Riverina MP, Deputy PM Michael McCormack helps keep racing industry on track

Riverina MP and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack has been a strong supporter of continuing racing throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: file
Riverina MP and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack has been a strong supporter of continuing racing throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: file

Riverina MP and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack is pleased to see racing continue with "minimal disruption" through the COVID-19 pandemic.

McCormack strongly backed the industry when the matter was put to state and federal leaders in national cabinet, and he convinced his colleagues that the sport could continue.

While crowds have been kept away, and many hospitality staff impacted, McCormack is pleased to see thoroughbreds, pacers and dogs continue racing, and many thousands of people remain in jobs.

He outlined the main reasons to why he backed the industry.

"Horse racing is different to other sports in as much as the rules of racing forbid any close contact mid-race. It's not like football where close contact actually is the order of the day. With horse racing it's different. The jockeys, the drivers as in trots, aren't allowed to come in contact with each other during the event," he said.

"Not only that, but it employs more than 70,000 people, more than half whom are in regional Australia.

"I was also worried about what was going to happen to the horses, the paces and thoroughbreds, as well as the dogs, of course, should racing be shutdown. Then trainers, owners, there's no money circulating what was actually going to happen to all those animals? It would have become an animal welfare issue.

"You also get people that do like to have a bet. A lot of Australians like to have a bet. Where were they going to then place their betting money? Were they going to be betting on overseas wrestling or some sort of internet gambling sites that are a little bit dodgy? That concerned me.

"So given the number of jobs, particularly in regional Australia, given the fact I thought the sport could continue and also the animal welfare issue I fought hard in our federal cabinet situation when the matter was raised. And when it was going to go national cabinet I fought hard to ensure people did know all those issues were important. And the fact the actual sport of racing could, I thought, develop protocols to continue."

McCormack reached out to close friend and Racing Australia chairman Greg Nichols, a former secretary of Murrumbidgee Turf Club, and Racing NSW chief executive Peter V'Landys.

They were told to come up with a plan to keep racing on track, and they've managed to do it.

"[they were contacted] to ensure that they put the right processes and protocols in, to ensure that there wasn't any slip up, that there wasn't, if they were given the opportunity, any digression from where they needed to be," Mr McCormack said.

"They've done really well, the Sydney autumn racing carnival went ahead, it was successful, the Wagga Gold Cup was won and run the other day and largely the sport has been able to continue, albeit without crowds. But that's one of the sacrifices that of course the sport of racing like every other sport had to endure, we can't have mass gatherings. But the fact is there's no animal welfare issue, trainers are still getting paid, owners are still given the opportunity to watch it on SkyRacing and listen to it on the radio and be able to bet."

Racing in this region has continued with regularly meetings in Bathurst, Dubbo, Wagga and Goulburn.

"A lot of people have thanked me," Mr McCormack said.

"A lot of people have actually come up to me and said 'I believe you're the one who kept racing going, thank you so much'. I'm a bit of a racing aficionado, I do like my racing, I don't bet on it, but I do like the racing. I thought given so many people are involved in racing, a lot of people wouldn't understand it's almost our fifth biggest industry, it's a massive industry. Yes, I appreciate the hospitality side of it has gone by the way side, I get that, but it will resume. The fact that they were able to continue racing through COVID-19 with minimal disruption has been very good."