The New South Wales government has cleared the way for the chairman of Racing NSW, Russell Balding, to stay in the role for another two years, taking his term beyond the statutory limit to 12 years.
Last Thursday the upper house passed legislation extending the term, after Labor and the Coalition joined forces to support the bill. The crossbenchers voted against the bill.
Balding, a former managing director of the ABC, and his deputy, Tony Hodgson, who is also deputy chair of Tabcorp, were up against the maximum tenure of 10 years on the board of the prestigious racing regulator.
That limit had already been extended from eight years back in 2019, prompting questions about how long tenure on government boards should be.
There are also two more board seats to fill and the state government is currently in the process of assessing applicants.
The former deputy premier John Barilaro, a racing enthusiast and owner of racehorses, has been mentioned as a possible candidate. Through a spokesman, Barilaro described it as “rumour”, prompted by his attendance at The Everest race over the weekend.
The reappointments will likely strengthen the position of the Racing NSW chief executive, Peter V’Landys, who is close with the chairman.
There had been talk that the former chairman John Messara, the owner of Arrowfield stud, was planning a comeback, but he appears to have ruled it out. Messara is currently chairman of Racing Australia and has worked hard at brokering a peace deal between the NSW and Victorian racing industries, which have been at war over the billions that are gambled on horse racing each year.
A spokesman for the NSW racing minister, Kevin Anderson, declined to comment on whether Barilaro was a candidate. He said the government called for applications in late September and is now in the processes of assessing them.
“Appointments to the board of Racing NSW are made following assessment by an independent panel with recommendations provided to the minister,” he said.
“The recent change in legislation … will give the independent selection panel a degree of flexibility to consider the potential adverse impacts on the governance of the industry that may occur with the loss of both the chair and deputy, in particular as the industry recovers from Covid,” he said.
“As the panel is currently assessing candidates, it is inappropriate to comment further as to avoid influencing their determinations.”
In the private sector, there are no hard and fast rules about the tenure of board members, but Dean Paatsch from Ownership Matters, a governance risk adviser, said the accepted practice was three terms, usually of three years.
The ASX Corporate Governance Principles and Recommendations advise: “The mere fact that a director has served on a board for a substantial period does not mean that he or she has become too close to management to be considered independent.
“However, the board should regularly assess whether that might be the case for any director who has served in that position for more than 10 years.”
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Guidelines for the not-for-profit sector say: “Boards should consider how a director’s tenure may impact their performance, particularly if serving for 10 years or longer.”
Racing NSW is just one NSW government board where longevity of service by some board members raise questions about appointment methods and governance.
The broadcaster Alan Jones was recently appointed to the board of a new body Venues NSW.
It combined functions of the Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Trust and Stadiums Australia. Jones had served on the SCG trust for more than three decades. The Venues NSW chair, Tony Shepherd, has also notched up more than a decade at the SCG, where he was chairman for many years.