THE ‘Pot Plant Police’ – yes, you’re on candid camera – have struck again at Queensland Racing but this time it would seem for all the right reasons.

The victim was jockey Bobby El-Issa, who is the subject of an on-going inquiry over behavior allegedly captured by a ‘Pot Plant’ surveillance camera in the foyer at QR.

El-Issa, labeled by the local media as the ‘bad boy of Queensland Racing’, has worn a path to the inquiry room in recent months but as this case is yet to be finalized I don’t want to pre-empt an outcome by commenting any further on it.

My concerns – and that of many others – of what has occurred in the past and what might seem to be happening now at QR have been raised with relatively new Director of Integrity Operations, Jamie Orchard, who told me in an e-mail:

‘It is clear from your comments that you feel strongly about the Integrity Department, based on your previous dealings with that department.  However, I hope that you will bear in mind that the department, under my and the Chief Steward’s (Wade Birch) leadership, is markedly different from that of the past.

‘We have developed a professional approach to integrity which includes a fairer disciplinary system for those charged with more serious offences (relying upon independent, retired Magistrates), more efficient and transparent procedures and protocols and a much more co-operative approach with members of the industry (based on the understanding that the vast majority of participants will act in accordance with the Rules if they understand those Rules and how to comply with them).

‘Of course, in light of our regulatory role, not everyone will always agree with our actions but nonetheless, we can satisfy ourselves that decisions are made on a proper basis and in accordance with a formal decision making process.’

I accept and appreciate the frankness of Mr Orchard but felt it was timely to talk about the origins of the ‘Pot Plant Police’ and the ethics or otherwise of the actions of officials and others to spy on racing personnel, which in Queensland dates back many decades.

It goes back to a time when the telephones in the press box at a major racetrack were allegedly bugged. There were suggestions members of the racing media were being used to transmit prices and betting activity from an underworld figure in Sydney.

Then there was the occasion when a high profile Queensland chief steward fronted a prominent racing media man over alleged controversial and defamatory comments he had made then taped him without his knowledge.

This led to claims that QR officials were told to enter the office of the chief steward, to take the tape and have it recorded, before returning the same to his desk without the steward’s knowledge. These officials subsequently claimed that they did this under extreme duress.

We also had the revelation on National TV by a former QR chief executive, who was controversially dumped many years ago, that he had secretly taped the QR chairman talking about plans to get rid of the same Chief Steward.

There are other stories of alleged video footage taken interstate of a racing official lying drunk under a tree being shown to him when he took up a high profile position in Queensland many years later.

Another interesting ‘spying’ story that comes to mind was that of a minder to a Racing Minister who was thought to be having an affair with a Government racing appointee’s wife. Political enemies allegedly engaged a private eye who photographed the couple coming out of a motel and sent the damaging evidence to the husband. The Racing Minister had to intervene swiftly when the angry hubby arrived at a local watering hole threatening to kill his minder.

The ‘Pot Plant Camera’ was secretly introduced during a controversial era in Queensland when racing was driven by an extremely unpopular department, which was largely blamed for careers being derailed and destroyed, lives being changed and some good people being psychologically and emotionally scarred forever.

Before anyone starts ‘lawyering-up’, I am not suggesting for one minute that anything dishonest occurred during this time at QR but morally some of the actions taken were arguably quite despicable.

The best way of describing the ill-feeling that still exists toward that regime was succinctly put by the father of a victim who I spoke with recently. He had tears streaming down his face when he told me:

“I just hope that I live long enough to piss on their graves. My son is still emotionally scarred from what was done to him in those terrible days at Queensland Racing. He is a changed person who will never properly recover. Some of those who caused him so much suffering were shown the door but others unfortunately were not.”

Someone close to me and this web-site was also a victim of that fateful era when racing in the north reached joke status interstate. It has prompted him to start writing a book entitled: ‘A Ring-In Called Integrity.’

That work in progress has to weave a path through a legal minefield because unfortunately under Australian laws one could argue that the ‘greater the truth, the greater the libel.’

But he made a promise to the person he loved the most in this world before she died – still wondering what his departure from QR was all about – that he would expose the truth no matter how long it takes.

Back to the origins of the ‘Pot Plant’ surveillance camera on the counter in the foyer at QR headquarters at Deagon. An investigative journalist, who spent months delving into the behind-the-scenes activity at QR, was told by a public servant who worked ‘under-cover’ at QR, that the camera was secretly installed to trap an employee who was allegedly ‘sexually harassing’ a receptionist.

The only problem with that version of events is that he had resigned from QR well before it was even installed. More accurately it was installed to trap a prominent trainer who the same receptionist this time claimed was one of several licensees from Deagon who were ‘harassing her.’

‘A Ring-In Called Integrity’ will chronicle the ‘real story’ behind the departure of a key QR staff member – not the one that did the rounds with politicians, racing personnel and the like. This will at least contain his version of events, which were never revealed because he and his lawyer understood there was no need as he had decided to leave.

It will cover the alleged reasons why certain people wanted him out of QR, the need to discredit him, those responsible for having him ‘done over’ under Parliamentary Privilege and why many believed he had not fronted the Racing Inquiry when in actual fact he was questioned and gave lengthy evidence in-camera.

The book will detail a secret meeting he was asked to attend with another Racing Minister and a leading Public Service figure when two new appointments to the QR Board were discussed and eventuated.

A controversial chapter in the book ‘A Ring-In Called Integrity’ will be devoted to alleged incidents of spying on stewards that were witnessed by the author.

He will tell of being asked to write a speech for a former Racing Minister (who wound up in more trouble than a Werribee duck) designed to destroy (under Parliamentary privilege) the career of a high profile steward. He refused to do so and went as far as convincing the powers-that-be that their information was based on too much scuttlebutt and hearsay.

The book will also tell the story of a highly respected senior steward, who has gone on to bigger and better things, and how he was allegedly followed when he went to lunch one day because there were stories doing the rounds that he was having an affair with a fellow QR worker. They found nothing.

The author will tell of how he fell out with a section of QR hierarchy because he questioned their continued stance on a number of controversial issues and how it became near on impossible for him to do his job effectively.

He witnessed a time when staff mail was being opened before they received it, even when ‘personal’ was written on the envelope. He recalls mobile telephone records being checked to determine who was talking to whom and of secret raids on e-mails.

He tells of receiving sexually explicit internal e-mails doing the rounds, most sent by a couple of female staff members. One that he received was of a centerfold model in her birthday suit with a small keg of beer on her shoulder and contained the message: ‘This is what you could expect if you came home to me at night.’

In the book he writes of trying to edit an official racing magazine with editorial independence virtually non-existent and being over-ruled when protesting about the changing of information in columns and stories without consulting the authors because they worked for QR.

He will ask readers: How do you explain and convince a much-liked and respected chief steward who asks if the rumors are right that he is about to be sacked that you simply don’t know, have been left out of the loop and that you didn’t write the media release about his subsequent departure?

How do you convince that same steward that you weren’t responsible for what was said by some dickhead presenter on racing radio who claimed YOU had instructed that same media release be read out before he was given the chance in an interview to tell his side of the story? All you were doing was acting on instructions.

How do you explain to the person you admired most in her dying days that some good came out of your controversial departure from QR when she sits and listens to television news that condemns you courtesy of Parliamentary Privilege misused by politicians who grew up in a Party that arguably provided the most corrupt Government the country has ever seen?

In the words of the author, you look for a positive. Had he not parted company with QR when he did he would not have been able to care for her that final year when she suffered so much and understood so little.

Perhaps it was for the best that she didn’t understand after all!


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