New blood is answer to reclaiming greyhound ‘social licence’

It was an ordinary Sunday, July 10, 2016, but a meeting of a few hundred people in Warners Bay may have been the final nail in greyhound racing’s coffin in NSW. It confirmed everything right and wrong about the industry and ultimately what I believe will bring the code to an end nationwide.

A sport that emerged in Australia in the 1920s would be shelved because an administration, which had going on six years in charge, failed to provide the necessary changes to governance and industry participants behavior to appease modern society, we had failed to secure our social licence.

My belief is the only hope is to clear the deadwood from bodies like the Greyhound Breeders Owners and Trainers Association. Provide a fresh outlook and public image and try and persuade the public we are worthy of continuing the path of “reform” we have begun in the last year. We don’t have years to drag this through Court, we have a few weeks to sway the public and hopefully enough politicians to block the legislation at the next meeting of the assembly.

To completely understand my reasoning, you need to go back to Mike Baird’s announcement on Thursday, that the greyhound industry in NSW would end on July 1, 2017.

Between then and now the industry has reacted. Many are heartbroken; many are outraged and many have vowed to fight, including myself through the use of this website in a bid to alter public perception. There have been a lot of words spoken, a lot of tweets and posts fired off; some good, some bad, some for, many against. But both sides of the equation launched with passion and fervor. The silent majority watched on with amusement and the media had a field day.

Baird’s decision was hasty, based on unproven numbers produced by a Special Commission of Inquiry. Many of the ‘facts’ are supposedly backed by evidence from witnesses, but there seem to be very few people who were actually canvassed, while many assumptions are made. The people running the Inquiry appear less than impartial; and Baird appears motivated by a desperate need for the senate vote of the Animal Justice Party member in the Upper House to get his Safe Schools bill passed when Fred Nile refused to support it.

Complicating the issue, was the 2016 federal election which hung on a knife edge. Malcolm Turnbull’s Liberal party need the backing of anti-gambling crusaders such as Nick Xenophon and at times, most certainly, will need the backing of the left leaning independents and the Greens in the senate.

It was a perfect political storm. And greyhound racing was Captain Billy Tyne’s Andrea Gail. A broken ship looking for a safe harbor to deliver its catch, caught in a powerful confluence of two fronts; well in this case more like five fronts.

Animal Welfare lobbyists have learned their craft well. Movements such as Grey2K in the US have become masters of “drawing the long bow”. If there is a single element of fact that could not be accurately measured, they would extrapolate it out times 10,000. They mastered social media. They mobilized apathetic souls. They understand the power of the emotive image. They didn’t need a call to arms, they knew innately the value of the donate call to action.

Anti-greyhound racing groups in Australia have sprung up. Mostly run by the same people, in a loose cell like structure. They understood the mileage of appearing twice or three times their real number. Even the RSPCA was infiltrated, and has increasingly become more activist than protector.

The money donated to animal welfare groups did not go to new beds, or kennels, or food; it went to billboards, to social media ads, to Google ads that pervade your every online experience. They mastered the art of public perception. More accurately they mastered the art of influencing government perception of public opinion. The NSW GBOTA and GRNSW saw all this happen. They watched on. They did nothing. Let’s not poke the bear they said, he might walk on by. They were wrong.

Greyhound racing banned

At a time when they should’ve been proactive and introducing community based concepts around animal welfare and public acceptance, the best they could offer was greyhound adoption. This tactic placed the greyhound and its future in the very hands of those that were actively campaigning to end it.

The term “rescue” was adopted in the Australian language from the US. It wasn’t long until the term “wastage” was also introduced. The GBOTA & GRNSW stood by. They even started adopting the terms themselves. They began making the case for the animal welfare campaigns to end greyhound racing themselves, through ignorance, incompetence and a complete and total lack of understanding of the changing values of society and the digital power of social media on government.

This was six years ago. Not yesterday or last week. SIX WHOLE YEARS AGO. The current CEO of the NSW GBOTA is Brenton Scott. He has been there since 1995 – 21 years. Its Chairman is Geoff Rose. He has held the position since 2010. Both have just appointed themselves as two of a steering committee of six, potentially seven; who will seek to lead greyhound racing into a new age.

