to play sport there. Elsternwick Amateur Footy Club life member Richard Patey said that they struggle for grounds and could expand if they had access to Caulfield Racecourse. The Caulfield Bears Football and Netball Club play at Princes Park. Louise Nelson, the president of the Caulfield Bears Junior Football Club, who is the first female to take on the role since the club was founded in 1961, has a growing and expanding club that could absolutely do with more space. In 2017 they fielded their first-ever girls team. Again, with more participation of women in football, there is a need more than ever for sporting grounds. It would be great for the Caulfield Racecourse Reserve to be able to house these teams.

Then there is the Ormond Amateur Football Club and the Ormond Cricket Club. The Ormond Amateur Football Club is the second-oldest suburban club in the Victorian Amateur Football Association. It was founded in 1931. Players wear the unique brown and blue colours, which were derived back in the war days when one of the reserve units wore them. It has a great history. The club has seniors, reserves and thirds, an under-19s team and a women’s team, which was introduced in 2017. It is great to see all these clubs introducing women’s teams. Again, that means there is more requirement for access to grounds, and there is no better place than at the Caulfield Racecourse Reserve. The Ormond Amateur Football Club has been very successful. Richard Simon has been its president since 2014 and he would be very keen to see the racecourse opened up for use.

Glen Eira College, which is a next-door neighbour of the racecourse, struggles. They currently have to limit their recreational activities. It is great to see they have a new campus across the road, thanks to a building contribution, but again that takes away more of their open space. They are desperate for open space. Caulfield Racecourse Reserve could help Glen Eira College. I have had numerous discussions with principal Sheereen Kindler on how we could use the racecourse.

I will just mention a couple of others. Maccabi Basketball Club, the Ormond Jets, the Melbourne Tigers, the Saints and McKinnon Basketball Association all say there is a shortage of basketball facilities in the area. A lot of those clubs have to play a long way out. That certainly is something that could be looked at as well.

There is no shortage of people lining up to say they want to play sport in the middle of the racecourse. It needs to be a destination venue. It needs to be used for fixture sport, because that is what people will turn up for. It could be shared beautifully with racing. It would enhance racing, because it would bring families to the racetrack. It is a great opportunity to do this. It is just the beginning. That is why we are supporting this. We as an opposition will do everything we can to work with the government and with whoever wants to work with us to ensure this vital piece of land is opened up to the public and to the community.

As I say, this is the single biggest issue for me locally. I do not take this lightly. I certainly will not be playing politics with it. I just want to see it opened up. I want kids to be able to play there, I want families to be able to go there and I also want it to enhance racing, which is a vital industry for Victoria. I think all could live harmoniously together if we get this right and ensure that we do the very best we can to open up this space.