IT is dawning on me. The attack on greyhound racing – and I use the word “attack” advisedly – is but the latest in a long string of political efforts designed to boost a government’s standing with any old special interest group in the community. Make a noise and we’ll support you! It’s how we keep our names in front of the voters.
Bear in mind a political party needs only to convince a few percent of the population to vote differently and they’re in. Forget about the main body of citizens; they will vote left or right no matter what. Consequently, minorities can be very useful.
In this case, anti-racing groups are head of the list. All you need to do is to pick a cause that suits the purpose and then go hammer and tongs at it for a while. Race-fixing, drugs, live baiting, breeding, euthanasia and overseas betting operators are all good targets. And never mind the facts; it’s the sizzle that counts.
Hence the use of taxpayers’ money to fund all the high-priced lawyers and consultants charged with reporting on matters they know little or nothing about. And the more QCs/SCs, the better.
Even then, you can’t quite trust them.
Kenneth Wiltshire, professor of public administration, University of Queensland Business School, spoke to The Australian a couple of days ago about the habits of counsel assisting the Royal Commission on child abuse.
“During the conduct of a royal commission it is the role of counsel assisting solely to help the commission identify the facts of the matters and obtain information that may assist members of the commission in reaching their conclusions. It is not the role of counsel assisting to form judgments, reach conclusions, express personal opinions, intimidate witnesses, or express belief or disbelief in their testimony. The counsel assisting is the servant of the royal commission”.
He might well have mentioned the NSW Special Commission where counsel Rushton QC belted the greyhound industry from day one.
He immediately cast aspersions on the entire industry – extrapolating from a narrow base of examples – and canvassed the need to “permit the continuation of a greyhound racing industry”. Then he used faulty data to claim that “many in the community, many in animal welfare organisations, and many in government are deeply concerned that the industry is breeding too many greyhounds and that too many young healthy greyhounds are being destroyed”. All that is no more than hearsay, innuendo and exaggeration. And who is “many”?
In practice, the evidence of excessive breeding is marginal at best and subject to correction. Today, the constant shortage of starters in races in all states tells us that more dogs are needed.
After that, Rushton wondered if the industry could meet “animal welfare standards which are consistent with the expectations of 21st century Australians” (expectations which were not researched but guessed at).
He then answered his own question: “that may not be possible. I doubt that it is possible. If it is not then in my submission Commissioner, you would in due course recommend to government that it close the industry down”.
What a whopper! All this on the first day of hearings. So much for keeping an open mind!
The Minister’s “Leading Question”
Unfortunately, Rushton had some help from the Minister whose brief to the Commission included the need to establish whether the industry’s problems are able “to be appropriately addressed, to permit the continuation of a greyhound racing industry in NSW that is sustainable and provides an ongoing economic and social contribution to the State”.
But by what right does the Minister query the very existence of a 100 year old industry, even in a climate where we know a minority of participants have abused their responsibilities and the management has been ineffective in policing those abuses?
Should we ban motoring because some drivers get drunk and crash their cars? Should we ban football or tennis because some players take drugs? Will thoroughbred racing be banned because so many horses end up in the knacker’s yard? Surely the main task, almost the only task, is to find out why bad things happened and then recommend fixes.
Let’s also note that the Minister alone created the structure in which GRNSW operates and personally appointed members of the board. So, when errors are made, where should the buck stop? Under the Westminster tradition it is the Minister who is deemed responsible. Sacking the board and the CEO is a side issue to the main event.
So far, governments in Queensland and Victoria have sidestepped that challenge and “solved” the problems simply by adding more staff. The fact that the original board members disappeared is neither here nor there as governments did no more than play musical chairs by keeping the same sort of organisation and installing fresh faces (more faces in Queensland’s case, or will be as soon as the new laws are enacted).
Equally worrying, in both Queensland and Victoria the integrity function (ie stewards etc), is now mooted to come under the control of a multi-code authority, something which has annoyed the thoroughbred code no end. The subject is still being considered by the Queensland parliament, as is the composition of a much larger board for greyhound racing. No-one seems to have realised that the skills required to police each code are complex and varied and each involves tens of thousands of animals with different traits and needs.
Incidentally, the new integrity chief in Queensland is a policeman. The integrity chief in Victoria is an ex-policeman. The NSW Racing Minister is an ex-policeman.
Rear vision mirror dominates
Few of these matters pass the tests of good business practice, logic or in-depth investigations of the breaches. From the outset, they have been knee-jerk reactions from politicians responding to headlines and pretending to the minority groups that they really care. Not a single one of the investigators has yet reviewed the nature of the organisations, the industry culture failings and how they contributed to the mess, although the NSW Commission has at least walked up to the issue. Its report is due at the end of this month.
None of the reviews has been or is being conducted by people with business experience despite the fact that racing is a multibillion dollar industry and wholly dependent on its interaction with the public which provides its funds.
Moreover, the trend to date is to raise the level of supervision (ie policing) and law making with little real knowledge of why problems emerged. The cause and effect officially remains a mystery and therefore any shortcomings will impact on the industry’s future just as they have in the past.
There is no doubt a minority of people in the greyhound industry have let the side down. Some have already been sanctioned and some are in jail. Others should be but got lucky when evidence was obtained illegally. To date the changes in NSW and Queensland are little more than cosmetic. That leaves NSW to devise solutions to the real problem – a crook management system.