It could be argued by many they represent everything bad about the industry. They have presided over the industry for the past six years and it could be argued they have stood idly by and failed to represent their members effectively, that they’ve failed to answer the challenge, to identify changing community values, to firstly realise and then describe the concept of social licence, to mount an adequate response to rhetoric, to understand and engage the people with concerns; those people would be right.

The heads of GRNSW were never interested in delivering the industry to greater heights. Its current CEO Paul Newson, was nothing more than a career public servant from the Office of Liquor Gaming & Racing. His predecessor Brent Hogan, much maligned in the inquiry reports, had political aspirations that came crashing down in 2015. They were not industry participants with commercial and political nous and passion like Racing NSW have enjoyed.

During the Special Commission of Inquiry, the greyhound industry watched on with disbelief as claims and statements that had formed much of the marketing campaign from animal liberation movements became accepted as facts. Surely someone would come forward and rebut. Surely someone would cross-examine the statements. No one came forth. Simply put the NSW Greyhound Owners Breeder & Trainers Association had failed to protect their very members. They had no one there fighting tooth and nail for our sport.

Maybe they thought GRNSW would come forward? The regulatory body that runs racing in NSW. Why would they? Quite differently to the thoroughbred racing regulatory body Racing NSW which has had as it past seven figure heads industry thoroughbreds breeders; GRNSW was and has always been led by wannabe politicians, public servants, and sycophants of the government of the day.

And so the special commission handed down its report. A report delayed from the public, lest it railroad the federal election result. A report littered with mistruths and half truths, and outright fabrications. That report validated those myths, made the rubbery math’s solid, gave the animal welfare movement the credibility and foundation it craved; and introduced a paradigm that will haunt many for years to come; social licence.

I like to consider myself a well-read man. I like to believe through education and experience, I am a person who can see issues from many angles, understand the position of others, and come to reasonable judgments, solutions and decisions based on facts and evidence and expectations. I cannot define “social licence” in 10 words.

Where do you apply for a social licence? Are there some minimum standards you need to get one? Is it like a driver’s licence where you need yearly tests to keep one once you reach a certain age?

What do you do if someone takes a social licence from you? Does that person even have the right to take it? Who would you appeal to to get it back? Or is it like a surfer on a wave, once it’s finished, the same one can never be enjoyed again?

The special commission report sought to define a social licence. I won’t bore you with the words. Suffice to say they could not define it in 10 words either. In fact they failed to adequately define it at all. And yet it was the determining factor in denying the future of an industry worth $315 million, and the cause of countless emotional, physical and financial injuries.

As a precedent for the loss of ‘social licence’ the inquiry report uses the misquoted fact that greyhound racing is banned in 39 US states. This is, and has always been Grey2K’s greatest and most repeated yarn. It is also blatantly false and misleading. Many of these states never had greyhound racing in the first place, or it ceased many years ago. They do not operate pari-mutuel tote betting in all but five states, but it is perfectly legal to own, rear, breed and race greyhounds in all other states. Never the less Grey2K’s greatest mistruth was accepted as fact by Michael McHugh’s special commission and used as global evidence that the arbiters of social licence had stamped greyhound racing’s card.

The truth of the matter is that greyhound racing is most popular among the under 35’s. The same demographic that horse racing is losing. The same demographic that includes the much-hyped term ‘the millennials’. Or the next group to run our country. If any of the NSW public were to be the arbiters of social licence, it would be millennials. They have been raised in an age when animal welfare has been front and centre, on their iphone, their ipads, their androids, everywhere they’ve been on, in every app and social media channel that they own and enjoy like no other generation.

And yet the under 35’s are greyhound racing’s biggest supporters.

The special commission has been duped. They have been fooled. An octogenarian ex-High Court judge has been fooled by digital media channels and social distribution that never existed during his professional career. Imagine proudly espousing your SP bookmaker heritage online in this day and age?

Despite his failings McHugh did not recommend greyhound racing be banned. He recommended 79 points of reform among the 800 page report which no one will ever bother reading now. Mike Baird banned greyhound racing. And he used social licence as his guillotine.

It’s a natural human trait – denial. One of the five stages of grieving. In fact it’s the very first. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance.

If you’ve ever been through a major trauma in your life, you’ve experienced it. Some linger longer in one stage than another, some never leave; but we all experience them.

