It was an ordinary Sunday, July 10, 2016, but a meeting of a few hundred people in Warners Bay may have been the final nail in greyhound racing’s coffin in NSW. It confirmed everything right and wrong about the industry and ultimately what I believe will bring the code to an end nationwide.
A sport that emerged in Australia in the 1920s would be shelved because an administration, which had going on six years in charge, failed to provide the necessary changes to governance and industry participants behavior to appease modern society, we had failed to secure our social licence.
My belief is the only hope is to clear the deadwood from bodies like the Greyhound Breeders Owners and Trainers Association. Provide a fresh outlook and public image and try and persuade the public we are worthy of continuing the path of “reform” we have begun in the last year. We don’t have years to drag this through Court, we have a few weeks to sway the public and hopefully enough politicians to block the legislation at the next meeting of the assembly.
To completely understand my reasoning, you need to go back to Mike Baird’s announcement on Thursday, that the greyhound industry in NSW would end on July 1, 2017.
Between then and now the industry has reacted. Many are heartbroken; many are outraged and many have vowed to fight, including myself through the use of this website in a bid to alter public perception. There have been a lot of words spoken, a lot of tweets and posts fired off; some good, some bad, some for, many against. But both sides of the equation launched with passion and fervor. The silent majority watched on with amusement and the media had a field day.
Baird’s decision was hasty, based on unproven numbers produced by a Special Commission of Inquiry. Many of the ‘facts’ are supposedly backed by evidence from witnesses, but there seem to be very few people who were actually canvassed, while many assumptions are made. The people running the Inquiry appear less than impartial; and Baird appears motivated by a desperate need for the senate vote of the Animal Justice Party member in the Upper House to get his Safe Schools bill passed when Fred Nile refused to support it.
Complicating the issue, was the 2016 federal election which hung on a knife edge. Malcolm Turnbull’s Liberal party need the backing of anti-gambling crusaders such as Nick Xenophon and at times, most certainly, will need the backing of the left leaning independents and the Greens in the senate.
It was a perfect political storm. And greyhound racing was Captain Billy Tyne’s Andrea Gail. A broken ship looking for a safe harbor to deliver its catch, caught in a powerful confluence of two fronts; well in this case more like five fronts.
Animal Welfare lobbyists have learned their craft well. Movements such as Grey2K in the US have become masters of “drawing the long bow”. If there is a single element of fact that could not be accurately measured, they would extrapolate it out times 10,000. They mastered social media. They mobilized apathetic souls. They understand the power of the emotive image. They didn’t need a call to arms, they knew innately the value of the donate call to action.
Anti-greyhound racing groups in Australia have sprung up. Mostly run by the same people, in a loose cell like structure. They understood the mileage of appearing twice or three times their real number. Even the RSPCA was infiltrated, and has increasingly become more activist than protector.
The money donated to animal welfare groups did not go to new beds, or kennels, or food; it went to billboards, to social media ads, to Google ads that pervade your every online experience. They mastered the art of public perception. More accurately they mastered the art of influencing government perception of public opinion. The NSW GBOTA and GRNSW saw all this happen. They watched on. They did nothing. Let’s not poke the bear they said, he might walk on by. They were wrong.
At a time when they should’ve been proactive and introducing community based concepts around animal welfare and public acceptance, the best they could offer was greyhound adoption. This tactic placed the greyhound and its future in the very hands of those that were actively campaigning to end it.
The term “rescue” was adopted in the Australian language from the US. It wasn’t long until the term “wastage” was also introduced. The GBOTA & GRNSW stood by. They even started adopting the terms themselves. They began making the case for the animal welfare campaigns to end greyhound racing themselves, through ignorance, incompetence and a complete and total lack of understanding of the changing values of society and the digital power of social media on government.
This was six years ago. Not yesterday or last week. SIX WHOLE YEARS AGO. The current CEO of the NSW GBOTA is Brenton Scott. He has been there since 1995 – 21 years. Its Chairman is Geoff Rose. He has held the position since 2010. Both have just appointed themselves as two of a steering committee of six, potentially seven; who will seek to lead greyhound racing into a new age.
It could be argued by many they represent everything bad about the industry. They have presided over the industry for the past six years and it could be argued they have stood idly by and failed to represent their members effectively, that they’ve failed to answer the challenge, to identify changing community values, to firstly realise and then describe the concept of social licence, to mount an adequate response to rhetoric, to understand and engage the people with concerns; those people would be right.
The heads of GRNSW were never interested in delivering the industry to greater heights. Its current CEO Paul Newson, was nothing more than a career public servant from the Office of Liquor Gaming & Racing. His predecessor Brent Hogan, much maligned in the inquiry reports, had political aspirations that came crashing down in 2015. They were not industry participants with commercial and political nous and passion like Racing NSW have enjoyed.
During the Special Commission of Inquiry, the greyhound industry watched on with disbelief as claims and statements that had formed much of the marketing campaign from animal liberation movements became accepted as facts. Surely someone would come forward and rebut. Surely someone would cross-examine the statements. No one came forth. Simply put the NSW Greyhound Owners Breeder & Trainers Association had failed to protect their very members. They had no one there fighting tooth and nail for our sport.
Maybe they thought GRNSW would come forward? The regulatory body that runs racing in NSW. Why would they? Quite differently to the thoroughbred racing regulatory body Racing NSW which has had as it past seven figure heads industry thoroughbreds breeders; GRNSW was and has always been led by wannabe politicians, public servants, and sycophants of the government of the day.
And so the special commission handed down its report. A report delayed from the public, lest it railroad the federal election result. A report littered with mistruths and half truths, and outright fabrications. That report validated those myths, made the rubbery math’s solid, gave the animal welfare movement the credibility and foundation it craved; and introduced a paradigm that will haunt many for years to come; social licence.
