The Racing NSW chief executive, Peter V’Landys, has accused politicians of spreading “outright lies” and “mainly wrong diatribes” during the parliamentary debate that ultimately resulted in the loss of his chairman.
One of the most powerful men in Australian sport, V’Landys is overseen by the Racing NSW board. He has held the position of chief executive for nearly 20 years, 12 of those with Russell Balding as chair.
The Minns government was forced to scrap its plans to extend Balding’s term for an unprecedented third time in the early hours of Friday after the Coalition and crossbench teamed up to try to strengthen oversight of the body.
Balding’s tenure was extended under the Coalition government, with Labor’s support, from eight to 10 years in 2019 and then again to 12 years in 2021. Treasury this year recommended a limit of two three-year terms for directors of state-owned firms.
With the government left scrambling to install an interim chair before Balding’s term expires in mid-December, V’Landys said he was disappointed by the outcome.
He attended NSW parliament on Thursday to meet Coalition MPs. He reportedly tried to persuade them not to amend the government’s legislation to give parliament more oversight of Racing NSW.
V’Landys on Friday would not disclose details of his discussion with the Coalition but he said he welcomed the opportunity to appear before parliament.
“It gives us the opportunity to correct the much misinformation and outright lies that have been said about Racing NSW during parliamentary debate,” he said.
“The diatribes were opportunistic and biased but mainly wrong without any due process or natural justice to Racing NSW.”
The government withdrew the legislation to allow Balding’s extension after a chaotic late-night debate in which the Coalition and crossbench proposed amendments that would have strengthened oversight of the industry.
The premier, Chris Minns, accused the Coalition of trying to add a “poison pill” to kill the legislation “without going on the record against the extension”.
He defended V’Landys meeting with MPs, saying he had been invited to parliament and “surely it should be encouraged” that he explained to them “what the legislation means”.
Minns said the government had wanted to extend Balding’s term because Racing NSW was dealing with “so many complex negotiations” and “that kind of experience was necessary in the circumstances”.
A senior racing industry source, who asked not to be named so they could speak freely about the situation, disputed Minns’ comments.
“It’s all bullshit, really,” they said.
“You’ve got a CEO who’s been there 20 years. You look at other lengths of time the directors have been there. There’s no lack of experience. There are always challenges to deal with.”
The Minns government announced it would seek a third extension of Balding’s tenure just over two weeks ago, with the racing minister, David Harris, insisting it was needed to ensure “continuity of corporate knowledge”.
Harris said the board had shown a “particular skill in guiding the industry through the very challenging Covid period” and wanted it to focus on “negotiating a pathway to continued financial sustainability through emerging economic headwinds”.
But the Coalition and members of the crossbench voted overnight on several amendments to the bill that would have strengthened oversight, including subjecting it to scrutiny from the parliament and oversight from the auditor general.
The government then withdrew the bill entirely before parliament rose for the year shortly before 2am.
The opposition leader, Mark Speakman, said Racing NSW had been “successfully administering the state’s racing industry” but there needed to be “proper scrutiny”.
“The government has mismanaged this process from the start,” Speakman said.
“Despite knowing for months that it needed to deal with the succession of the Racing NSW chairman, it chose to introduce legislation at the last minute to try and force it through at five minutes to midnight.”
Harris claimed there had been an “orchestrated campaign” to stop Balding’s reappointment, saying the amendments moved late on Thursday night were “untested and risked the future viability” of racing.
“They did so knowing the government could not agree and force the legislation to be abandoned, ending the attempt to extend Mr Balding’s term,” Harris said.
The independent MP Alex Greenwich said he was glad the view of most of the crossbench prevailed, “albeit in a messy way”.
“The legislation smelled bad from the start,” he said.
His fellow crossbencher Joe McGirr said the outcome was a “second best option” aside from legislating a stronger recruitment process for appointing Balding’s successor.
The Greens MP Abigail Boyd, who was fiercely opposed to extending Balding’s term, said the matter had been “a debacle for the government”.