Does politics rule greyhound racing?

Can a “right” be achieved by doing the wrong thing? Perhaps in .

Leaving aside suspensions and disqualifications, the first real action from racing authorities since the start of the saga has occurred in Victoria. The state’s longstanding incentive program () has been .

It’s all about establishing “a much more responsible and acceptable structure and welfare orientated culture” according to GRV chairman, Ray Gunston. Apparently, “GOBIS in its current form does not achieve this”.

(Actually, I don’t think it was ever designed to do that. It was never any more than a handout to support local industry).

Moving away from the corporate spin, GRV finds that “Redirecting such funding to matters such as responsible breeding initiatives and GAP is a much more appropriate approach to better greyhound lifecycle welfare”.

The aim is to “reduce numbers of greyhounds being bred, improve rehoming rates after retirement ( Program) and to fund improved post-racing retirement outcomes” and emerges from a report from the Chief Veterinary Officer with more input from the Department of Economic Development and .

All very nice words but do they mean anything? Certainly, there would be general support for more post-racing opportunities – or even pre-retirement opportunities – but favouring a reduction in the number of dogs being bred is no more than a quick at an undefined problem. It promises to chop down the size of the industry. Does the GRV board have a license to do that?

First, there has been no decent, all embracing study of the breeding sector to determine what the facts are, certainly not by the Chief Veterinary Officer, the Commissioner or the McSporran report in Queensland. All simply claimed that breeding fewer dogs would make things better – i.e. reduce wastage. It was strictly off the cuff stuff, perhaps with political overtones.

Second, it is only two years since the previous Victorian Premier trumpeted the need to raise breeding levels and generate more employment when he provided more cash to enlarge the GOBIS scheme. Suddenly now, the position is reversed. Of course, the prospect of more employment was always suspect anyway.

Third, breeding statistics have shown a steady decrease over the last decade. Reasons have not been stated or even investigated. This has happened despite subsidies in all states so one future possibility is that their elimination would also have no effect.

Fourth, there is a national shortage of starters for existing races so, were breeding numbers to fall further, it would force a reduction in the number of races conducted and therefore cause a similar drop in industry income. That would have a huge effect on industry economics and on participants’ income. Smaller states would be affected more due to the law of diminishing returns. Unemployment would be unavoidable.

Fifth, major steps have already been taken to utilise a bigger proportion of the dog population. The introduction of Tier 3 races in Victoria and Class C races in NSW, and the rise in the proportion of ultra-short races are examples. Their benefits are arguable but at least they offer inferior dogs some opportunities.

Sixth, the method for reducing breeding numbers is unstated but a reduction in subsidies is not likely to have much or any effect on the totals. Remember that sires are already limited in the number of bitches they can service each month. Is this to be cut further in what might be called a Chinese solution? If so, it would reduce turnover and further damage industry economics, causing even more unemployment. Such action also brings up the question of a possible restraint of trade if, indeed, that is not present now. Even if a reduction were to be achieved, the impact is likely to be small by comparison with the thousands of pups now whelped every year. Little would be gained.

Seventh, would it open Pandora’s Box? If it’s fair enough to cut greyhound breeding, what should be done about reducing the number of horses sent to the knacker’s yard, later to be turned into feeds. What about other dog breeds? Should we do something about cats, which are the greatest cause (with wild dogs) of the elimination of some animal species? That should concern the RSPCA far more than greyhound breeding. Anyway, the possibilities are endless.

Eighth, what would happen if Victoria is able to cut breeding numbers but everyone else increases their production to make up for it? Nationally, nothing would be achieved. Yet, given the laws of supply and demand, this is precisely what is likely to occur. There would be a similar outcome were you talking about bottles of milk, motor cars or supplying electricity. That’s how the world works.

In the end, the whole Victorian process smacks of a politically correct approach to a complex problem which has yet to be properly defined. The live baiting saga, serious as it was, seems to be on the way to being handled sensibly. However, it has been exploded into a world way beyond its actual impact and then dominated by furious and often improbable claims and statements from politicians and their appointees. The fact that in NSW and Queensland all those appointees were lawyers, basically with little or no industry or management experience or expertise, especially not on breeding, has not helped to present a dispassionate, rounded or considered view.

Ironically, the Victorian decision on breeding subsidies skips over the fact that these programs were and are abject failures. They had no particular objectives, nor were their performances ever validated. No evidence was ever presented that spending money this way was effective or better than doing something else.

Currently, Victoria is governed by three new board members with little or no exposure to the greyhound industry. They do have significant executive experience but come from accounting, police and legal backgrounds. And the CEO is on extended leave. This decision is therefore based on advice from a wide range of people, inside and outside GRV, some of whom would have biased views, and none of whom would have the benefit of a thorough investigation into the breeding sector. The decision risks being likened to the way designs greyhound tracks – badly and by guesswork.

Breeding, aside from the subsidies themselves, is heavily subject to normal market forces and is arguably the most profitable sector of the industry, certainly for successful sires. The very existence of subsidies has been a function of shallow thinking me-too-ism amongst state administrators. They ceased being real incentives once every state put a scheme in place.

Indeed, it may well be argued that they can have a negative effect in that bitch owners may well be encouraged to go to a less than ideal sire for narrow financial reasons.

The whole process has been a dud, but the remedial effort from Victorians so far promises to be no better. If there is one subject that demands a national or even international approach it is breeding. It is a further indictment of the failure of the Australian industry to move on from the parochial interests of individual states and the lack of professional attention to many technical matters.

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