IF YOU’RE IN A HOLE, STOP DIGGING, JEFF, AND LET GO OF THAT SHOVEL!
Unlike many ex-Premiers and Prime Ministers, Jeff Kennett chose, almost immediately after losing the “unlosable” election that his life after politics would involve politics.
The Emperor made a conscious decision long after he was forced to abdicate his position of power that a relatively quiet civilian life with a portfolio of Board positions in the commercial world was not for him.
Jeff Kennett has always been a polarising figure, both in politics, and in his life after politics.
Never afraid to go where others would choose not to, Jeff Kennett, a kinda goofy Captain Kirk on acid, has never, ever, been afraid to speak his mind. About anything. It’s got him into boiling hot water and will continue to.
Muzzle Jeff? Not on your life. He’ll bite through it and want some chianti to make his words go over smoother even if the bottle was corked.
To put things into perspective, Jeff Kennett’s commitment and dedication to raising awareness and confronting the insidious and life threatening issues of mental health and depression in the community cannot be commended enough.
Beyondblue, the organization he established and chairs to deal with these issues, has performed a vital role in providing a lifeline of professional support and assistance to many in need.
The success of Beyondblue would not have been possible if it had not been for the unselfish commitment to the cause, and Jeff’s willingness to use his profile to further such a noble cause.
But, to those who know Jeff personally, and as observers of his life and times, it came as no surprise to read of his ill-timed and, at times, illogical rant about much of the way the Australian racing industry operates.
It would not be inaccurate to say that Big Jeff made a real sausage of himself. Big time. And with the chopped onions and mustard as The Mutt And Jeff Show was allowed to implode.
Clearly, he was very, very poorly briefed- and someone should be held very very responsible for this- as he got some very very basic facts very very wrong.
No Jeff, a sheikh was not banned from British and world racing last year for administering steroids to his horses.
It was Al Zarooni, one of Sheikh Mohammed’s trainers.
And no, Jeff, the trainers in the Hunter Valley in NSW are not threatened by mining.
It’s the breeders.
A Clive Palmer senior moment, perhaps?
Big Jeff singling out of what he described as the leniency of Damien Oliver’s penalty for betting, and his commentary around comparisons with Hong Kong and jail sentences for licensed persons breaking the rules of racing, were inappropriate given his role as Chairman of such a highly profile and successful mental health support organization that is Beyondblue.
To have the Chairman of such an organization, stridently and vociferously, calling for jail sentences and career ending penalties to be applied, contradicts the fundamental principles of western democratic law, rehabilitation, and the long cherished Australian ethic of a “fair go” in giving offenders a chance at redemption and resumption of a career.
In racing, many of its participants know nothing else than the profession for which they are licensed.
In Damien Oliver’s case, it can be contended that he has paid a sufficient price for a serious indiscretion committed during a time when he was confronted by some challenging personal issues.
During the stewards inquiry and during his eight month ban from racing, Oliver had to endure a distressing and protracted period of public humiliation – a humiliation brought about by himself, and which is the price paid by high profile and successful public figures.
Resurrecting this dark period of his life and career, one which he, no doubt, regrets very deeply, does little for him, or, equally importantly, his wife and young family.
To Damien Oliver’s credit, his highly successful return to race riding, winning last season’s Victorian Jockeys premiership from a shortened season, and his triumph last weekend in the Victorian racing season Jockeys Scobie Breasley Award, speaks volumes for his determination to put aside his demons and successfully re-claim his position at the top of the tree in his profession.
Perhaps, Jeff Kennett may not have travelled along such an insensitive path with his outburst if Oliver’s return to race riding had been unsuccessful and he was back in the pack trundling along with the mediocre part of his profession?
If that wasn’t enough, Big Jeff’s spray of the corporate bookmakers had more holes in it than a block of Swiss cheese.
To his credit, he pleaded guilty to the glaring mistake he made as Premier to privatise the Tab, drawing the somewhat dubious parallel with the rise and rise of the corporate bookmaker, which he described as a “cancer” attacking the racing industry.
Yes, Jeff, it was a mistake to take it out of industry hands, and Australian racing has continued to pay a very heavy price for privatisation of its financial “jewel in the crown”.
But, surely, don’t try and tell anyone that your Government did not do its due diligence on the impact of the “totalisator free” model that had begun its decimation of Australian racing before you were Premier- a process which accelerated- and has continued ever since.
And please don’t tell us you weren’t warned by industry figures at the time.
After all, you were the pioneer of privatising State assets- and your blueprint has been followed in other States, and nationally, in many areas of service provision, which, arguably, has been the biggest contributor to economic pain.
Listening to an RSN podcast of an interview with Shane Anderson, Big Jeff put his big foot firmly in his own big mouth.
He had, on the day of his guest speaking engagement with Racing Victoria, placed a bet on a horse he owned a share in- but not on the Tab.
You guessed it: The self-confessed describer of the corporate bookmakers as a “cancer”, placed his bet with a corporate bookmaker, thus shredding any figment of credibility to his argument against corporate bookmakers and exposing himself as more than a tad hypocritical.
Worse still for Big Jeff, it turned out in Shane’s interview that while he was President of his beloved AFL club Hawthorn, Betfair was a sponsor of the club, which he- surprisingly- could not recall.
It later turned out that a former Betfair CEO and present Racing Victoria Board member- Andrew Twaits- had claimed that he received a call from Jeff while President, seeking a renewal of the Betfair sponsorship of the football club.
The very sad and distressing fallout from Big Jeff’s antics is that he single-handedly ambushed one of the most important mental health initiatives that was launched, collectively, last Monday by Racing Victoria, his own organization, Betyondblue and the Victorian Trainers Association.
The Trainers well-being initiative, which we have read and heard some very sketchy details about, should have been the hero of this meet and greet day with Racing Victoria.
It was not.
It’s one of the initiatives that racing should be commended for introducing. So should Beyondblue for their role in making it a reality.
Regrettably, it was hijacked and ambushed by an ill-informed, untimely and unnecessary tirade from the Chairman of Beyondblue – and a former Premier of “bleak city”.
He should have known better and he should have been bigger and better than that mad elephant stampeding through the room on Monday.
It was not the appropriate forum to be a loose cannon and unleash some misplaced fury, and not carefully thought through grapes of wrath on the already battered and bruised Australian racing industry.