There are many now that believe Mike Baird’s ban can be over turned though legal avenues. There are others that believe it can be overturned through political lobbying. Others believe they can change the ban by weight of social media posts, the more emotionally manipulative, the better. All of these are true and yet none of these are true.

This decision can be overturned.

But to do it will require the political landscape in Australia be divided. The Nationals will ultimately be brought to bear by their electorates who understand that like thoroughbred racing, greyhound racing is a largely regional pursuit. To support a ban is to directly undermine the very fabric of their communities and identities as primary producers.

It’s begun already. Troy Grant is politically a dead man walking. The overwhelming message from animal liberationists is best summed up by one eloquent sole who felt moved to contact us: “Ha. Good luck suckers. We shut you down and the horses are next”.

The horses are next. Of that there is no doubt in my mind. As Minister for Racing, Troy Grant has attacked and allowed to be queued for attack, the very ministry he represents. If he supports Baird’s backroom deal to appease the Animal Justice Party, he will be removed as Nationals Leader. If he breaks rank and votes with his electorate and conscious… well you get the idea.

Turn the bright light on the timing of the announcement. Baird’s decision being announced before the July 2 election would not give the Federal Liberal Party and Malcolm Turnbull an unfettered run at remaining in power. The Liberal leaders might have found their ability to issue social licences had significantly deteriorated. The issue would have had the power to signifcantly sour their relationship with the National Party.

In the end, the ultimate test of all political parties will be their ability to differentiate legitimate social licence and community feeling, from that which has been allowed to proliferate. There is no doubt, those within government, and an increasingly left leaning Liberal Party have been blindly led to believe that the many faced media efforts of animal welfare activists represent the wider community sentiment.

The challenge before the NSW greyhound industry is to articulate that position, and distribute their message to the wider communities. Those from the GBOTA and GRNSW, have failed comprehensively to do that in the last 20 years. They have failed to even understand the changing landscape and to recognize the threat building directly in front of them.

Today at Warners Bay, and yesterday at Wentworth Park; those same people met. They did as they always do – they talked. They are passionate. They are committed. They made plans. They are going on the front foot. The problem is they have again put themselves in the starting boxes, and the lids have risen, but they have no idea what they are chasing, and no idea where the catching pen is, or if it’s a finish on.

Greyhound racing has a hope. It is more than a hope. It has a future. But those that have stood idly by and allowed the industry to be slaughtered through death by a thousand mistruths, must stand aside. They must allow the future leaders of our industry to prove that they understand the need for reform, they understand the social licence required, and they have the presence of mind to articulate that message.

Those same tired old faces who blindly and ignorantly led us here, will not be the industry saviors. They represent the worst of the industry and its inability to reform. They lack the basic skills to understand contemporary community values.

They must step aside and allow the fresh new faces who have been brought up in an era of animal welfare and community connection to step forward and lead the industry.

* Kevin Pitstock is the owner and founder of AustralianRacingGreyhound.com. He has been a participant in the greyhound industry on many levels including trainer, owner, breeder, syndicator and broker.

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DaveSampson75
DaveSampson75
4 years ago

I am opposed to greyhound racing and support the ban. Having said that this is the first time Ive read from someone within the industry who actually gets it. Actually understands the fight. Even if by chance you win a legal battle how are you going to win the social license? Most in the industry still dismiss us as tree hugging loons when.in fact 70 to 80% of society want to see the industry shutdown due to dog welfare issues. We are not the minority. Failure to understand this is why you are being shut down.

Deborah555
Deborah555
4 years ago

Dave, no-one within the Greyhound Industry dismisses animal activists as tree hugging loons we know they are much more sophisticated than that. There are within the community a number of animal welfare groups who have a genuine concern for greyhounds. A Sydney based couple who dedicate their lives and ALL the money donated to them to feed dogs, provide rugs and new homes- they are opposed to racing and despite being a trainer myself I am happy for them to express their views ( we still live in a democracy)  and donate money to them as well. They are genuine, decent… Read more »

magoodwin
magoodwin
4 years ago

Great Article, but is just words? Is there an alternative group ready to take on the role? Or are we stuck with the representation we already have? If a change is going to happen it needs to be now!

