James Purcell’s potential conflict of interest

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James Purcell MLC with Haylaman, one of the many racehorses he owns or co-owns with his family and trained by his son, Aaron Purcell, through the Purcell business, Enjoy Racing. This image is taken from the Enjoy Racing website.

OPINION – Carol Altmann

Port Fairy MLC James Purcell has been front and centre of the push to allow racehorses to continue to access Killarney beach for training – he has spoken about it passionately in State Parliament and launched a petition on the issue – but did you know that he also owns or part owns multiple local racehorses?

I didn’t.

Mr Purcell is also director of Enjoy Racing, a syndicate heavily involved in many of the horses trained by his son, Aaron Purcell, who operates under the name Enjoy Racing.

I didn’t know that either.

What I did know, because Mr Purcell has been very clear on this, is that he has been a long time supporter of horse racing and, to quote his own website, “enjoys racing in his spare time”.

But enjoying and supporting horse racing is an entirely different thing to owning racehorses and having a direct financial interest in their success or otherwise.

It’s a bit like saying Rupert Murdoch enjoys reading newspapers and supports journalism.

Or, to use another comparison, the bloke putting a bet on down at the local TAB is someone who enjoys racing – but, of course, he doesn’t own the horses or have intimate ties to the industry.

James Purcell’s son and professional horse race trainer, Aaron Purcell. Image: racing.com.au

In politics, as so many politicians have come to learn the hard way, perception is everything, so I am at a loss as to why Mr Purcell has not been completely and utterly transparent in declaring his potential conflict of interest when speaking and campaigning on anything to do with horse racing.

What Mr Purcell has declared is this: he is director of a company called Tiger Bronze which owns Enjoy Racing.

If you check the State Parliament Register of Member Interests (as some of us do), you will see Tiger Bronze listed under Mr Purcell’s name. But that is it.

There is no explanation of what Tiger Bronze does (it sounded liked a tanning salon or gymnasium to me), and certainly no mention of Enjoy Racing.

When I asked Mr Purcell, through his chief of staff, why he hadn’t listed Enjoy Racing or added details of what the Tiger Bronze company involved, the reply was this:

“The requirements are to list the companies and trust, not to list the activities of the companies”.

In other words, he has covered the bare minimum for disclosure.

The issue of whether racehorses should be allowed access to Killarney Beach has thrown a spotlight on James Purcell’s horse racing interests.

Given the recent and very damaging furore around former Premier Denis Napthine and Wannon MP Dan Tehan sharing an interest in a racehorse (Spin the Bottle) with Midfield Group supremo Colin McKenna, I would have thought Mr Purcell would be bending over backwards to ensure he listed every single one of his racehorse interests by name.

As it happens, that list would include a horse called St Jean (total prize money so far $187,524) that has James Purcell and Colin McKenna among its owners.

Other MPs openly list their racing interests by name, and update that list when it changes.

Mr Purcell’s response to why he hadn’t done the same was this:

“In regards to owning racehorses, James has never shied away from this publicly. The horses are not listed on the register of interests as we are unsure if they need to be, but have put in an enquiry to the Deputy Clerk and have not heard back at this point”.

Steven Herbert is among the MPs who openly declare their racing interests in the State Parliament Register of Members Interests.

What makes all of this so important, of course, is Mr Purcell’s active campaigning on horse racing issues, like that of allowing racehorses to access our local beaches, or building new training facilities at the Warrnambool Racecourse.

In my view it is not enough to say, as his spokeswoman put it, “it is widely known that James owns racehorses and he has never disputed or hidden this fact”.

Not hidden, perhaps, but damn hard to find unless you know where to look.

Some of the horses in which Mr Purcell has an interest include: Haylaman (Total prize money to date: $117, 513), Initiator ($152,843), King of Dudes ($339, 280), Siga La Vaca ($61,920), St Jean ($187, 524), Kilowatt ($31, 802), Written Era ($18,700), The Ten Bob ($45,820), Swacadelic ($294,287).

Mr Purcell could easily choose to be so much more transparent.

For example, when Mr Purcell stood up in Parliament on September 15 and urged Racing Minister Martin Pakula to “intervene” and “work with the Warrnambool Racing Club to fund the upgrading of a synthetic training track and to provide an uphill gallop at the Warrnambool Racecourse”, he should have made it crystal clear that he owns/part owns racehorses.

But he didn’t.

And when Mr Purcell launched his online petition to allow racehorses at Killarney virtually all year round, he again should have made it crystal clear that he owns/part owns a lot of racehorses.

But there was not a single word.

Two of Aaron Purcell’s horses in training at Warrnambool’s Lady Bay. Image: Enjoy Racing website.

