Punter stalling a $20m dream


ONE man is standing in the way of a $20 million project to transform Tasmanian racing.

The bulldozers are poised to begin a massive upgrading of Elwick racecourse in Hobart to become the centre for both harness, thoroughbred and greyhound racing in the South.

But action in the courts by 73-year-old Ronald "Mick" Heatley now threatens the plan and could cast doubts over Tasmania's ability to host Australian harness racing's biggest event, the Inter Dominion, in 2006.

It could also affect racecourse upgrading at Mowbray in the North and Tote Tasmania has warned that jobs are under threat.

But Mr Heatley, one of Tasmanian racing's most colourful and controversial characters, makes no apology for his lone campaign.

He has been involved in harness racing in Tasmania for 57 years as an owner, trainer, driver, bookmaker and, most famously, as a professional punter.

He said yesterday he was representing the rank-and-file of the industry in opposing the move to "big Elwick", because he believes it will be a lesser facility than is provided at the Royal Showground.

TOTE Tasmania wants the harness and greyhound tracks constructed at Elwick before the lease at the Royal Showground runs out in June next year, and in time for the 2006 Inter Dominion.

Delays to the project are also holding up much-needed upgrades of the thoroughbred tracks at Elwick and at Mowbray.

TOTE chief executive Terry Clarke said he was perplexed that someone would want to deprive the community of a $20 million investment in the future of racing in southern Tasmania.

"His actions are not only taking away jobs that the investment will create, but also depriving young people who want to develop a professional career in racing," Mr Clarke said.

"In effect he is advocating the concentration of prime harness racing in the north of the state forever, given that everyone except him agrees that the showgrounds track is not a long-term proposition."

Mr Heatley said he was not opposed to Elwick becoming a new home for harness racing, but was intent on ensuring it proceeded as it was originally proposed by Premier Paul Lennon - a world-class facility in all aspects, including safety.

"All I am doing is exercising my democratic right to scrutinise the project for the industry and public benefit," he added.

When the Glenorchy City Council approved stage one of the Elwick redevelopment, Mr Heatley and fellow harness racing identity Ken Donovan appealed to the Resource Management and Planning Appeal Tribunal.

The tribunal dismissed the appeal, but Mr Heatley has now filed an appeal to the Tasmanian Supreme Court on the grounds that the tribunal "erred in law in forming its decision".

He has also lodged an objection to the Glenorchy council against stage two of the redevelopment.

Work cannot go ahead until the court and council actions are dealt with, which could take months.

Mr Heatley has a long history of run-ins with harness racing officialdom, and is no stranger to legal recourse.

When he was warned off Tasmanian courses by the Tasmanian Racing and Gaming Commission in June 1975, Mr Heatley pursued the matter all the way to the Full Bench of the High Court.

The High Court found in his favour, ruling that the commission had not notified Mr Heatley of its intention to consider warning him off or of any allegations against him, and had not given him any opportunity to be heard.

This was a denial of natural justice.

Mr Heatley, who is a familiar figure at harness meetings, dressed in his pale green suit, dark skivvies and pork pie hat, said: "In those days you wasn't supposed to win money at the races and if you did there was something wrong.

"I have walked off this course with $30,000 in the days when $3000 bought you a house."