Ross Barnett is the public face of Queensland racing integrity.
The Racing Integrity Commissioner must act as the exemplar of the standards of probity and conduct expected of all participants in the racing industry, and his decisions and actions must be at all times beyond reproach.
Sadly the Commissioner has let himself and the industry down, and by his failures had rendered himself unfit to hold office, and must immediately resign.
This is why.
On 24 February 2017 Commissioner Barnett terminated the employment of QRIC employee David Farquharson, at the time the Chief Steward of Harness Racing.
Barnett took advice from lawyers and senior QRIC officials about the matter, but the decision to summarily end Farquharson’s 30 year career was his, and his alone.
The grounds on which Commissioner Barnett terminated Chief Steward Farquharson’s employment were threefold, and are as follows:
(a) Engaging in an act of dishonesty in the course of or in connection with the performance of his duties and responsibilities;
(b) Engaging in an act and/or omission that could negatively affect the reputation or good standing of the QRIC;
(c) Engaging in an act or omission that could preclude or inhibit him from performing the duties of his position.
The circumstances that lead to the Commissioner’s decision are:
- On the 13th of September 2015 a horse named Shardons Reactor trained by well respected trainer/driver named Neale Scott – who had not been suspended once during his 45 year career in the industry, and who had worked as a contractor to Racing Queensland for many years training young industry participants – won a race at a one-off trot meeting held at the Deagon Racecourse during a local community organised picnic race day
- Shardons Reactor was, like all winners of harness racing events, swabbed (required to provide a urine sample for drug testing) after the race
- The swab detected elevated levels of cobalt in the horse’s system that were in breach of the maximum levels permitted under the Australian Harness Racing Rules, and as a result Mr Scott was charged with an offence pursuant to Rule 190(1) which reads “A horse shall be presented for a race free of prohibited substances”
- Harness racing stewards convened an inquiry hearing into the matter which was conducted over three days
- The first day of the inquiry was 8 March 2016. Scott was not permitted to have representation, but the hearing was attended by 6 officials from QRIC: three harness racing stewards and three employees of the Racing Science Centre
- At the conclusion of the hearing day the inquiry was adjourned to the 22nd of March 2016, and was later further adjourned until 5 April 2016
- The second day of the inquiry was held on that date, and at the conclusion of the days hearing was further adjourned until a date to be fixed
- The third and final day of the inquiry was held on 5 July 2016, and on that hearing day Scott challenged the stewards about whether the building in which his horse was swabbed had been properly inspected prior to the meeting, and questioned whether the testing area was compliant with the applicable legally required standards.
- As part of his challenge Scott asked the stewards how many times the testing area had been used prior to the race meeting at which his horse was swabbed, and layer returned the reading that had resulted in him being charged
- He was told by Chief Steward Farquharson that the testing area has been used for swabbing horses at the meeting held at Deagon the year before, and had also been used previously to test horses at a picnic thoroughbred meeting the year before. Farquharson’s assertion was supported by his fellow Stewards on the inquiry panel Kwan Wolsley and Norman Torpey
- Scott, who had been attending the Deagon racing complex for years in his role as a trainer of young industry participants, informed the stewards that their assertions were incorrect, and that the area had previously been a storage room for equipment and medications used by local trainers at the course and had only recently been refitted for use as a swabbing area at the meeting at which his horse had been tested and received the positive result for elevated cobalt levels
- The veteran trainer/driver’s advice to stewards was correct
- Scott then questioned the stewards about what compliance measures had been undertaken to ensure that the former storage room was free of contaminants, and asked whether the testing area had been inspected on the day of his horse’s race
- Farquharson told Scott that he (Farquharson) had personally inspected the area on the day of the race
- Scott asked the Chief Steward so you are saying that you (Farquharson) did it?
- Farquharson replied I had a visual on the race day, yes
- Scott again challenged him, and said But you’re unaware of – you’re unaware of the history of it and you’re unaware of whether the building…
- Farhuarson cut him off and said They showed me where the swab stall was. I had a look at the swab stall and I was satisfied with the way it was presented for the collection of urine from horses, yes
On the basis of Farquharson’s repeated assertions Scott then proceeded to raise other matters, and at the conclusion of the inquiry he was found guilty of the offence as charged, and his license was withdrawn and he was disqualified from participating in the industry for the 18 months.
Later that day – 5 July 2016 – Scott applied for an internal review of the Steward’s decision.
An internal review is asserted by QRIC on the statutory body’s website to be a review of the decision by an independent person from a legal background, although this subsequently proved not to be the case. This issue is explained in detail in a story published yesterday on this website.
On the same day Scott applied to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) for a stay of proceedings allowing him to continue to train and drive harness racing horses pending the determination of the review.
Farquharson – acting in the capacity of duly authorised representative of QRIC – opposed Scott’s application for the decision to be stayed the next day but was unsuccessful, and QCAT restored Scott’s license pending the outcome of the internal review.
