FORMER steward Amanda Hill is standing by her words despite backlash following her appearance on last Monday’s controversial Four Corners program focusing on live baiting.
The ABC, working with the RSPCA, Animals Australia and Animal Liberation Queensland, launched an investigation into live-baiting practices within the greyhound racing industry and caught a large number of trainers red-handed through the use of secret surveillance cameras.
Hill has received a mixed reaction to her interview on the program where she spoke out on the deplorable practice used by some participants within the sport. Some critics accused her of being bitter on the industry after she was forced out of her role in Tasmania.
“People are looking at me thinking I am one of the animal activists, but anyone that knows me knows that I’m not,” Hill said.
“I didn’t do this for any status or any form of money, I was not paid, I did it because anyone that knows me knows my thoughts on live baiting.
“I didn’t do this to come back into the industry or get a job out of it – I did it because it broke my heart to think that an industry I loved was about to come unstuck in such a catastrophic way. When you know they have this sort of calibre of evidence you think to yourself, ‘What do you do?’.
“I didn’t crucify the industry but unfortunately what I saw as a good deed has bitten me on the backside. I don’t regret it, not for one minute, because I was trying to balance a show that I thought was going to be really hard on the industry.”
Hill has a diverse background in the greyhound racing industry. Starting off as an owner, she also worked as a vet nurse at the Sandown Vet Clinic before becoming a steward in both Victoria and Tasmania.
“I don’t bet, I don’t gamble, I don’t punt, my involvement with racing is purely because I love the breed. I used to say to Jim Gannon, who was on the GRV board, ‘What they should do …’ and I used to be at him constantly saying they should do this and they should do that.
“Jim came into me one morning and handed me a clipping from The Age and said, ‘What you should do, Amanda, is apply for a job with the regulatory body’. That was the start of it, that’s how I became a steward.”
Hill, who has a Graduate Certificate in Animal Welfare through Monash University, said she found it challenging when working for Greyhound Racing Victoria which ultimately led her to taking a job as Chief Steward in Tasmania.
“In my time as a steward I found it frustrating in Victoria – we were on different pages. While I understand the marketing and promotion of the sport was important, I also thought that the animal welfare was just as important,” she said.
“When I took the job as the Chief Steward in Tasmania, I did it because I thought that from a position of higher standing, that I could do more to promote animal welfare.
“When I got to Tasmania one of my first challenges was to re-write the rules and I put in very, very strict animal welfare policies. In my time there, I prosecuted cases of animal welfare.”
Hill said she never had any trouble with animal activists when she was in Tasmania, despite confronting some serious animal welfare cases.
“When I prosecuted live baiting in Tasmania in 2008, Lyn White (from Animals Australia) was quite well aware of it. I didn’t see her make a huge deal about it,” Hill said.
“I had no problems with the animal activists jumping up and down saying, ‘see, it does go on’. I think that was because we were showing that we were proactive on it, if you did something wrong and you got caught, you didn’t participate in the industry.”
Hill said a lot of the problems the industry is facing is due to the fact that the relevant state authorities are not proactive enough to stamp out misconduct.
“My personal opinion on what has happened here is that the regulators have let the industry down. For whatever reasons, I don’t know, was it lack of resources? Lack of knowledge? I can’t say.
“Their approach to animal welfare is all wrong. You don’t ring up a trainer and announce that you are going to be there at 10 o’clock next Wednesday to do an inspection. When I got to Tasmania that is what they used to do, I stopped that. I think that is where the regulators have failed, if you are announcing that you are going there you are not going to be successful.
“Animals Australia went straight in and did what they did, and I know and understand that stewards don’t have that type of power, but it makes my blood boil when you listen to some of the hierarchy say, ‘We had no idea it was going on’ because if they can’t work out why they had no idea, you really have got to question why they are in the positions of power that they are in.”
Hill said she also believed the authority bodies were not working together with the participants to form a mutually trusting relationship, something she feels is extremely important for the industry to operate smoothly.
“The sad thing is that people in the industry felt that there was no one that they could report this to and that is quite apparent when they (the authorities) said they had no idea it was going on.
“They (the authorities) failed, because you need someone in your ranks that the industry feel they can approach and know that their confidentiality will be protected.”
Hill said the issue needed to be faced as it was never going to just disappear.
“I can understand why the industry is mad at me, they think I joined in on tarring the (entire) industry with the same brush, but I just tried to be as open and honest as I could be based on my experience.
“Unfortunately a lot of that ended up on the cutting-room floor. No one wanted to speak about it, but it wasn’t going to go away or be buried.”
Hill emphasised the Four Corners program should not brand the entire greyhound racing industry as there are a lot of decent trainers and participants involved for the love of the sport and their dogs.
“The thing that didn’t come across that I was trying to portray is that I don’t believe that it is systemic and until someone can actually give me the evidence that it is, I won’t accept it.
“I am not blind to it, but I don’t believe in alleging things that you haven’t got the hard facts to support and to balance it.”
Moving forward, Hill is adamant things need to change to ensure that greyhound racing survives.
“I don’t blame the industry because there a lot of good people, I blame the regulators because they are the ones that failed.
“I am not saying that I know the answer and I know that there are a lot of people standing around now scratching their heads – but I know that what has been happening hasn’t worked. Unfortunately it had to get to this stage before anyone stood up and took notice.
“The industry can’t be self-regulated, in the last 10 years I have watched GRV turn into this massive media circus and animal welfare has been missed. In Tasmania the regulation is separate to the promotion and it seemed to work.”
Despite the chaos, controversy and carnage the greyhound industry is facing, Hill remains optimistic the sport will survive and will have a bigger and brighter future.
“The industry is going to take a long time to recover and I am not saying it is going to be overnight but I think when the industry does recover, it is going to flourish, it is going to blossom.
“Did I foresee it going like this? Absolutely not.
“I wasn’t a whistleblower, the regulators have just failed the industry. That is my opinion and I am happy for people to challenge that.”