IT IS amazing how society and politics work. It’s now well over a year since the live baiting curse struck the greyhound industry and it still won’t go away. Even the Special Commission in NSW has got another lease of life and will not now report until the end of May. That’s its third extension. Its latest media release says “Commissioner McHugh has requested the extension after more information that requires detailed examination came to light”.
For heaven’s sake, what are they trying to do? What is “coming to light” that they did not already know or could make a reasonable estimate about? What precision is necessary to establish that a significant number of people broke the rules? If the number is X or Y, will it make any difference to the Commission’s end recommendations? And how will all that overlap with the numerous cases which have already been put to bed with bans and disqualifications galore – none of which needed the intervention of this Commission or the other official reviews in Queensland and Victoria?
The whole deal is now taking on the complexion of a lawyers’ picnic – fortunately funded mainly by the taxpayers rather than the industry. In total, costs must be running into many millions. Just to open the door to their courtrooms must involve upwards of $100k a day.
Much of this is to satisfy Troy Grant, the NSW Minister Against Greyhound Racing, who has asked the Commission to find ways to “shut the industry down”, as Counsel Assisting termed it. That will never happen. Apart from anything else, I have yet to see a politician game enough to put thousands of people out of work, particularly when that same Minister is personally responsible for the nature of the industry and the appointment of members of its board.
This is crazy stuff, and diverts attention from the need to better structure the future industry (about which the Commission has said almost nothing so far). That objective will not be helped by the Minister’s recent unfair decision to delay and reduce the greyhound code’s share of the tax equalisation bonus – all on spurious grounds. To cut greyhound’s share to 10% – by improperly using an earlier economic report – when it is providing around 20% of the turnover and therefore cross-subsidising the other two codes is sheer bastardry.
Indeed, it is time the Minister stopped “being a law unto himself”, as Fairfax Media put it (April 16-17, SMH). It claimed “Grant is developing a reputation for refusing to listen to experts whose (legal) views he might not agree with”.
On the other hand
Nevertheless, there is a related problem; what have all the greyhound administrations done about recovering lost ground?
So far, some heads have rolled, more people have been employed, some regulations have been added, prize money has been or will be cut to pay for the extra expenses, and dozens of media releases issued – most of which will have been read only by insiders, not the general public.
Virtually all changes have been inward-looking with almost no attention paid to influencing the man or woman in the street. But those folk don’t read media releases. They do not open up racing websites to see what is going on. They certainly don’t look at formguides. Most don’t even like greyhounds, much less racing itself. Here, I am not talking about the tiny number of noisy fringe dwellers with a pathological objection to greyhound racing but about the average Joe who could well become a future owner, trainer or punter, or who might admire the greyhound for the superb athlete it is.
In other words, the industry’s public relations effort has varied from pathetic to non-existent. So, too, with its marketing. It is hard to name a single program – outside Greyhound Adoption – which has seriously attempted to take the message to the general public. (This is one reason why GAP programs will achieve only a fraction of their potential – the message is fine but it hits a brick wall and bounces back).
To remedy its problems, the industry can take all the steps it wants to in respect to how trainers and other insiders conduct themselves but the best that will come out of that is a return to the status quo (and even that will take a lot of time).
Progress and development will occur only when the industry’s managers accept that they have both external and internal challenges to meet. And none of that will happen without investing money to make money.
Still more delays
Meantime, the GA-sponsored KPMG report into breeding is also not likely to be seen for a month or two. It was scheduled for the end of February. Initial drafts are only now doing the rounds of the states after being held up while KPMG took extra time to establish how many dogs were doing what and where – as we predicted at the outset.
This project was aimed at developing a magic formula which would tell each state how much breeding it should authorise, with underlying conditions requiring them to push more slow dogs into races and to generally reduce the number of dogs available. Necessarily, all that would have to be based on incomplete and inaccurate statistics because that is all we have.
However, the killer will be what happens when some states agree with the formula and others do not. Can Big Brother force some sires and dams to remain in a disenfranchised state, for example? Or will they move to a more favourable jurisdiction? Will it tell Paul Wheeler where to send his youngsters?
The implied reductions are also looking a bit silly when the industry is having difficulty maintaining full fields as it is. The all-powerful Victorian group, for example, has recently had to cut some normal meetings from 12 to 11 races. A recent Sandown meeting ran with five short fields (two of them Maidens). The Warrnambool Cup meeting had three short fields, Cranbourne three, Bendigo two, Traralgon three and Sale three – all in the last week. Not to be outdone, Wentworth Park had five short fields on Wednesday, two the previous Saturday and three the previous Wednesday. And so it goes on.
The end report promises to be a dog’s breakfast but it will be an expensive one as consultants like KPMG do not come cheap. Nor do judicial reviews.