06 March 2013

Public interest derailed by Perna's process

More than three months after Damien Oliver was disqualified by Racing Victoria for betting $10,000 on a rival runner, the man charged with investigating the affair is yet to interview a single participant.

"I've been working with RVL to get all the documentation together," Racing Integrity Commissioner Sal Perna told Turf Confidential last Wednesday, exactly 100 days since Racing Minister Denis Napthine called on him to investigate Racing Victoria's dismal handling of the matter. 
"I've examined the bulk of the information but there's still a couple of items I still need to get from RVL.
"I should be able to start interviews next week."
Blow us down with a feather. This farce, which dragged the 2012 Melbourne Cup Carnival through the mud and left an ugly stain where Victorian racing's good name used to be, is being interrogated with all the rigour of rigor mortis.

Process is clearly strangling this Commissioner's sense of urgency.
As soon as Damien Oliver was disqualified on November 20, the Racing Minister was all over the press pushing his "urgently written" letter seeking "an investigation" by Perna.
“I was very concerned about allegations of mishandling and delays into resolving the Oliver inquiry," said Napthine. 
We asked Perna why he hadn't conducted interviews at the start of his, er, 'review'.
"Would you really want me to conduct interviews before I had all the facts?" he replied.
Er, I'm no former homicide cop, but interviews are a very handy way to ascertain facts, journalists do it all the time, and speaking from bitter experience, they need to be conducted ASAP before people get together to get their stories straight.

It gets messier. In announcing his "review of handling of Damien Oliver matter" on November 21, 2012,  Perna says it:
"...comes following requests received from the Minister for Racing Denis Napthine and Racing Victoria."
That's right. The Minister wants an investigation into the "mishandling" of the affair by Racing Victoria, but Racing Victoria wants Perna to investigate its own Stewards!

This came, we later confirmed from RVL, in the form of letter to Perna from then RVL CEO, Rob Hines.

We asked Perna to release the letter but he refused. "It's RVL's letter". We pressed Perna on how the Racing Integrity Commissioner could be seen to be acting transparently if he won't release any official documentation from Racing Victoria "requesting his review".

"It's RVL's letter, ask them."

We did. RVL did not produce the letter but referred us to a statement posted on the RVL website by Hines, also on November 20, but after Napthine had announced Perna's investigation. RVL's media man Shaun Kelly confirmed that apart from Hines' letter...
"...there have not been any formal public ‘terms of reference’ issued by Racing Victoria."
So after the public outcry for answers in the Spring, Mr Perna is conducting Racing Victoria's half of his "review" on the basis of a letter neither party will release.

Do remember dear readers that the Minister wants Perna to find out:
  1. whether this inquiry was conducted as efficiently and expeditiously as possible 
  2. the timing of the inquiry including when Racing Victoria was provided with any allegations, evidence and admissions, 
  3. whether Racing Victoria acted appropriately with respect to its stand down powers.
We reminded Perna that RVL maintains it was his information that "led to Oliver being charged". We also reminded him that it allegedly took RVL 46 days to act on his tip off. It's also not clear to whom Perna told the information, RVL's board, management, or the Stewards.

Given the terms the Minister has laid out, and given Perna is yet to offer the public any details about his own role behind the scenes, we asked him if there was a conflict of interest in him conducting an "independent" review of a process in which he played so significant a role?
"I don't think you could say that," he said.
We pressed Perna on whether he would be looking at why Robert Smerdon was fined, why Mark Hunter was given "concessions", and why Oliver allegedly got to keep his winnings. He answered all questions thus:
"We'll be looking at every circumstance... if its relevant."
Racing Victoria helpfully noted that Perna's investigation is being undertaken...
"...pursuant to section 37B(1)(e) of the Racing Act 1958 (Vic). The Commissioner may make recommendations, if appropriate, following the investigation, to the Minister or Racing Victoria.
"We expect that his report will consider the matters raised by Racing Victoria on 14 November 2012, and the Minister on 20 November 2012. We will obviously seek to be briefed on his findings once his review is completed and will consider any recommendations or findings made at the appropriate time.
"In summary, Mr Perna has the full cooperation of Racing Victoria in his review of the Oliver investigation."
The question Denis Napthine must be asking is does Racing Victoria have the full cooperation of Mr Perna?

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