NSW Government bans greyhound racing

Picture: Dieppe DesignNew South Wales became the first Australian state committing to shut down greyhound racing after a Special Commission found overwhelming evidence of systemic animal cruelty.
The Special Commission of Inquiry into the Greyhound Racing Industry of New South Wales, led by the Honourable Michael McHugh AC QC, found that the rate of “wastage” of uncompetitive dogs was 50-70 per cent (between 48,891 and 68,448 dogs over a 12 year period). The Inquiry found evidence that 10 to 20 per cent of trainers engaged in the practice of live baiting.
Despite previous efforts to clean up the industry, deaths and injuries went unreported to Greyhound Racing New South Wales. The report found that “many trainers appear to prefer cheap and sometimes painful methods of treating greyhound injuries instead of using the services of qualified veterinary surgeons.”
On the subject of live baiting, the reported concluded that “there is a very real risk that, once the harsh spotlight of this Commission is removed from the industry, the practice of live baiting will thrive once more.”
The report recommended two options: the first, to close down the industry. The second, to maintain the industry but undertake reforms to improve transparency and governance, and reduce the number of greyhound deaths.
In a shock announcement, Premier Mike Baird, alongside Deputy Premier and Minister for Racing, Troy Grant, said that the NSW Government would act “to protect animal welfare as a priority” by shutting the industry down by July 1, 2017.
“As a humane and responsible Government, we are left with no acceptable course of action except to close this industry down,” Baird said.
On a statement posted on Facebook, Baird acknowledged that those reliant on the industry may be adversely impacted by the decision.
“One of the issues we have had to wrestle with is the positive impact of the greyhound racing industry,” the post read. “There are over 1000 direct jobs in the industry and nearly 6000 registered owners of greyhounds. Dog racing can be an important part of the social fabric of regional towns. And, of course, having a punt on the dogs over a few beers us good fun for many people. So, as Mr McHugh asked, do such benefits of the dog racing industry outweigh the shortcomings? Based on this report, the Government believes they do not.”
To mitigate potential adverse consequences, the transition plan would include an animal welfare plan for existing greyhounds, including opportunities for rehoming; an adjustment package for those directly employed in the industry and an arrangement for existing greyhound NSW assets such as tracks so that they could be used as open public spaces, alternative sporting facilities or other community facilities.
Animal welfare and rights organisations, including the RSPCA, Animals Australia and Voiceless were quick to praise the decision.
“No amount of legislative or policy change could have regulated away the cruelty inherent in this ‘sport’,” Voiceless spokesperson Elise Burgess said.
But Greyhound Racing New South Wales released a statement expressing dismay at the result.
“In the past 16 months, GRNSW has transformed the organisation and regulation of the industry to significantly improve animal welfare and supervision of the industry,” it read. “GRNSW had taken decisive action as it strived to recover community trust and believed that its reforms and strategic direction could have transformed the sport into a stronger sustainable one in which animal welfare and integrity were fundamental to a vibrant future.”
The organisation suspended all racing for seven days following the announcement.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr supported the ban, describing the findings as damning.
“Having had an initial look at the NSW report, we agree with the decision of the NSW government. There is no future for this industry in the ACT,” he said. “We will consider the findings of the NSW report before announcing a process to end the practice of greyhound racing in the ACT.”
The Australian Veterinary Association issued an alert to members stating it was committed to ensuring the welfare of the greyhounds in the industry, and those in other states.
AVA spokesperson David Neck expressed concerns about the animal welfare policy, urging the Government to work with the AVA to devise a plan for a responsible shut down.
“If it involves euthanasia then it has achieved the very thing it was set out to stop, and that’s what the vets are concerned about,” he told AAP.
The full report is available online.
ANNE FAWCETT