Mike Baird defends his decision to shut down NSW greyhound racing

NEW South Wales Premier Mike Baird has bitten back after being lashed with criticism since announcing the greyhound racing industry would be shut down within the state as of July 1, 2017.

Baird listed 10 points on his Facebook page on Saturday night which he said were not true about the closure of the industry, the first of which was targeted at the entire industry being punished for the crimes of a few.

“Unfortunately, the report of the Special Commission is very clear that these practices were systemic – for too long, too many people who knew what was going on didn’t do enough to reform greyhound racing,” Baird said in his statement.

“I feel very strong empathy for those who are caught up in this who have not done anything wrong. They should feel deep anger towards others in their industry who have brought us to this place.”

Baird disputed claims that the closure of the industry was a money grab to enable the the sport’s main racetrack, Wentworth Park, to be sold of to land developers.

“We will not be developing any tracks on Crown Land into residential or high rise,” he wrote.

“We don’t have any say over who the privately owned tracks get sold to. But, for the government owned sites – including Wentworth Park – I can’t be any clearer. They will be used for community space.

“We will consult with the community about what this looks like, but it may include open space or sports facilities or even things like schools if appropriate.”

Baird did concede that many greyhounds could potentially die from the shutdown, however he argues that many more would have continued to die if the industry were to continue.

“We are working very closely with the RSPCA and their partners to re-home as many dogs as possible and our strong preference is for dogs to remain with their current owners or be adopted into homes.

“But experts have advised us it won’t be possible to re-house all of them and many may be put down. To avoid that, I’m open to any approach to save as many dogs as we can.

“Whatever loss of life regrettably comes as a result of the shutdown is a small fraction of what would happen if the industry continued.”

Baird denied that the decision to ban the sport was made hastily without consultation and that the industry was already in the middle of reform and heading to a brighter future.

“When the Four Corners story on this emerged over a year ago, our response was not to make immediate decisions. It was to undertake a very detailed inquiry, overseen by a former High Court Judge.

“That inquiry has taken over a year and had the powers of a Royal Commission. It received 2000 submissions and held private and public hearings. It has been in-depth. It has been comprehensive.

“Although there had been some progress made, the Inquiry found that the industry has had many years to reform and failed to do so.

“In fact, even after the Four Corners investigation and with the full knowledge that we had ordered an inquiry, the report found trainers were STILL using live baiting and flouting the rules.”

Baird stated it simply wasn’t an option to enforce more oversight and that a total shutdown was the only option.

“The Special Commission suggested that, if Parliament were to attempt more regulation, 79 different recommendations would need to be taken into account. But it said that, even then, it was highly doubtful the industry was capable of reform.”

The Premier denied the government was being hypocritical in still allowing betting on dog racing in other states and said it was not its intention to ban everything.

“The licence agreements with the TAB and the racing industry are quite complex and we need to do some work to figure out how we unwind some of these agreements.

“But let me be clear: we don’t want to, and won’t, be profiting from poor animal welfare practices.

“We will have more to say on the specifics of this in the coming months.

“I’m a big advocate of small government that keeps out of your way. But that doesn’t mean government stands back and allows cruelty to animals on a widespread scale.

“My instinct on this, before the Inquiry’s report was handed down, was that we would find a way to reform this industry. But then I read the report. I didn’t need to read it twice. We are intervening here because we have to.”

Baird also addressed the government’s stance on puppy farms, while finishing his statement confirming that the legislation to ban greyhound racing will be heard at the next sitting period.

“All MPs can have their say. If they want to oppose this change, they can explain their reasons for that to the community at that time.

“We expect the legislation to pass because we believe anyone who reads this report will see there is no workable alternative option.”