The internal review was conducted ‘on the papers’ (without a hearing) by Commissioner Ross Barnett, who made the determination to uphold the decision of the inquiry panel comprised entirely of QRIC employees who work under his management and control, and who must comply with all of his lawful and reasonable directions.
As a result of Barnett’s decision Scott’s disqualification was re-invoked.
On 8 August 2016 Scott applied to QCAT for an external review of the QRIC decision to suspend his license, and applied for a further stay of his disqualification pending hearing and determination of the review.
On 9 August 2016 Farquharson – again acting on behalf of QRIC – consented to the stay and Scott’s license was restored.
During the period between Commissioner Ross Barnett’s determination to uphold the original decision of stewards and the later finalisation of the matter by QCAT, Scott obtained a copy of the transcripts of the 3 day inquiry that led to his disqualification, and became aware that Farquharson had misled him by providing false information in response to his questions about the inspection of the testing area where his horse was swabbed.
What Scott discovered was that Farquharson had in fact been on annual leave at the time the Deagon race meeting was held, and had been absent from work on this leave for at least a fortnight prior to the day of the meeting.
In these circumstances it was not possible that the Chief Steward could have inspected the testing area as he had asserted and reiterated during the inquiry that led to Scott’s disqualification.
At 3.04 pm on 20 October 2016 Scott emailed Barnett with an official complaint about Farquharson’s conduct at the inquiry, specifically his providing demonstrably false information in reply to Scott’s questions about the inspection of the testing area.
At 3.19 pm on the same day Commissioner Barnett responded by email to Scott’s complaint, advising that he would conduct an investigation of the matter as an urgent priority.
Presumably as a result of his promised inquiries into the matter, Barnett subsequently referred Farquharson’s conduct to the Crime and Corruption Commission for investigation of potential official misconduct by the Chief Steward.
On or about 9 December 2016 the CCC referred the back to Commissioner Barnett for him to deal with as an employment issue.
On the same day Barnett suspended Farquharson’s employment and stood him down from work.
On the 20th of December, as a result of confidential negotiations between the parties held at the behest of QRIC, the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal issued an order made by consent that the period of Scott’s disqualification was to be reduced from 18 months down to 9 months.
We are unable to report on the decision or publish a number of the documents relevant to its making because QRIC applied for, and were granted, a non-publication order in relation to the matter.
We have contacted QCAT to attempt to obtain a copy of this non-publication order but to date have received no response.
On 22 December, two days after the order was issued and Mr Scott’s 9 month disqualification took effect, Commissioner Barnett issued Farquharson with a letter requesting that he show cause as to why he (Barnett) should not be reasonably satisfied that the Chief Steward was guilty of serious misconduct in relation to his dealings with Mr Scott at the inquiry held on 5 July 2016 for the reasons detailed above.
In this show cause notice Commissioner Barnett revealed for the first time that during a break in the proceedings of the inquiry held on 5 July 2016 a member of the inquiry panel – Ms Kwan Wolsley – had spoken to Farquharson and drawn to his attention the fact that he could not have inspected the testing area on the race day as he had stated to Mr Scott, because he was on leave on the day of the race and did not attend or work at the meeting in question.
Mr Scott had never been informed by Commissioner Barnett or any other person about this discussion held between Ms Wolsley and Farquharson, and was unaware that it had occurred until he read about in the media earlier this week.
On 6 February 2017 Commissioner Barnett issued Farquharson with a further official letter in which he advised that he had found him guilty of serious misconduct, and invited him to show cause why he (Barnett) should not terminate his (Farquharson’s) employment.
In the letter Barnett advised Farquharson that one of the specific grounds for his finding of serious misconduct was the Chief Steward’s failure to correct his statements to Scott about the race day stable inspection once he became aware that they were false.
This failure, Barnett wrote, was an act of dishonesty that impugned the integrity of QRIC, diminished the reputation and standing of the organisation, violated both his trust and that of the racing industry, and rendered Farquharson unfit to continue to perform the duties of his position.
Whether the issue of swab stall inspections was material to the ultimate issues requiring determination before the inquiry was, he stated, irrelevant. The issue was one of honesty and integrity, and by his actions – specifically including his failure to correct the false assertion that he had made to Mr Scott – Farquharson had proven that he lacked both.
On 24 February 2017 Commissioner Barnett issued his Chief Steward a letter summarily terminating his employment without any further notice.
Despite Mr Barnett knowing that the information on which he had determined Mr Scott’s application for internal review on 1 September 2016 was false the Commissioner made no attempt to reopen the matter or correct the public record and it remains to this day published on the QRIC website.
Mr Scott served the full period of his disqualification handed down by QCAT on the 20 December 2016 by way of the order suppressed from publication upon application by QRIC, and notwithstanding that Commissioner Barnett knew for a fact that Farquharson had misled the man in the course of the inquiry that led to his long ban.
Justice can not be applied properly unless it is applied equally to all.
By the standards that the Commissioner has set, he must also be judged.
Ross Barnett has proven by his conduct that he is unfit to continue in his role as leader of the Queensland Racing Integrity Commission.
There are no shades of grey, and there is no other choice.
The Commissioner must resign.