NSW Reform Panel recommendations – what you need to know

GREYHOUND racing faces colossal changes to structure, animal welfare and licensing following recommendations handed down in the final report by the NSW Greyhound Industry Reform Panel.

The 82-page document made 122 recommendations focusing on the separation of the commercial and regulatory functions of Greyhound Racing NSW (GRNSW), ways to strengthen animal welfare, including methods to increase rehoming and decrease euthanasia, and the need for the industry to ensure its own sustainability moving forward.

There were good points within the report, such as recommendations for the government to re-visit the intercode agreement and tax harmonisation schemes, however there are still doubts as to whether this will actually occur.

Additionally, the report called for tougher penalties for animal welfare rule breaches and is giving the new integrity arm of the regulator heightened powers to set and enforce rules.

There are also some contentious points, such as a potential detrimental affect on prize money with the commercial arm of the industry set to be responsible for redirecting money into integrity and welfare.

Australian Racing Greyhound has summarised the main aspects of the report below.

Separation of commercial and regulatory functions

The Reform Panel recommends that the commercial and regulatory aspects of the industry be separated.

Based on the report, the existing GRNSW would be reconstituted to become responsible for the commercial aspects of the sport and become a statutory state-owned corporation. The shareholder ministers would be the NSW Treasurer and the Minister for Finance, with the Minister for Racing to be the portfolio minister.

The commercial arm would be governed by a board of at least five and no more than seven members as well as a CEO. The report suggested that more than half of the board should be comprised of persons independent from the industry.

The commercial arm of the sport would be required to meet obligations imposed by an operating licence which was issued by the Minister for Racing. It would be responsible for developing track safety standards, program races and oversee the management and administration of race tracks and race clubs.

The panel also recommended that the commercial arm be required to meet the costs of the industry’s operations including regulatory activities, the distribution of prize money and investing in tracks in order to meet safety standards.

The commercial body will be charged with deciding how to structure the industry to be sustainable commercially including making a determination on the number of tracks to maintain.

Much like the GRV model, the commercial arm would also have the power to manage racing activities itself.

The regulatory aspects of the industry would be managed by a new regulator known as the Greyhound Welfare and Integrity Commission. This body would be responsible for setting and maintaining welfare standards, overseeing the integrity of greyhound racing and monitoring and enforcing compliance of participants.

The integrity commission would be led by a chief commissioner, supported by two other commissioners, to be appointed by the Governor on recommendation by the Minister for Racing.

The integrity commission would have the powers to form advisory committees, one of which should be a Animal Welfare Committee made up of five members – one independent animal welfare/behaviour expert, a senior officer of the RSPCA, the Chief Veterinary Officer of NSW or a nominee on their behalf, a representative from the industry and a representative from the commercial entity of GRNSW.

The integrity commission should be able to establish new rules of racing, with those relating to welfare to also be reviewed by the Animal Welfare Committee.

The integrity commission will also develop and recommend an enforceable animal welfare code and will be the primary compliance and enforcement body with a broad range of investigative powers. Included in these powers is the ability to search residences and the capacity to obtain and use evidence from lawful covert surveillance.

Animal Welfare plan

The animal welfare plan introduced would include:

1. An enforceable Greyhound Industry Code of Practice for Animal Welfare which will be developed by the integrity commission based on the advice from the Greyhound Industry Animal Welfare Committee.

The code of practice would be based on the five domains of animal welfare – nutrition, environment, health, behaviour and mental or affective state. Within this there will be socialisation requirements at each stage of a greyhound’s lifecycle which are aimed at improving the amount of dogs suitable for racing and re-homing, therefore reducing euthanasia rates. Within the code, the panel also recommended that barking muzzles should be banned as well as the use of behaviour altering substances.

2. The whole life tracking of greyhounds from birth through to death and tracking the change of ownership and overall life time care. This would include a modest bond for each pup bred once they reach four months of age with annual payments made and retained until the greyhound is successfully retired, rehomed, dies of natural causes or is euthanised in accordance with the prescribed requirements.

