Racing Minister Leon Bignell’s increasingly vocal opposition to jumps racing in SA is fast pushing the controversial issue to a head.
Earlier this year he hit out at racing’s governing body, Thoroughbred Racing SA, over its decision to force the SA Jockey Club to host jumps races at its Morphettville track when it had requested the sport be dropped from the metropolitan racecourse.
He called for jumps racing to be phased out, as it has in every other Australian State except Victoria.
Over the weekend Mr Bignell was at it again – urging consideration of a ban on the sport at the same time that thousands were gathering at Oakbank, jumps racing’s biggest event of the year in SA.
His comments have understandably infuriated the head of the Oakbank Racing Club, John Glatz, who wants to know exactly where the Government stands on this issue.
Mr Bignell told a weekend press conference that he is unsure whether the Labor Government would support Greens MLC Tammy Franks’ Bill to put an end to jumps racing in SA.
It is also unclear how the rest of the State Labor caucus feels about the issue.
Parliamentary Speaker Michael Atkinson attended this year’s Easter races and was a vocal opponent of the Greens Bill on Twitter over the weekend.
Just two races out of a program of eight at each day’s Oakbank meetings are jumps races.
Oakbank draws more than 60,000 visitors to the Hills over two days annually, making it a huge tourism boon for the region – surely a good thing under Mr Bignell’s other hat as Tourism Minister.
What is unclear is how many of those visitors come for the jumps racing and how many would return if those races were deleted from the program.
Every year there is debate about the merit or otherwise of retaining jumps races and, with a horse 19 times more likely to die in a jumps race than on the flat, it is undoubtedly a risky sport.
Unlike most commentators and lobbyists, Mr Bignell is in a position to change things in the racing industry if he doesn’t like them.
If he is so opposed to the sport, then perhaps it is time for him to lead the charge towards that change.
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