WHAT on earth are “community expectations”? How can you define them? Perhaps by a referendum or an election, as we do for governments in a democracy. But it is still on the imponderable side and always changing.
Another way is by gauging the amount of noise made by a particular sector. Demos, marches, PR campaigns, letters to the editor, and so on. But whatever the method used, there is one constant – protests groups are almost always small and push a single thought line to the public. A good example is the Senator heading the Motorists ticket in Canberra.
The topical mob at the moment involves anti-racing types, to whom this website offers regular space to voice their opinions. I emphasise “opinions” because whether sensible or not that’s all they are. Facts are often in short supply – for example, brandishing banners calling for governments to cease subsidising the greyhound racing industry. (In the previous year NSW greyhounds actually paid over $21 million in taxes).
Another is the amount of publicity generated by people like NSW Greens leader Dr John Kaye in his campaign to stop all greyhound racing (both pre- and post-live baiting, please note). While a member of the multi-party parliamentary committee examining the plight of the greyhound code, his views were firmly and consistently rejected by everyone, so much so that he resorted to publishing a dissenting report, supported by a tame but biased reporter from Fairfax. Irrespective of the subject, Greens are always flat out gaining more than 10% of the vote. They are a minority. They are not to be ignored, but they are few in number.
In other words, claiming that widespread “public outrage” exists is purely an assertion. Obviously, no sensible person can condone abuses of bait animals to train dogs. That is appalling. It is also illegal as well as of dubious value. However, it is not, and should not be, a measure of the inherent worth of the industry. It is a measure of the idiocy of the individuals who organised it and the failure of management to catch them.
Which brings us to the question of community standards and how you gauge them.
Those standards can be wild and varied. I have offered many examples of that in previous articles but here is another one. There is an animal in Australia which is sneaky, germ-laden, plays no real part in the ecology and is a routine killer of other animals, including humans – the crocodile. Yet it is protected by law. Heaven knows why. It has no value other than to provide material for handbags but you are not allowed to shoot it. Why is that? Clearly, some minority view or other has triumphed over common sense. Meantime, tourists die and huge areas of the country are placed off-limits.
Then there is the spurious claim that greyhounds are “forced” to race; in “Hugh’s” words, “Animals don’t choose to be part of the sports that we force them to participate in”. What absolute rubbish. Has he ever been to a racetrack to see dogs straining at the leash in their keenness to chase after the lure? It’s what they do. Chasing is in their DNA and has been for thousands of years. Other dog breeds have different but no less distinct traits, also part of their DNA.
To deny any such animal the opportunity to pursue its destiny is to endanger its very existence. While greyhounds can make great pets – all dogs like to attach themselves to their owners – that is not their main claim to fame. Chasing is. If they can’t do that, the breed will risk withering on the vine.
Indeed, repeated studies show that animal species prosper in direct relation to the value humans place on them. The quandary then becomes that while many greyhounds can be highly valued some are not and suffer euthanasia. Changing those proportions for the better can occur only when the greyhound is regarded as just one of many choices as a pet and the rate of adoption increases radically. To bring that about requires lots of time and a major effort to enhance the image of the breed in the eyes of the community at large.
All that now poses a twofold challenge to the industry. Over the course of a generation – and it may take that long – it has to re-educate the public about the qualities of the greyhound and re-educate participants (ie trainers) in terms of modern welfare standards.
The starting point has to be a complete clean-out of managers and management structures. New industry bosses will have to be ruthless and aggressive in policing standards, including immediate life bans on those abusing the system. No exceptions.
Where It All Started
What is forgotten is that the greyhound industry emerged mostly from a background of hard-working owners and trainers who built their own tracks in order to enjoy some competition. There were no real standards. Greyhound racing was a branch of community recreation which grew like Topsy. For example, miners came out of the pits at 3 o’clock, rushed home to wash off the dust, grabbed their dogs and headed for the track, perhaps to down a beer while waiting their turn to race. What happened in the next town (let alone the next state) was irrelevant. Governments displayed only spasmodic interest, at least until the 1960s when TABs were launched and they opened Pandora’s box.
Critically, the original clubs and their successors effectively ran the whole show, never mind whether they were qualified to run a rapidly increasing business. Those influences continue to this day in one way or another, always with a high degree of introversion. Outsiders were shunned except as paying guests, and still are. This is the source of the “we know best” attitude that governs how racing is run (as also evidenced in the WDA report). Every mistake and cultural problem, every resistance to change, can be sheeted home to this history. The industry has never broken out of it.
To bring about radical reform, which is essential, state governments hold the whip hand. They make the vital rules and create the structure that is racing today. Yet, so often, they ignore the real needs and pass the buck back to the participants or their elected representatives. The periodic games of musical chairs amongst controlling boards makes little or no difference (which is the path Queensland and Victoria have just followed, and which NSW has done several times).
In short, leaving participants and other insiders in charge of the shop has always been an abject failure, largely because they have been accountable to no-one except themselves. That can never work, not least because trainers and the like are no longer the major players. Punters and the public are the lifeblood of the industry even though they have had no voice.
Which is where community standards come in again. Ignore the customer at your peril. That’s who should set the standards.
To repeat, Rushton SC at the Commission is headed in the right direction, but his strategy is terrible. It’s akin to learning that your car has broken down and therefore it has to be thrown away. Why not fix it? Some time in the garage would return it to full usefulness.