AFTER taking a month off, the NSW Special Commission will re-start public hearings this week, concentrating on the “life of a racing greyhound, injuries and veterinary care”, according to its media release. Just how that might be different to the last lot of hearings is unclear.
No doubt “the life of a racing greyhound” will touch further on the question of alleged overbreeding, and will rely on the same faulty information provided by a (once) confidential circular from Greyhounds Australasia.
The Commission’s brief allows it to look into almost anything to do with the industry but is it competent to do that properly? Past evidence suggests not. There is no obvious greyhound racing expertise amongst Commission staff and no indication it has sought those skills elsewhere.
Much the same can be said of similar Inquiries run in Victoria and Queensland but in those cases the reports concentrated on live baiting alone. However, in neither case did that stop them moving on to the alleged overbreeding. That subject was pulled out of the hat despite the absence of any serious analysis and review. Equally, they called for several changes to the composition and operation of the managing boards even though they failed to demonstrate any experience in industry governance, or even in business management. In the end, their solution – in both cases – was to play musical chairs. The change would be purely cosmetic.
Coincidentally, the NSW Racing Minister has just lodged new legislation dealing with changes to tax rates assessed on racing codes. For the gallops and the trots reductions will apply progressively between 2016 and 2020 to cause NSW rates to drop to Victorian levels (from 3.22% to 1.28%). For greyhounds, nothing much is to happen yet because the Minister has said he will await the report from the Special Commission, which is not due until next March. Even then he will personally decide how much and where any cash saved will go.
The tenor of the Commission’s proceedings to date, and the actions of the Minister, indicate little or no confidence in the industry’s operation. This is perhaps why the target is to “develop an improved model of governance of the greyhound racing industry”.
Fair enough, but are we in danger of having the blind leading the blind? If the Commission cannot adequately assess how the industry operates, or properly audit information supplied to it, how the devil can it come up with better answers?
So far, the input to the Commission has amounted to rubbishy and unchecked information on the one hand and evidence from a very small number of participants found guilty of live baiting on the other. Its attempt to browbeat a former GRNSW chairman about live baiting was inconclusive at best, insulting at worst.
Regardless of the rights and wrongs, both the Commission and the Minister must be seen to be looking fairly and objectively at the problems. That does not appear to be the case. The tax discrimination itself is further evidence of that.
Remember also that the government alone is responsible for the way racing authorities were set up and for appointing the members of their boards. It is all very well sacking people when things go badly but there is also a need for the people who put them there to look in the mirror.
How some lawyers work
Here is a battleground of another sort.
ICAC Commissioner Megan Latham featured in a report in The Australian (Nov13) relating what goes when the court closes its doors. It was presented in a case where the “victim” felt he had been badly treated by ICAC interrogators and was appealing the ICAC decision. Here’s what happened.
“The court was shown a video of Ms Latham addressing a NSW Bar Association dinner last year, urging lawyers to move to ICAC if they were tired of abiding by the rules of evidence, and comparing the commission’s work to “pulling wings off butterflies”.
“On a concluding note, can I say that if any of you get tired of adversarial litigation, inquisitorial litigation is fantastic,” she says in the video. “You are not confined by the rules of evidence. You have a free kick. You can go anywhere you want to go and it’s a lot of fun.”
As it happens, the Special Commission into greyhound racing is “inquisitorial litigation”, too. Not everyone is happy at the way counsels are building up its case. However, following a request from Judge McHugh, the Minister did give him Royal Commission-style powers, which allows the lawyers to use a lot of muscle.
No doubt this is why the opening address from the Counsel Assisting carried threats to “shut down” the greyhound industry. Of course, using the same logic, the Royal Commission into child abuse might well be demanding that all churches and church schools also be “shut down”. Trade unions, too. But I hardly think so.
Still on the law, we should record that Michael Byrne QC, formerly a Racing Queensland board member, has just been promoted to the position of Director of Public Prosecutions in Queensland.
Longer is better
Now that three months have gone by a review of performances at Traralgon is possible. Generally, my own figures, based on Grade 6 and better, pretty much match those of GRV.