Jenny - Clean

IT comes as no surprise that some of his industry critics are trying to capitalize on the storm in a wine glass that has engulfed Queensland Shadow Racing Minister Ray Stevens for daring to have a few too many birthday drinks with a Parliamentary colleague.

Stevens has become a real thorn in the side of Queensland Racing in recent times but it was disturbing to learn that those who allegedly dropped a bucketful on him with the media were from within the ranks of the LNP, apparently encouraged by a great supporter of Bob the Builder.

It was a good example of that old saying: 'The truth when told with ill-intent is worse than all the lies you can invent.'

Surely some of these old ‘goat riders’ and refugees from One Nation aren’t that desperate to maintain a high political profile that they are prepared to cannibalize members of their own party – as Ray Stevens so eloquently described it – or worse still allow themselves to be used by the  ‘Neville Nobodies’ of the racing world.

Then again some grew up idolizing leaders of what has been declared the most corrupt Government that Australia has ever seen and reports suggest are still subservient to party political donors from way back when.

Makes you wonder what hope the Liberals have of winning Government in Queensland – no matter how badly the unions feel about Go-Anna’s sell off of assets – when they have to bed down with some of these cretins from the National Party.

It prompted me to write this column focusing on a well-worn adage that ‘people living in glass houses should be the last to throw stones.’

Let’s take a walk down racing’s memory lane and remember a few events and incidents involving prominent politicians and racing officials who over the years had one too many.

Perhaps the most memorable performance was that of former Governor-General, the late Sir John Kerr, when he turned up drunk as a skunk in the mounting yard at Flemington to present the 1977 Melbourne Cup.

Then there was the former high profile Queensland politician who had one too many before a race presentation and tried to run down a greasy pig that had been released by a couple of scallywag punters in the enclosure at Eagle Farm.

On another occasion a portly Racing Minister in Queensland had to be carried to his limo by the driver and some high profile racing officials when he became so drunk in the directors’ room at a major track that he fell over and couldn’t get up off the floor.

Who could forget the launch of a major harness racing carnival when the Racing Minister was so drunk that he relieved himself into what he thought was a rubbish bin in a cubicle behind the committee bar only to be caught in the act by hostesses who were using the bin as a receptacle for entry forms in a race-book competition?

Then there was the inebriated and unforgettable Queensland Racing Minister who pinned a prominent official visiting from Perth up against a wall in the Doomben directors’ room after a feature race day and in full view of official guests proceeded to disrobe him. The gentleman was in line for a high profile job in the deep north but was never sighted there again.

One of the stories that lost nothing in the telling over the years involves a former race club chairman and a high profile politician during a Gold Coast Magic Millions carnival. At the end of a long and hard day’s drinking at an official race function one whizzed the other off and the X Rated version of what apparently eventuated has mission accomplished in a stabling area at the sales complex.

On another occasion there was the Queensland Racing Minister who turned up so drunk on Cup Day that he started abusing guests in the directors’ room at a major near Brisbane TAB venue forcing embarrassed officials to have him escorted from the track.

Many years ago a prominent doctor was a race club chairman at a major country venue in northern Queensland. It was in the days of the Government Medical Officer being required to examine suspected drink-drivers before they were charged. The good doctor used to enjoy a Scotch or three or four at the races.

Late one race day the police called on him to declare a motorist under the influence. In court the driver recalled his examination. ‘The doctor told me to touch my nose with my finger. I said, ‘you do it’ and he missed. He then told me to walk along a dotted line. I said, ‘you do it,’ and he couldn’t.’ He drove off after declaring me drunk and here I am facing a charge.’

Then there is the joke that still does the rounds about a prominent racing official. The question would be posed: ‘Why does the Governor arrive at the races so early?’ It prompts the answer: ‘Because XXXX would be too pissed to walk out and greet him if it was any later.’

In more recent years there was the guy sent from Sydney to represent Sky Channel at a special function for corporate sponsors in a private box at a Doomben race day. He had no authority but ordered the best bottles of wine and proceeded to get nicely pissed. He abused a female security guard who was forced to call in reinforcements to have him removed from the premises as darkness descended on the track.

Then there was the prominent official full of drink as usual – now being groomed for bigger things – who was the star of the show at a racing Christmas Party. If you ever wondered why that rude bitch at a major racing centre has survived for so long, it might have something to do with what happened in the pool that night.

And one final story – there are so many I could go on forever – recalls a close friend of the Racing Minister of the day and a very high profile racing official who got thrown off a bus by a group of licensees and media men.

The gentleman was the host of a trip from Brisbane to the Gold Coast for a big day out where after falling down the steps of a private club at Southport he made a mongrel of himself on the bus home. Fellow travelers told the driver to stop and in the middle of nowhere ordered their host to disembark. He finally turned up at home two days later with his better half rather frantic over his disappearance. No-one ever did find out how he survived.

There is only one more powerful ‘P’ word than ‘Piss’ when it comes to out-of-character behavior and embarrassing situations. It could well feature in that best-seller, ‘The Power of the Pouch,’ if Tiger Woods ever decides to put pen to paper.

