YESTERDAY I was in mourning.
At lunch time news broke that the greyhound racing industry would be shut down in NSW as of July 1, 2017.
The news was released with an announcement on Facebook by the Premier of NSW Mike Baird and immediately I rolled my eyes and chuffed to my partner “someone has hacked his page”.
Five minutes later it became very clear this wasn’t a prank, however even now it still feels like a nightmare.
You see greyhound racing is my life. I grew up as an only child in the Hunter Valley NSW and from day one I was incredibly close to my grandmother and my uncle, who both had greyhounds on a two-acre property just a couple of kilometres up the road.
I have many happy memories growing up surrounded by the dogs and so it was a natural decision to stay involved in the sport into my adulthood. Currently I have two of my own greyhounds which I own with my partner and a friend, while we also train seven others.
Every day I wake up at the crack of dawn to tend to my greyhounds. Fortunately, I am one of those lucky people who could also secure a job they love and I work from home writing about my passion and all the wonderful people within the sport.
But now the industry I live and breath for has had its heart ripped straight from its chest.
We are talking about an industry with a lot of problems, there is no denying that, but it is also one in the middle of a reform.
I was one of the thousands of people who was appalled by the ABC’s exposé into live-baiting and it is clear the governing body was allowed to sit on its hands for too long and that it subsequently failed to enforce proper regulations within the industry.
I was also one of a select few asked to be on the Joint Working Group to make a submission to the Special Commission of Inquiry as to what the industry could do to change for the better.
We raised many good points and, since the live-baiting scandal hit, GRNSW’s whole board and former CEO were sacked, something us industry participants had been rallying for for a long time, while the new CEO, Paul Newson, has introduced an array of new breeding, racing and welfare rules to improve the industry.
Yet, without the chance to prove we can change, we have been shut down. As far as I am concerned this is possibly the greatest injustice to have ever been handed down by the state government.
All up the greyhound industry contributes $92.3 million to the state directly, with a further $51.9 million in flow on benefits and $31 million in tax revenue.
But it’s not the economic impact I’m worried about.
In NSW, 10 people were exposed partaking in live-baiting. There are roughly 13,000 trainers, owners and breeders in the state alone, meaning the actions of less than 0.8% of participants is resulting in the shutdown of an entire industry.
Not only does it affect those 13,000 participants, but we are also taking about 1086 direct and 475 indirect full-time equivalent jobs.
These are not people who are well off, for the most part they are your every day Australians with families and mortgages, what does their future hold?
Track staff, race callers, judges, veterinarians, meat suppliers, vitamin suppliers – apparently they are not important to the state government.
And lets talk about the figures thrown around today that between 48,891 and 68,448 greyhounds have been killed over the past 12 years.
This was the figure concluded by the special commission – no doubt influenced by animal welfare groups and Greyhounds Australasia which has proven in recent times it would struggle to run a meat raffle let alone a billion-dollar industry.
My question is how exactly did they come up with these figures and how do they know they are all deceased?
Are they accounting for the dogs that were never named and are pets (of which I have one)?
Are they accounting for the dogs which were born in NSW and started their careers here before making the move interstate?
Are they accounting for the dogs that are retired as pets after their careers (of which my family has eight)?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not naïve enough to think that all greyhounds find a home after finishing their careers.
For this reason, millions of dollars have been poured into animal welfare over the past year to ensure more greyhounds are given the opportunity to be rehomed.
Additionally, GRNSW were making moves to enforce tougher monitoring of greyhounds throughout their entire life cycles, while breeding numbers were down nearly 50% in NSW alone for the past 12 months.
I get it. I know that these numbers needed to be crunched heavily to reduce the amount of dogs discarded by the sport each year, but to so cruelly end the entire industry citing it was due to ‘the slaughtering of tens of thousands of dogs’ seems a bit hyporcritical from Baird considering his government was the one which ordered 6000 brumbies be shot dead – but of course that’s not cruelty.
It is clear Baird’s announcement had political timing…it’s no coincidence he has had the special commission’s report on his desk for three weeks and made the choice not to announce this decision until after the federal election.
Baird has also made the move to save himself – he lost the support of Fred Nile’s Christian Democratic Party which gave the liberals the balance of power in the NSW Upper House due to the Safe Schools Program. By ending greyhound racing Baird has effectively gained the support of the animal rights parliamentarians and now he will be able to pass his bills – too bad we were the trade off.
And I haven’t forgot about Baird already discussing what will be built on the soon to be defunct Wentworth Park track in the centre of Sydney.
“They will not be for high rise,” Baird told the Sydney Morning Herald, “I will be very clear on that.”
“We will engage with the community to determine whether they can be used for open space, sporting facilities, or general community use.”
That’s right, you’ve just ruined 13,000 lives, but don’t let them pick themselves up off the ground before you dig the boot right back in.
What’s even more disappointing is that GRNSW already appear to have given up and abandoned the industry – not that they were ever really here for us in the first place.
In a press release on Thursday afternoon the controlling body said “GRNSW will continue to tirelessly advocate for its members and carry on to ensure greyhound racing industry participants receive the support they need as the industry winds down.”
I do feel for the employees at GRNSW – those who are losing their livelihoods just like all us trainers, however it is not acceptable that our leaders at the top have chucked their hands in the air and conceded defeat.
It now leaves us with one hell of a problem, but if we can unite as one and fight this decision, maybe we have a glimmer of hope.