Governments set to clash over racing integrity boss Sal Perna’s access to phone records

Racing integrity commissioner Sal Perna. Photo: Paul RovereAs the widespread investigation into the alleged betting activities of leading Sydney jockey James McDonald continues, the Victorian government has moved swiftly to appeal to federal authorities for racing integrity commissioner Sal Perna to have access to telecommunication records again.

While New South Wales investigators sift through hundreds of documents related to the McDonald case, state and federal attorney-generals are set to clash over the powers that were taken away from Perna last year.

The Victorian Labor government maintained that integrity was the key issue facing all three racing codes and accordingly appointed Perna the state’s racing integrity commissioner in 2010.

However, in a move that mystified the gambling and racing industries, the federal government revoked Perna’s access to telecommunication records in 2015.

Perna’s access to telephone records has been pivotal to many investigations in the past and the removal of this right to access the records has left him largely impotent.

Without access to records, Perna must rely on either the person who is the telco account holder (for example, a mobile phone customer) to obtain their own records and pass them over, or a law enforcement agency, such as Victoria Police, to use their powers under a memorandum of understanding with Perna.

​Government and racing officials believe that these two avenues to the information aren’t workable and are hopelessly cumbersome for an investigation.

Victorian Attorney-General and Racing minister Martin Pakula the federal government’s decision to deny Perna the access he requires to fulfil his role as integrity commissioner was “Absurd”.

“It was an absurd decision for the federal government to take away the racing integrity commissioner’s access to this material and it remains absurd.

“I’ve asked the commonwealth Attorney-General to reverse that decision – to no avail so far.

“But Mr Perna has recently written to me asking to re-prosecute the case with Senator [George] Brandis, and I fully intend to do so,” Pakula said.

“The use of telco data forms a critical part of any investigation,” Perna told Fairfax Media on Thursday.

“My role is to oversee the integrity of the racing industry in Victoria which contributes approximately $2.8 billion to the state’s economy and employs thousands of people.

“My functions include undertaking inquiries and conducting investigations into complaints and collecting and analysing information and intelligence.

“Until October 2015 I was authorised by the commonwealth attorney general to access historical data. Since that time I have had no ability to directly access such data,” he said.

In recent times there have been close links between underworld figures and the racing community, including jockeys and trainers.

A number of racing identities and associates were in the past called before the Australian Crime Commission when phone tapping and records related to Victoria’s gangland war uncovered a close association between gangsters and some horse trainers and jockeys.

Notorious convicted drug lord Tony Mokbel was a racing aficionado with close links to a number of trainers and jockeys. As a result of his criminal history, he was warned off racetracks.

Mokbel’s close association and involvement in racing came to light thanks in large part to evidence obtained through telecommunications intelligence.

McDonald has stood himself down pending the outcome of the investigation.

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