Under the recommendations, owners would be responsible for the welfare of their greyhounds to lead a full and natural life as well as ensuring their suitability to be rehomed.

There will also be stricter rules regarding euthanasia which can only be performed by a veterinarian when they judge it is in the best interests of the greyhound. The only exceptions would be in accordance with the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979.

The panel avoided putting a breeding cap in place because there is poor data reflecting how many greyhounds bred annually are sent interstate which would impede the ability to set a cap at the right level. Instead, the panel recommended that a target for breeding controls should be revisited within two years of the new arrangements commencing when there is sufficient data collected. In the meantime, it is suggested that the industry pursue a national approach to controlled breeding.

3. Licensing and accreditation of participants which includes their obligations to care for a greyhound throughout each stage of its life. The scheme will apply to owners, breeders, rearers, educators and trainers.

An example within the recommendations is that breeders will now be required to complete a course to enable them to implement responsible breeding practices.

The greyhound welfare outcomes of each licence holder will be carefully monitored by the integrity commission which will take corrective action if the greyhounds cared for by a licensee experience are exposed to high euthanasia or low rehoming rates. In some cases, licences could be amended to impose tougher conditions and even revoked.

The new licencing scheme will also include conditions on the mandatory education and training requirements for participants, compliance with the code of practice, record keeping and reporting requirements and a limit on the maximum number of dogs that can be kept by the licensee.

All public trial tracks will also be licenced by the integrity commission, whilst all private training facilities that have a bull ring, a complete circular track or a rail lure infrastructure should be licenced. Private tracks will only be able to be used by registered participants, other than the private trial track manager, subject to signed agreements between the licensee and the participant being registered with the integrity commission.

Additionally, “muscle men” will be required to be licenced by the regulator and will be known as greyhound health assistants. They will have a limited ability to provide care to greyhounds and will be subject to licensing and accreditation requirements. This new licence will also include other treatments such as therapeutic massages, acupuncture and chiropractic care.

4. Tougher penalties and new offences to deter cruelty to both greyhounds and other animals. These will include life bans for live baiting and a potential jail term of up to five years. There will also be increased access to lower level penalties to allow for proportionate and early intervention on low level breaches of the rules.

The panel also recommended restrictions on keeping small animals at greyhound establishments, whilst age and litter limits are also likely to be set for all breeding females within the code of practice.

Industry to be responsible for its own financial sustainability

The panel addressed that the new regulatory arrangements will increase the overall costs of the industry. It recommended that the government should increase revenue to support the industry’s growing welfare and integrity demands and the operational costs of the integrity commission.

It was suggested this funding could be through changing legislation to amend the intercode agreement to better reflect the contribution to TAB turnover and by revisiting the distribution of tax harmonisation revenues.

The report also detailed that the commercial entity should be required to fund the operating costs of the integrity commission which should be a condition of its operating licence.

It is proposed in the recommendations that the integrity commission is funded through the normal state budget process and that the commercial entity makes an equivalent payment to the state in order to cover the appropriation to the integrity commission.

The panel noted that the commercial entity is likely to face a more constrained financial environment as it redirects funding to the integrity and animal welfare functions. Therefore, the commercial arm of the business will have to decide how the industry can best operate.

A reduction in money for commercial purposes could potentially effect the level of prize money paid per race or the number of races held. It may also impact the commercial entity’s ability to fund safety upgrades across all facilities which could require track closures. One proposal considered in the past was to establish centres of excellence which would reduce the number of tracks which need to be maintained but would allow for significant investments to be made in order to improve the infrastructure and safety of the remaining tracks.

Statutory review of the proposed changes after three years

The panel also recommended that legislation to enable the new arrangements is introduces as soon as possible, with a statutory review required three years after it comes into place.