dogem53
dogem53
4 years ago

magoodwin   people,it is useless having a say where the enemy infiltrate. whilst its a free speech world,one needs to EDUCATE the ANIMAL LIBBERS about the industry as a whole….not just as what has been painted by the live baiting episode,and I can guarantee everyone,i have an opinion,libbers have an opinion,and never the two will meet/agree. so I do not want to GO THERE about whose side is right or wrong.enough of that stuff on social medias. now,what KEVIN has written is exactly the basic weakness we have throughout the industry. nice people who mean well,and have volunteered for many… Read more »

Deborah555
Deborah555
4 years ago

I do not agree that the solution to the industry is to remove those currently administering it. The adverse reactions to the industry are all related to animal welfare issues. No one in any animal welfare organisation or members of the community who disagree with racing are the least bit concerned about who is running the show. What they are concerned about are welfare issues. These are the issues that need to be addressed.

magoodwin
magoodwin
4 years ago

Agreed, however you still need the right people to address those issues. If the current representation has failed then we need new blood with a more modern and compassionate mindset to lead the reforms that are obviously needed.

Deborah555
Deborah555
4 years ago

Magoodwin- I  take your point- we do need the right people, but if the Queen managed to modernise the British Monarchy when her social license was questioned then reforming the greyhound industry no matter how old some of us are should not really present a problem. What has changed are community standards and expectations. All the greyhound people I know trainers, owners and administrators love the game, love the dogs and are more than capable of modernising greyhound racing and moving with the times. We are very adaptable people. Experience and age combined with youth and enthusiasm would be a good… Read more »

robdaginis
robdaginis
4 years ago

look its simple anyone that’s in charge of a organisation or company and runs it into the ground to the point where it gets ban should STAND DOWN immediately or be forced out .How can you trust someone to enforce animal welfare where they have done very little in the past. I love greyhounds and greyhound racing but its time for a change in nsw 

AaronC_NZ
AaronC_NZ
4 years ago

Where were you all when you should have been front-footing this?

You had every opportunity but you all failed.

Johnnyf9
Johnnyf9
4 years ago

70 to 80% of society….come on dave that is an complete fabrication if i have ever seen one. In fact i just surveyed the 5 ppl around me and 100% want it to be reinstated

magoodwin
magoodwin
4 years ago

To say everyone had an opportunity to front foot this but failed is rubbish. There are plenty of people who have been racing and owning greyhounds responsibly but not all of us have the capabilities to oversee the reform of the industry. As individuals we have been front footing this as you say. With out the right leadership it will all be in vain. Regardless these petty to and fros do nothing to help either.

I’m just very disappointed in the leadership.

AaronC_NZ
AaronC_NZ
4 years ago

magoodwin Then why weren’t you part of the leadership

Adam_12
Adam_12
4 years ago

30% of people think you’re stats are made up. The other 70% know they are.

magoodwin
magoodwin
4 years ago

Kind of like saying if you are not happy with the government why haven’t you joined parliament..stupid argument..

robdaginis
robdaginis
4 years ago

@DaveSampson did u write the report for mike baird ? You are just as good at making up numbers ha 

dogem53
dogem53
4 years ago

Deborah555  . those that were in CHARGE,so to speak,are responsible for the current situation. it is well known many in the supposed correct positions,blind eyed when they should have taken steps.AMANDA HILL,remember her, was one who pointed it out clearly there were serious issues,but she was stood away and hastened from the scene. the INABILITY of the stewards at the time clearly shows that the eye was looking in a different direction. and that leads to dubious action and SMOKE & FIRE claims that were rampant then. so,I am sorry DEB,but those who WERE in important roles a year and… Read more »

dogem53
dogem53
4 years ago

AaronC_NZ  nah,not 100% correct. give you an example of how one owner made a report about an issue to the RIGHT CHANNEL. BUGGER ME IF IT TOOK MONTHS BEFORE HE GOT AN ANSWER……….only to be told they did not think the information supplied was solid enough to make any charges. no one wants their name all over reports etc;,so if that is the way they operate,then one does not and cannot put the old noggin on the chopping block. as time passed,that query was to be proven correct. so front footing is a risk in some actions,but some tried and… Read more »

Snooki
Snooki
4 years ago

we the participants relied on our leaders to act for us ,now you can see it was all a radical plan ,government appointed boss to run Greyhound Racing NSW ,he was never going to try and let it flourish ,he was probably very surprised the way the industry embraced and supported every welfare  policy thrown at them ,the industry proved they could and would reform  ,so we had an inquiry about the sports integrity ,so did QLD and VIctoria ,they made recommendations and moved on supporting the industry to reform ,so what happened in NSW  ,the participants agreed to reform… Read more »

Deborah555
Deborah555
4 years ago

dogem53 Deborah555 after the decision to close country tracks where many, many greyhounds not quick enough to win in the city or the tab can get a second chance, generally with a family who do the sport as a hobby I am beginning to be swayed by your arguments.

