Harness Racing and Politicians
By historical accident racing has had a virtual monopoly on wagering in most states, until the relatively recent introduction of gaming machines and casinos. The nature of that monopoly has not been based on any form of competitive advantage, it has been a regulatory monopoly. Favourable regulatory treatment has played an important part in making racing what it is today.
The treatment that racing benefited from put it in a dominant position in the wagering industry and meant that it was able to achieve monopoly profits. Just how much racing has benefited is hard to estimate, but it is very substantial.
Where would racing be if it had been on the same footing as other sports that have not profited from wagering as racing has? The fact that there are tracks in most medium sized towns in the country and that the industry employs thousands of people for example, has a lot to do with regulation.
The very basis of the industry and what it has become can be traced back to its forming legislation. This means that legislators and their understanding and attitudes towards racing are extremely important to the industry.
The treatment the industry has received is doubled edged. Along with the benefits, racing has to deal with draw backs that arise from a lack of flexibility and control. This can be frustrating and difficult at times for industry administrators.
The generally accepted theory at present is that political control is prone to inefficiency and poor decision making. Many Governments around the world are getting out of the business of business and letting others in a better position make the decisions. It could be argued that this should happen in areas in the racing industry, particularly as the industry is faced with increasing competition.
The industry has to recognise however that it still has many powers and privileges bestowed on it by State Parliaments through legislation. This places particular responsibility on Politicians, and Ministers in particular. With responsibility they require some form of control.
At times the industry may see some of the treatment it has achieved as a right. When dealing with Politicians it could be more constructive to view it as a privilege that Politicians have seen fit to grant to the industry.
This highlights the Number One Rule when dealing with Politicians, try and look issues from their point of view.
Politicians deal with countless letters, meetings, briefing papers, questions and phone calls. For some, these will quite literally number in the thousands every month. Many of these approaches will be from people who want something and believe that they have the most important and most deserving case possible.
This means that it is easy for Politicians to become cynical when they are approached, i.e. what do they want now?
It also means that many of the requests they receive will be declined because they simply have not got the inclination, time or ability to give the person what they want. It is possible however to increase your chances of being heard by a sympathetic ear.
3. RACING AND POLITICIANS
The bad news is that Racing probably will not rank as the number one priority for Politicians. Elections are not fought and won on racing issues. Issues like the economy, employment, education and health will take precedence. Even the Minister for Racing may have another portfolio that is ranked above Racing.
The good news is that despite not being number one, there are a number of things that can improve Harness Racings chances of success when dealing with Politicians.
Again the key is to turn things around and look at issues from the politicians point of view. If you frame things in a way that appeals to them, they are more likely to listen. Identify the things that are important to them and then use those to highlight the merits of your case.
4. WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO POLITICIANS
As elected officials, Politicians have a duty to serve the best interests of the public. Therefore they want to make decisions that will improve the economic and social interests of their constituency.
MPs are likely to focus on their electorate as their constituency. They will also sit on various parliamentary committees, but their primary focus will be on their electorate. The more junior the MP, the more they tend to focus on the people who put them there. As they get more experience their focus can be broadened by increased responsibility as they aim for senior positions.
Where an MP is in their parties pecking order makes a big difference to their level of influence and how they view issues.
A Ministers constituency will mean the whole States in relation to their particular portfolios (in this case the Ministers for Racing). They have more specific responsibility to ensure that the developments and news within their portfolio are positive. They have the decision making powers that go along with this responsibility.
Opposition MPs, as well as having an electorate, may have shadow cabinet responsibilities, so like Ministers they too will have a different focus.
The theory of the Westminster Parliamentary system is that the Opposition should highlight faults in Government decisions and offer alternatives. In reality they tend to concentrate on making the Government look bad rather than offering useful alternatives. Do not forget that todays Opposition Spokesperson is tomorrows Minister.
Not only do Politicians want to serve the public and do the right thing, the nature of democracy is that they want to be seen doing it. They put a lot of time and effort into trying to portray a good image of themselves.
This is important as it is helpful when it comes to re-election. Many Politicians thrive on recognition, which is one of the reasons they tend to enter politics. Therefore, the more positive profile the better.
In summary, the broad areas that really interest Politicians are economic, social and their profile. So how does racing take the things that are important to Politicians and use them to its own advantage?
Harness Racing is a significant industry in some States and all Politicians should realise that. It is up to the industry to make sure that they realise that. Basic facts and figures on the contribution of Harness Racing in each State would be valuable. A detailed economic impact study is even better.
Many rural MPs will have a track in their electorate. They in particular should know the part that the industry plays in their electorate. Harness Racing is fortunate that it has such a broad support base. Being so widespread means that it can gain influence with many MPs which can help when numbers become important.
If an MP realises that Harness Racing is an important part of their electorate they can become an ardent and vocal supporter of the industry and even protective of their local Club.
