PUBLIC parkland at the centre of the Caulfield Racecourse has been seriously mismanaged, a scathing Victorian Auditor-General report has found.
Auditor-General John Doyle’s scathing report, tabled in Parliament this morning, has found there was poor access to the public land, “significant’’ deficiencies in governance by the board of trustees, conflicts of interest among trustees that have not been managed well and more.
Mr Doyle said the 54-hectare site had been governed by 15 trustees whose decisions have “disproportionately favoured racing interests with insufficient attention paid to fulfilling the community-related purposes of the reserve’’.
The report says public space is not easily accessible, entry points and signage are inadequate, and although the reserve has recently been upgraded, it doesn’t address the community need for better recreational facilities within Glen Eira.
The report also calls for community consultation on what should be done with the reserve.
With a severe shortage of open space and sports grounds in Glen Eira, the council wants sports grounds developed on the reserve, which has a lake, grassed area, walking track and barbecue facilities.
“ … it is not clear that the needs of the community have been appropriately balanced against the needs of racing.’’ — Auditor-General John Doyle
The council has also argued the $80,000 annual rent the Trust charges the MRC is well under the independently valued rate of about $1 million.
Six trustees represent government, six represent the Melbourne Racing Club and three represent Glen Eira Council.
“There is no doubt that the reserve is a significant public asset and one of Australia’s premier racing tracks, hosting high-profile races such as the Caulfield Cup and bringing in significant revenue for the state. However, it is not clear that the needs of the community have been appropriately balanced against the needs of racing’’, Mr Doyle found.
Trust chairman Greg Sword welcomed the report, vowed to implement the recommendations, accepted criticism of conflict of interests historically and currently not managed well and said the Trust now had a blueprint for crucial improvements.“The VAGO points to significant conflict of interest and it is difficult,’’ he said.
“This provides the Trust, whether restructured or not, with a great blueprint for the way in which it should act in the future.’’
The DEPI has also accepted all recommendations relating to its role.
The news has drawn a quick response from Glen Eira councillor and former Trust chairman Jim Magee, who has for years lobbied for change to the way the reserve is managed.
“It’s absolutely scathing,’’ he said.
“It validates everything that we’ve said in the past. We now have to look to the Premier and the Opposition leader to implement all the recommendations.’’
It contains 15 recommendations to address those issues needing “immediate attention’’ and for the future management of the reserve.Five apply directly to the trustees of the Caulfield Racecourse Reserve, six to the Department of Environment and Primary Industries which oversees the performance of Crown land managers and four require joint action by the trustees and the department.
The VAGO says unless the issues can be addressed, alternative management arrangements over the reserve should be considered.
Mr Doyle says the Trust should be given the chance to introduce contemporary governance standards but if it fails or trustees cannot agree then other arrangements, such as a committee of management or a new trust under its own legislation, must be considered.
The Premier’s office has been approached for comment.