AaronC_NZ
AaronC_NZ
4 years ago

Deborah555 dogem53 And what happens when those dogs on country tracks get too slow? only so many can go on the couch, soo does the participant pull out of racing once they’ve broken as many dogs as they have room for? 

Deborah555
Deborah555
4 years ago

AaronC_NZ Deborah555 dogem53 

AaronC  Providing alternatives so that greyhounds can race for as long as possible means longer lives and then the solution is restrict breeding and increase rehoming.

AaronC_NZ
AaronC_NZ
4 years ago

Deborah555 that’s the most stupid and selfish idea ever. 

Your plan is, to milk the older weaker ones for more races,

and then kill them anyway.

THAT’S first step in your solution?

Deborah555
Deborah555
4 years ago

AaronC_NZ Deborah555  No Aaron that’s what is currently happening to dogs not quick enough for the city or tab class tracks, the dogs  already alive and from now on strict limits on breeding and serious rehoming to take place.  Suddenly closing country tracks is not a good idea, in my opinion anyway. The dogs that run on country tracks are neither old or weak they are just not fast enough. I am quite happy Aaron to listen to you views and I respect them, however once some-one starts with the personal insults rather than the issues I start to doubt their sincerity.  I am happy… Read more »

AaronC_NZ
AaronC_NZ
4 years ago

Deborah555 Different? Deeply flawed and self-serving in this case.

Where do the dogs go when they’re spent? You’re just creating the illusion of a greater solution while in fact creating a greater problem for another day.

Its not how you save your industry, thats for sure.

Deborah555
Deborah555
4 years ago

AaronC_NZ Deborah555  As I said Aaron once you start getting emotional and insulting and making judgements that are simply your opinion and parading them as facts, I start doubting your sincerity. You have reached the stage where what you want to do is insult me, make judgements on my character, challenge my intellect.  America rehomes almost all their greyhounds, so why can’t we?

AaronC_NZ
AaronC_NZ
4 years ago

Deborah555 Er… Do they? Very few states have racing there and the country is gigantic.. I know of many rescue groups there who wouldn’t need to exist if racing enthusiasts truely loved their dogs. 

There’s still a very legit and successful movement in America to ban greyhound racing countrywide too. Where-ever there is racing, there are racing related problems. Enoughs, enough.

Deborah555
Deborah555
4 years ago

AaronC_NZ Deborah555  this is better Aaron ( except the er – just a little bit sarcastic and emotional with just a hint that maybe your facts are better than mine) otherwise I would have given you top marks for this response. You are right they do have a much bigger population base than we do and not all states race, but they still have an enormously successful rehoming programme. The figures that I have read and I will stand corrected if proven wrong are about 96% which is a very impressive statistic. The anti greyhound racing movement in America has always pushed for… Read more »

AaronC_NZ
AaronC_NZ
4 years ago

So taking action is ok so long as its spending money cleaning up after you?

Deborah555
Deborah555
4 years ago

AaronC_NZ  all racing codes provide vast sums of money to government revenues which are used to fund schools, roads, pensions etc. etc. Gambling is a terrific fund raiser. The idea that it is taxpayer sponsored is quite incorrect. The welfare agencies are not cleaning up after me. All my greyhounds stay with me after they have finished racing and I make donations to greyhound rehoming. Every trainer I know has old dogs, has kept many dogs after their racing career is over. With the exception of the elite trainers everyone else has slow dogs in their kennels  and it really doesn’t matter… Read more »

robdaginis
robdaginis
4 years ago

Deborah555 aaron is just being a troll .look at his profile its all negative comments towards greyhound racing ,he doesn’t care about the greyhounds he just cares about upsetting ppl who love and care for them .how many domestic canines get put down per year because ppl no longer want them ?should we ban everyone from owning a canine because a small percentage of heartless ppl do the wrong thing?