Racing and gaming are very important sources of revenue for the State Governments. Tax revenue is an important consideration when Politicians make decisions about racing. The industry should reinforce this importance and keep it in mind when they are dealing with Ministers in particular.
Politicians like to have socially cohesive electorates. The local Harness Racing Club can be a significant institution in a communitys social scene. MPs should know the part that the Club or Clubs in their electorate can play in the social make up of their communities. If they do, they are far more likely to view the industry and the Club in positive terms.
Harness Racing attracts crowds and most Politicians appreciate crowds. The opportunity to be seen by the community and to be seen as part of one of the communitys traditional institutions can be good for an MPs profile. This can be a strong pull factor for some Politicians. All Clubs should keep this in mind and foster the relation with their local MPs.
5. GETTING THE MESSAGE ACROSS
The industry has to make sure that Politicians realise all these factors.
a) Invite to Events
A good way for Politicians to get an idea of the scope and scale of the industry and the contribution that it makes is to visit industry events. Race meetings are the most obvious examples. Invite the local MP or the Minister to present a trophy at a significant meeting, it gives them a chance to be seen and say a few words.
Think about other events that will give Politicians information about the size and scope of the industry. Utilise all possibilities and opportunities. For example try getting the Minister of Primary Industry/Agriculture to a major sales, they may not know just how significant and valuable breeding may be in their State.
b) Good News
If the industry has some significant good news try and make as many Politicians as possible know about it. For example put them on news releases fax lists, send them Annual Reports, etc. Remember that a letter or fax sent cold to MPs may not be read, so keep in mind different forms of contact.
c) Important Issues
If it is the type of issue where it is appropriate to approach MPs, key people in as many electorates as possible should be identified to approach them. Work should be done to put together information for those key people so they can put the industrys case well. Apart from key people, the more visits to MPs from industry people the better.
In some cases one key representative from the industry should try and visit as many MPs as possible. It is important to think carefully who is chosen to do the visits. For example they should be intelligent and articulate, know the argument inside-out and understand the political processes involved.
d) Electorate Meetings
MPs may hold periodic meetings in their electorates with their constituents. This is an opportunity for people in the industry to talk one to one their MP. It can be a good way of getting your point of view across or just help the MP understand more about the industry.
e) Utilise People with Connections
People who already know Politicians can be very effective of putting a point of view. Getting your foot in the door can be the hardest step. If the person is known and trusted their point of view will at least get a good hearing. In some cases a social chat can be quite influential.
f) Involvement in Good News
Good news is what Politicians strive for. It makes them look like they are doing their job well and it can raise their profile. The industry should look at ways of including Politicians in any good news.
If any good news can be attributed, no matter how indirectly, to Politicians or something they have done, tell them about it and thank them. Try and tell as many people as possible about how helpful or even instrumental Politicians have been in any achievement. This is the very essence of what Politicians are trying to achieve and they will look favourably on anyone who helps them.
Involving the Premier, Minister and other Politicians in your announcements can also help you get coverage from the media.
6. SPECIFICS WHEN CONTACTING
Firstly, when making any form of contact be as concise as possible while still getting your point across. Because they deal with so many different subjects, Politicians often do not have the time deal with issues in-depth.
Make any contact clear and simple. Politicians usually do not have a detailed knowledge of the subjects they deal with, this includes Harness Racing. Many will not differentiate between the sectors of the industry, "racing" will be Galloping, Harness, Greyhounds, and the TAB. Do not make any assumptions about their understanding of the subject.
Politicians are constantly bombarded with information on countless subjects and it means that at times some of them can seem quite absent minded. They may ask questions that you think are strange. However, always treat them with respect and patience.
a) Talking to Politicians
If you are meeting face to face or talking on the phone predetermine your main points and get them across quickly. If you have an appointment have your point of view on paper. This means that the meeting will stay on track. It also means that there is a record of your what you are seeking.
This is especially important if you are meeting a Minister because if they have a document they are more likely to ask their Officials to report or do further work and not forget about the issue.
Governments operate on paper.
If you have a casual meeting or a telephone conversation always follow up with a letter. Again your point of view is going to receive more attention if it is on paper. It means a Minister can give it to their Officials, or an MP can use it to approach the relevant Minister.
If you do not, you are relying on the Minister or MP to make sure your request gets into the right channels and that they will represent exactly what you want.
b) Writing to Politicians
If you are writing remember that even the most hard working MP with the lightest work load receives far more mail than they will ever read. Again, make sure that you get your main ideas across early and simply.
If you have a more complex issue, put an executive summary on the front, no more than one page. This gets the thrust of your argument across and means there is detail for anyone who looks more carefully.
In the case of a Minister that will be the Officials who will write the reply to the letter and possibly the subsequent report they write to the Minister. If you write to an MP they may forward your letter to the appropriate Minister anyway.
