GREYHOUND racing will be banned in New South Wales from July 1, 2017, after legislation to outlaw the sport was passed through the Lower House of state parliament 48 votes to 35.
It comes just two weeks after Baird made the bizarre move to pass the bill through the Upper House first, with many speculating that it was a tactic to avoid fuelling a heated debate within the Legislative Assembly and to prevent MPs from crossing the floor.
“Urgent notices of motion being introduced to the Upper House has usually been reserved for extreme issues such as legislation for terrorism and the like,” Wallsend MP Sonia Hornery said at the time.
“The Baird Government is determined to sidestep due process today by introducing legislation which will ignore a significant section of our community.”
While the bill ultimately passed through the Lower House in the early hours of Wednesday morning, it wasn’t all good news for Baird and his Deputy Premier Troy Grant, with three Nationals MPs crossing the floor to oppose the ban and a further two MPs vowing to abstain in the vote.
It was the most substantial rebellion in the history of the O’Farrell-Baird Government, with the only member of Coalition to have crossed the floor during their reign being Peter Phelps over ethanol laws.
Mike Baird released a statement on Wednesday morning to express his satisfaction with the Government’s overall decision, ignoring the internal revolt which has been occurring within the Coalition Government over the ban.
“When I came into politics, I never envisaged having to make a decision like this one. The driving focus of our government has been, and remains, rebuilding NSW after years of neglect,” Baird said.
“But I also didn’t come into politics just to make the easy decisions or to kick the big problems down the road. Too often governments put confronting problems in the too hard basket. We are not that kind of government.
“I’m proud of the decision we have made to save thousands upon thousands of dogs from cruelty and death. It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was the right decision.
“We will now continue helping the innocent trainers and breeders, who have been let down by their industry, as they transition away from racing. I know many of them are disappointed. I feel deep empathy for them, and I’m determined to help them as best we can.”
The bill was passed after 3am in the morning on Wednesday, with several MPs voicing their distain for the legislation including Cootamundra MP Katrina Hodgkinson, one of the Nationals who crossed the floor.
“I have been threatened for expressing my views by some who have served in this place for periods far less than me,” she said.
“So be it. After 17 years I will happily stand by my reasoning. To serve in Parliament members must have some guiding principles that are innate and not instructed.
“If the process was different I am certain so too would be the outcome, an outcome based on a more methodical and logical process to a complex but not impossible issue.
“In this Parliament we have and will continue to deal with issues more exceptional than this, but if those who rely on us to find the calmer process of a more diligent resolution are ignored, then this vote to ban an industry must be defeated.
“I take this tough decision today not to vote with Labor, but I have to oppose this legislation on behalf of my electorate, on behalf of those who are sick and depressed by this proposed ban and who feel that they have no voice, and on behalf of those many people who are involved in agriculture in my electorate who will be targeted based on the precedent being set today.”
Opposition Leader Luke Foley kicked off the debate, with a two-hour speech which was scathing of the actions of the Coalition government.
“What we have here is the extraordinary intervention by the State — a Coalition Government, with the Liberal Party as the largest party in that coalition — taking away property rights, closing down private business activity and closing down an industry that contributes $335 million per annum to the State’s economy.
“If a Labor Government did it there would be cries of socialism and communism ringing from those opposite and their cheer squad in the media.
“Yet here we have a Liberal Premier — a leader of a party that claims to champion private enterprise and the private sector economy — with the stroke of a pen or, more accurately, with the click of a keyboard to put it on Facebook, wiping out an entire industry, outlawing it, declaring it illegal.”
Foley also re-iterated Labor’s position that Parliament should be used to strengthen animal welfare and integrity measures within the greyhound racing industry, not to rub out the entire industry.
Foley slammed the Government in a statement on Wednesday morning and was particularly critical of the Nationals MPs who refused to stand up for their constituents.
“Regional and rural NSW has been let down by a National Party which has done little more than act as a lickspittle for a North Shore Liberal Premier,” Foley said.
“There are thousands of good and honest people in the greyhound industry that will have their livelihoods destroyed by this Liberal-National Government.”
Labor moved several amendments during the course of the debate, all of which were defeated, one of which was to suspend debate of the bill for three months pending the Supreme Court challenge launched by the industry.
The industry is claiming that many facts within the McHugh report are incorrect, with questions also having arisen in regards to a potential bias in the favour of those opposing greyhound racing.
Michael Daley, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Gaming and Racing was disgusted by Baird’s tactic to pass the bill so quickly.
“There was no reason for the legislation to be rammed through the Parliament in the early hours of the morning,” Daley said.
“I moved to suspend the debate for three months until the Supreme Court had delivered its judgement. How can anyone think that is unreasonable?
“We know Mike Baird thinks he’s above the community, now he thinks he’s above the independent umpire.
“Mike Baird knows he’s done the wrong thing. He’s chosen to rush this legislation through and push all the pain onto those in the industry who will be ruined by this.”
The greyhound racing industry will continue to fight for the legislation to be overturned, with Barrister David Bennett QC representing the industry in the Supreme Court in a battle to have the Special Commission of Inquiry report declared invalid.
The matter is due back in court on September 29.