TWO months have been and gone since Premier Mike Baird’s famous backflip on the New South Wales greyhound industry.
That’s two months since a grassroots campaign made up of owners, trainers and thousands of people both passionately and financially linked to the sport were able to overturn the unpopular decision that was made without any warning to those it would effect the most.
This was an issue handled so poorly and disrespectfully by the government that the Nationals lost the seat of Orange to the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party — a seat they had not come close to losing since 1947.
The people had their say.
But will it ultimately be heard?
After publicly-reversing the decision to ban greyhound racing, Baird and Deputy Premier Troy Grant also announced the establishment of the NSW Greyhound Industry Reform Panel.
Run by former Premier Morris Iemma, the panel was tasked with making recommendations to the government on how to reform the sport in regards to welfare, integrity and regulatory structure.
The clock is now ticking for the panel.
The bill put in place to shut down the industry still sits dormant and ready to take effect in July of 2017.
When asked why he would not immediately repeal the law that banned greyhound racing once he publicly changed the government’s decision, Baird said on 2HD Radio this week that the bill would be repealed when a new structure was agreed upon.
“Morris Iemma, who is chairman of the panel, he is working with industry and animal welfare groups and putting in place the regulations, appropriate powers, appropriate endorsements and then we will bring the legislation to enable racing to continue,” Baird said.
“So we have made that commitment and we will honour that commitment. We’re making sure we get legislation right.”
“I want to commend the industry – they have been very constructive in the work they’ve done with Iemma and the panel and we’re hopeful they succeed.”
Baird outlined the direct link with the panel and the industry’s future when pushed on why he wouldn’t immediately overturn the ban.
“Because we have to get new structure in place – they (the panel’s recommendations and repealing legislation) go together.”
It’s a sentiment that gives greyhound people every right to be very nervous about their future.
The same people – the owners, trainers and thousands employed by the industry – that almost had their livelihoods taken away, now must wait and hope the panel delivers on a healthy, sustainable future.
Despite the backflip in policy, the Government holds all the cards at the table, dealing with an industry that can’t risk inciting another change of heart or public backlash.
What do we know so far about what the all-important panel has done?
To get answers Australian Racing Greyhound chased down the members of the NSW Greyhound Industry Reform Panel.
The panel is made up of:
- Morris Iemma (Chair, former NSW premier)
- Simon Draper (Deputy Chair) – Department Premier/Cabinet
- Steve Coleman – RSPCA
- Christine Middlemiss – Department of Primary Industry
- Brenton Scott – Greyhound Breeders, Owners and Trainers Association
While Draper, Middlemiss and Coleman failed to respond individually to almost a week worth of comment requests, Brenton Scott gave an update on some of the panel’s work and findings thus far.
“Clearly the Reform Panel has been charged with providing advice to the Government on the most appropriate governance structure, animal welfare standards supported by an appropriate funding model going forward,” Scott said.
With timing clearly an issue factoring in the process of industry consultation and passing a new bill, Scott said the panel’s findings should be released in early 2017.
“The reform panel to date has reached broad agreements across reasonably wide territory and is now in the process of report-writing with a view to that being completed to draft stage by the end January,” he said.
Will that leave enough time for appropriate feedback from the industry?
“There will have to be opportunities throughout the course of January to get stakeholder insight,” Scott explained.
While Scott was honourable in attempting to give feedback that the industry is desperate for, the details were light when it came to who the panel had been consulting with.
“I am not sure I am in a position to answer that specifically, but clearly the panel has called upon experts across the territory that they are assessing including the greyhound industry and a number of experts have presented information to the committee.”
On breeding caps, as expected, the industry can expect a new model.
“The industry has to accept that the government has given the NSW greyhound industry the opportunity to continue its reform journey.
“At the centre of that reform journey is an ethical and sustainable product supply system,” Scott said.
“That means breeding in line with our racing requirements and our capacity to provide total lifecycle management to the vast majority of the greyhounds we breed.
“Given this, it is within the interests of everybody within the industry to plan and control our breeding levels.
“This needs to be undertaken in a sophisticated manner which in my view includes cross border considerations such as the migration of greyhounds that occurs from the point of breeding to end of racing career state to state.
And what do we know about the experts and advisors the panel are speaking to? Unfortunately it seems that for reasons unknown to us, it’s a secret.
“I am not sure I am in a position to answer that specifically, but clearly the panel has called upon experts across the territory that they are assessing including the greyhound industry and a number of experts have presented information to the committee,” Scott said.
“That has included people such as the GRV Chairman and CEO, but the detail of that would need to be put to Morris (Iemma).”
The fact that no one from the panel is willing to divulge these details, in addition to not responding to requests for comment all-together is a concern. The history and agendas of those having their voices heard is vital.
The biggest feedback coming from Scott was the potential separation of the functions of racing and commercial practices.
“If we are to look at the racing codes across Australia, there has been a clear determination in recent years that the regulatory functions and the commercial functions do not necessarily co-exist well in terms of racing industry management,” he said.
“It follows that if NSW is to set itself the challenge of adopting best-practice governance, then our future governance framework must see the regulation and integrity oversight aspects of our industry separated from the commercial functions.”
It’s still hard to gauge how drastic the changes will be for the industry, especially given the RSPCA’s position on the Reform Panel. RSPCA CEO Steve Coleman has previously spoken out in support of the controversial ban, something which has participants particularly worried.
“This day will go down… as one of the biggest improvements in animal welfare in this state,” Coleman said, on the day the ban was originally announced.
“We can only hope that other jurisdictions look upon this decision very, very seriously.
“It’s monumental, and I can only hope that this reverberates around the country.”
Hardly a good sign when you’d hope every panel member would be impartial and working actively to create a strong industry for everyone involved.
In addition to Scott, a panel spokesperson responded to Australian Racing Greyhound‘s questions with the following statement:
“The NSW Government is committed to genuine reform in the greyhound industry, and therefore is allowing the Greyhound Industry Reform Panel the time it needs to complete its work,” the statement said.
“The Panel is considering advice from a number of industry experts, and the RSPCA and Greyhound Breeders Owners and Trainers Association have members on the Panel.”
“The Panel is also considering a number of reports, including the recommendations of the Report of the Special Commission of Inquiry, as well as the industry reform guarantees put forward by the Greyhound Racing Industry Alliance.”
For those playing at home, the Report of the Special Commission of Inquiry, peppered with controversial statistics, was what was used to justify the greyhound ban in the first place.
“The Panel is consulting with some stakeholders and relevant experts directly as part of its work.”
So, while a rough timeline is in place with the panel delivering its report in late January, much of the details important to the industry — breeding caps, funding, welfare, regulations surrounding owning and training and more — will all be a mystery until that date.
A mystery is not what you need when your career and livelihood is at stake.
When the Greyhound Industry Reform Panel delivers its report, time will be of the essence.
We hope the people put in charge of reform, unlike prior management structures, consult and allow the people on the ground floor to have a say on their own futures. The pressure feels immense on the people, some of who have had their name and sport dragged through the mud, to accept all amendments and changes or face oblivion.
We also hope they are given a voice and time to provide feedback before the changes are implemented.
Australian Racing Greyhound will continue to update the industry as this story develops.