History suggests that some of the better performances of past Racing Ministers in Queensland make Ray Stevens resemble a babe in the wood for partaking in his ‘red wine birthday bash.’

One would hope that the LNP colleague who leaked the story to the media wasn’t seeking some early retribution for being told by a couple of leading Liberals to do the party a favor and stay in the background in the lead-up to the next election.

This isn’t the first time that controversy has ridden shot-gun with Ray Stevens nor, one suspects, will it be the last. A couple of years back during a regional sitting of Parliament in Cairns a waiter had to chase a couple of MPs down the street after they apparently walked out of a restaurant and forgot to pay part of the bill.

The story goes there was a dispute between Stevens and fellow MP, Ray Hopper, over how to split the bill. Hopper is that refugee from One Nation who has been described by many in racing as the most forgettable Shadow Racing Minister that Queensland has ever seen.

Hopper and a few of his National Party mates misused Parliamentary Privilege to attack the credibility of several racing identities who they obviously assumed were too weak to fight back. They wouldn’t have dared repeat what they said outside the house but as the owner-operator of this web-site always tells me: ‘Every dog has his day.’

At least if the LNP win Government and Stevens becomes Racing Minister the portfolio that began with the Liberals will be back where it belongs. Unlike some of the hacks the Opposition has thrown up as Shadow Ministers before, he knows racing, has a passion for the city and the bush and is ready to tackle Bob Bentley head-on.

Political responsibility for racing started out with the Liberals and Sir Gordon Chalk when it came under the Treasury banner. It then went to Sir Llew Edwards who had a turbulent time as Racing Minister in the eighties.

Sir Llew was an honest and hard-working Minister who came under intense pressure from within because of his support for the action of a hard-hitting stewards’ chairman in one of the minor codes who unfortunately took on licensees with strong political ties to the Government.

It allegedly saw a threat to withdraw hefty party political backing averted through an agreement whereby the Nationals took control of the Racing portfolio and the late Russell Hinze became Minister for Racing and just about everything else.

The thoroughbred and harness racing industries – in particular – welcomed the appointment of big Russ who threw hundreds of millions of dollars into complexes that nowadays lie idle throughout the State or are falling down in major centres and needing costly repairs or replacement (like Albion Park).

Hinze ruled with an iron fist and there were several occasions when he was accused of interference when his private harness racing trainer was in bother with stewards. One occasion involved an assault allegation. (His trainer is said to have belted a fellow stable driver who beat him home in a race at the Gold Coast).

One could hardly blame the stewards for feeling a little intimidated. They had seen what had happened to a constable who pulled Hinze (then Police Minister) and his driver over for a traffic infringement. The ‘big fella’ pulled out a map of outback Queensland and apparently asked the ‘copper’ – ‘Where would you like to see out your career?’

‘Big Russ’ – for all his failings – will be remembered as the Minister who changed the face of racing in Queensland. But there are those, yours truly included, who continue to ask the question: ‘At what cost?’

One of the greatest liabilities of the Hinze era that Bob Gibbs inherited when he took over as Minister for Racing was the huge debt – hundreds of millions borrowed off-shore at absorbitant interest rates to finance the spending spree for which Russ is still so fondly remembered.

The decision by Hinze to close down the famous sand track, the Creek at Albion Park, was a controversial one at the time but could be regarded as even more disastrous in this new era of night racing. Imagine that complex redeveloped (with a grass or synthetic surface) and what a popular attraction that venue would be today for gallops under lights.

Instead in Queensland more meetings are being run on Cushion Tracks which are despised by punters and many trainers and jockeys. They throw up upset results too often and races run on these surfaces do not attract anywhere near the same turnover as the grass tracks.

As racing in the north moves closer to control of the three codes by an integrated board there is talk of the administration section of harness racing moving from Albion Park to Deagon. That comes at a time when many in the industry were hoping that Deagon would be sold as prime real estate and the thoroughbred headquarters moved to Hendra.

But that would not sit well with those who benefited so greatly from real estate interests in the area when Deagon was redeveloped as a training venue. A friend who has undertaken a search of property ownership in the area says the land holdings of some prominent racing people is quite amazing. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have friends in high places.

But back to the topic of the column and whether Ray Stevens would make a good Racing Minister if the LNP manage not to shoot themselves in the foot – yet again – before the next election.

A group of long-time racing friends, with a specific axe to grind against Queensland Racing, live for the day that Builder Bob and his Boys are shown the door. Therein lies the reason that some of his supporters seem to be prepared to shift heaven and earth to discredit Ray Stevens. All of a sudden they see him as a major threat.

Apparently that even means calling in favors from old friends within the National Party who need to start showing a bit more loyalty for their Coalition partner if they hope to ever win back Government.

It’s another reason why many believe that the LNP needs to convince Laurence the three-time election loser as leader of the party that as a politician he makes a fine grower of big pumpkins. And for those of you who think the secret of his success in that field is goat manure – you’re wrong. It’s sheep droppings that do the trick!



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