7. BIG ISSUES
It is much better that Politicians know about Harness Racing and its contribution before the industry starts knocking on the door to lobby regarding a decision. This is where the invitations and meetings may pay off. Remember Politicians are faced with arguments over countless issues all the time, any head start could tip the balance.
Head start or not, weight of numbers can count. If it is done properly, the more people who visit or write to their MP, the Minister or even the Premier the better the chance of success.
How you approach a big issue depends on which side of it you are on. You can agree with what being proposed, disagree, or want the Government to take action on something.
The best situation is if the Government is thinking of doing something you agree with, especially if they have safe majorities in Parliament.
If the Minister of a safe Government wants to change legislation then there is every chance it will happen. However, the Minister has to go through a number of steps to get legislation through.
In theory Ministers should have the support of their Caucus for major decisions. This means it can be important that Government MPs know that the industry supports the decision so when it comes up in the caucus room there is support.
The Cabinet will also consider any major proposal being put forward by a Minister. Again the more Ministers who support the idea the better. Cabinets make a lot of decisions and deal with a lot of legislation this means ranking can be important. The Minister is primarily responsible for putting the case for their proposals, but the more support within Cabinet the better. Ministers that understand and support the industry can be priceless. This will help decide if, and how fast, chance occurs.
The Opposition become important if the Government does not have a safe majority. In this case it may be necessary to rely on their backing. If they understand and support the industry then success is more likely. Some times if the Shadow Minister and maybe one or two other Opposition MPs are willing to push the case it will be successful. The Oppositions first instinct is to oppose the Government but if they industry is fully behind the decision their opposition is less likely.
Hopefully it will not be the Minister for Racing who is proposing changes that the industry is opposed to. Ministers do not usually make decisions that the industry they represent strongly opposes. However if they do, then members of the Caucus and Cabinet become important.
Ministers do not like being told by party MPs, especially other Ministers, that they are receiving flak over the Ministers decisions. The less support from within the Party the less likely the decision is going to make it through Caucus and Cabinet.
Letter writing campaigns can be effective in some circumstances. If a lot of letters are sent to the Premier, Minister and MPs it can give an idea about the scale of support. They will not read all the letters and will probably send a stock reply, but the message may get across.
Oppositions naturally try to disagree with the Government. If they can see good reason to oppose something it can at least highlight the other point of view and create pressure. Keep in mind that with some issues openly siding with the Opposition to oppose the Government can be a risky strategy for the long term.
The media plays a very powerful role in politics. Like the Opposition, if the media see fit to oppose a Government initiative it can create and highlight opposition and put the Government under considerable pressure. Using the media as a vehicle to oppose the Government also runs the risk of alienating them.
c) Prompting Action
Obviously the most important person in initiating change is the Minister. The key to getting change is to convince the Minister of the validity of the argument.
Use the media and Opposition to pressure the Minister as a last resort. The most important step in getting the Ministers approval is to convince the Government Officials.
Whether they are from a Department or from the Ministers Office, Officials are very important when decisions are made.
In nearly all cases when Minister have to make a decision they will ask for advice from their Department, and most times they will accept that advice. Ministers are elected representatives who probably will have not an in-depth knowledge of the industry. They will therefore rely on Officials who should.
If you want a Minister to make what you believe is the right decision, you should ensure that the relevant Officials see the merit of your argument. This means that it is just as important, if not more so, that all relevant Officials understand racing, how it works and the contribution that it makes. The industry should be pro-active to ensure Officials develop this knowledge.
Departments are supposed to provide unbiased advice, but the quality of that advice is dependent on information. The more they know about the industry the better. Ensure that there is a good relationship with Officials so that they feel free to make contact and ask questions.
When dealing with Officials keep in mind that their job is totally different to that of Politicians. Officials are swayed less by emotion and more by reason. Their role means they have to be more analytical and they require more detailed information on which to base their decisions than Politicians.
If a Department makes a recommendation that you disagree with you can try and convince the Minister the Officials are wrong. It may be possible in some cases to utilise the things that Politicians find important and base their decisions on. Officials have a different focus and sometimes the areas Politicians think are important may not be covered in the Departments advice.
Ministers are not a homogenous group and the possibility of them countering a Departments advice, and how they act in general, are influenced by things like:
9. PUT A STRATEGY IN PLACE
A coordinated effort in each State is necessary to make sure that a communications strategy with Politicians and Officials is developed and carried out.
Identify key MPs, including relevant Ministers, Shadow Ministers and their Officials. Identify appropriate ways for the industry to develop relations to improve the targets knowledge of the industry. This can be done on many levels, from the Controlling Body and Principal Club through to other Clubs, individuals and Trainers, Owners and Breeders Associations.
The industry should be trying to build these relationships now. Work done now may be valuable beyond a price if an issue arises.