I like to consider myself a well-read man. I like to believe through education and experience, I am a person who can see issues from many angles, understand the position of others, and come to reasonable judgments, solutions and decisions based on facts and evidence and expectations. I cannot define “social licence” in 10 words.
Where do you apply for a social licence? Are there some minimum standards you need to get one? Is it like a driver’s licence where you need yearly tests to keep one once you reach a certain age?
What do you do if someone takes a social licence from you? Does that person even have the right to take it? Who would you appeal to to get it back? Or is it like a surfer on a wave, once it’s finished, the same one can never be enjoyed again?
The special commission report sought to define a social licence. I won’t bore you with the words. Suffice to say they could not define it in 10 words either. In fact they failed to adequately define it at all. And yet it was the determining factor in denying the future of an industry worth $315 million, and the cause of countless emotional, physical and financial injuries.
As a precedent for the loss of ‘social licence’ the inquiry report uses the misquoted fact that greyhound racing is banned in 39 US states. This is, and has always been Grey2K’s greatest and most repeated yarn. It is also blatantly false and misleading. Many of these states never had greyhound racing in the first place, or it ceased many years ago. They do not operate pari-mutuel tote betting in all but five states, but it is perfectly legal to own, rear, breed and race greyhounds in all other states. Never the less Grey2K’s greatest mistruth was accepted as fact by Michael McHugh’s special commission and used as global evidence that the arbiters of social licence had stamped greyhound racing’s card.
The truth of the matter is that greyhound racing is most popular among the under 35’s. The same demographic that horse racing is losing. The same demographic that includes the much-hyped term ‘the millennials’. Or the next group to run our country. If any of the NSW public were to be the arbiters of social licence, it would be millennials. They have been raised in an age when animal welfare has been front and centre, on their iphone, their ipads, their androids, everywhere they’ve been on, in every app and social media channel that they own and enjoy like no other generation.
And yet the under 35’s are greyhound racing’s biggest supporters.
The special commission has been duped. They have been fooled. An octogenarian ex-High Court judge has been fooled by digital media channels and social distribution that never existed during his professional career. Imagine proudly espousing your SP bookmaker heritage online in this day and age?
Despite his failings McHugh did not recommend greyhound racing be banned. He recommended 79 points of reform among the 800 page report which no one will ever bother reading now. Mike Baird banned greyhound racing. And he used social licence as his guillotine.
It’s a natural human trait – denial. One of the five stages of grieving. In fact it’s the very first. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance.
If you’ve ever been through a major trauma in your life, you’ve experienced it. Some linger longer in one stage than another, some never leave; but we all experience them.
There are many now that believe Mike Baird’s ban can be over turned though legal avenues. There are others that believe it can be overturned through political lobbying. Others believe they can change the ban by weight of social media posts, the more emotionally manipulative, the better. All of these are true and yet none of these are true.
This decision can be overturned.
But to do it will require the political landscape in Australia be divided. The Nationals will ultimately be brought to bear by their electorates who understand that like thoroughbred racing, greyhound racing is a largely regional pursuit. To support a ban is to directly undermine the very fabric of their communities and identities as primary producers.
It’s begun already. Troy Grant is politically a dead man walking. The overwhelming message from animal liberationists is best summed up by one eloquent sole who felt moved to contact us: “Ha. Good luck suckers. We shut you down and the horses are next”.
The horses are next. Of that there is no doubt in my mind. As Minister for Racing, Troy Grant has attacked and allowed to be queued for attack, the very ministry he represents. If he supports Baird’s backroom deal to appease the Animal Justice Party, he will be removed as Nationals Leader. If he breaks rank and votes with his electorate and conscious… well you get the idea.
Turn the bright light on the timing of the announcement. Baird’s decision being announced before the July 2 election would not give the Federal Liberal Party and Malcolm Turnbull an unfettered run at remaining in power. The Liberal leaders might have found their ability to issue social licences had significantly deteriorated. The issue would have had the power to signifcantly sour their relationship with the National Party.
In the end, the ultimate test of all political parties will be their ability to differentiate legitimate social licence and community feeling, from that which has been allowed to proliferate. There is no doubt, those within government, and an increasingly left leaning Liberal Party have been blindly led to believe that the many faced media efforts of animal welfare activists represent the wider community sentiment.
The challenge before the NSW greyhound industry is to articulate that position, and distribute their message to the wider communities. Those from the GBOTA and GRNSW, have failed comprehensively to do that in the last 20 years. They have failed to even understand the changing landscape and to recognize the threat building directly in front of them.
Today at Warners Bay, and yesterday at Wentworth Park; those same people met. They did as they always do – they talked. They are passionate. They are committed. They made plans. They are going on the front foot. The problem is they have again put themselves in the starting boxes, and the lids have risen, but they have no idea what they are chasing, and no idea where the catching pen is, or if it’s a finish on.
Greyhound racing has a hope. It is more than a hope. It has a future. But those that have stood idly by and allowed the industry to be slaughtered through death by a thousand mistruths, must stand aside. They must allow the future leaders of our industry to prove that they understand the need for reform, they understand the social licence required, and they have the presence of mind to articulate that message.
Those same tired old faces who blindly and ignorantly led us here, will not be the industry saviors. They represent the worst of the industry and its inability to reform. They lack the basic skills to understand contemporary community values.
They must step aside and allow the fresh new faces who have been brought up in an era of animal welfare and community connection to step forward and lead the industry.
* Kevin Pitstock is the owner and founder of AustralianRacingGreyhound.com. He has been a participant in the greyhound industry on many levels including trainer, owner, breeder, syndicator and broker.