Mr Purcell also recently wrote a Facebook post (Sept 23) saying that his son’s horses “have never used Killarney Beach and I doubt they ever will”.

What he forgot to add, however, is that his son’s training website, Enjoy Racing, proudly says “we have access to some of the best beaches in the country at Warrnambool, Killarney and Port Fairy”.

If Mr Purcell took this approach, then people could make up their own minds about his impartiality on horse racing issues – not after the horse has already bolted.


* This is the last piece I will be writing under the Bluestone Magazine banner. Bluestone Magazine is coming to an end, but the website will remain live until (all being well) a new project is launched in 2017. Keep updated by following Bluestone Magazine on Facebook here. Thankyou to everybody who has believed in independent media enough to support Bluestone Magazine for the past three years – I hope you will continue that support for the next venture. Carol Altmann

8 thoughts on “James Purcell’s potential conflict of interest”

  1. Thank you Carol. As usual an insightful and honest piece of journalism that we would be unable to read elsewhere. Horses on local beaches has been a talking point for some time and for many reasons with cultural and environmental being only two. The individuals involved are well known for their ability to manipulate the rules most of us try to live by.
    I look forward to your return, stay well.

  2. I am gutted and feeling utterly selfish. Bluestone Magazine was such a brilliant and independent voice that Warrnambool desperately needed.
    Good luck ?. And thank you.

  3. Thank you Carol –
    Bluestone Magazine has been great, looking forward to your next project ?
    Best wishes
    Felicite Wylie

  4. Both issues you have written about in this piece are bad news.
    The first, an undisclosed interest in what appears to be a highly profitable business which stands to benefit from state government decision making and secondly, the closure of Bluestone.
    As others have said, it has been through Bluestone’s fearless journalism that many contentious issues have been brought to light which has enable Warrnambool’s citizens and others to engage and learn about what goes on behind the scenes.
    As a former ‘other’ and now once more a proud Warrnamboolian, this engagement has been integral to my resettling in this city.
    The many positive stories about life, culture, art, architecture, food and people highlighted how vibrantly this city’s heart beats. This was not necessarily apparent to the outsider I had become as a Melbourne resident. To say that this knowledge encouraged my return to Warrnambool is an understatement.
    Returning to the first issue of professional horse trainers’ access to our local beaches, now so many more of us are aware of conflict of interests and the push to gain even more access as well as the damage being inflicted on this crown land.
    Hopefully, our voices will be heard and common sense will prevail so that greater restrictions will be imposed in order to preserve this environment for its native inhabitants as well as normal recreational use.
    Good luck for your future endeavours Carol. No doubt you’ll pop up somewhere and will be found shining the light on issues Warrnambool residents should know about.

    1. Thankyou so much for your very kind words about Bluestone Magazine, Marilyn. Bluestone began from nothing in 2013 but has grown to become an influential voice thanks to the support of people like yourself. New, small and independent media can only survive on the back of its supporters – and a lot of hard work behind the scenes! Keep an eye peeled for something new in 2017 because Bluestone may be coming to an end, but my love of journalism and a desire to keep writing certainly hasn’t. – Carol

  5. Dear wonderful Carol, how well you write which allows your passion to come through whilst hitting hard on those that deserve to be given a slap! (or two). Thank you so much for such great support for our local beaches being used for less damaging activities. I cant even take my grandchildren to the local beaches like I used to because we are now in danger of being run over by galloping horses. Love, Cherree

  6. I’m aware of the damage that is being done to the fragile environment surrounding our beaches, including the destabilising of the sand dunes and the destruction of the native flora. But surely some sort of compromise could be worked out to sensibly to allow horses and trainers access to the beach, as long as certain guidelines are put into place and heavy fines are implemented for noncompliance. Personally, I love to see a horse gallop along in the shallows thoroughly enjoying itself. But obviously not a pack of them running willy-nilly all over the beach without regard for the people or the environment. Perhaps a strict time and only a part of the beach could be made available and a restriction on the number at any given time. That would have to be worked out between the owners. And it goes without saying, they have to clean up after themselves…….and their horses!

  7. Carol, you have only just scratched the surface of the horses owned by Mr James Purcell.
    Add to your list SILBAR, GINOLAD, PRUSSIAN OFFICER, GO AND GET, ZOFFMAN, STELLA EFFORT, the list goes on and on; “conflict of interest” – more like a massive conflict of interest!
    All these horses can be verified on the Racing and Sport web page:-
    Aside from that, Bluestones folding is a massive blow to Free Speech in Warrnambool. Your journalistic skills and investigative reporting will be sadly missed.

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