THE first week of public hearings at the Special Commission in Sydney was hardly newsworthy. Much like the Queensland and Victorian inquiries it served mostly to conform what we already knew – some trainers have been guilty of live baiting. But the end of the week was dedicated to trying to show that the racing authority, GRNSW, actually knew about live baiting but failed to take suitable action to stop it.
A big difference between the states would be the tens of thousands of dollars it is costing NSW taxpayers. Yet another Senior Counsel turned up this week to go with the existing batch (normally $5,000-plus per day each).
By far the biggest debate has been whether a small or large proportion of trainers indulged in or knew about live baiting. The commission is anxious to prove that most were guilty but, so far, there is no serious evidence to demonstrate that. It would be naïve to think that most trainers were not aware of the habit yet the numbers that actually did it might be anywhere between very few and the 96% suggested by the Commission at one stage. They just don’t know.
Clouding the issue is the optional use of either live or dead baits in the past. The former has never been legal while the latter was OK until the recent change of rules. Even those admitting guilt stated they used both methods.
Timing is everything.
One thing that does worry me is the interminable attack on Professor Percy Allan, a former chairman, and the GRA/GRNSW board for not admitting they “knew” about live baiting some years ago. The Commission’s reasoning is that back in 2010, given that live baiting was one of a large number of board agenda items on the list of things to look out for, it is therefore plain that they must have known it was going on. It is hard to see a deduction like that getting through a normal court case, particularly in the case of a board member. It may or may not be true but the evidence does not offer clarity.
The case seems to revolve around what was meant by “historical practice” – ie one which allowed live baiting as a norm. Allan fairly reasonably points out that it was no more than a reference to oldtime habits, starting with live hare coursing, etc, which would not be countenanced today.
I have no brief for Allan or the above boards. Indeed I have frequently been critical of both. However, the attack gives the impression of an answer in search of a question. While the GRNSW system failed badly to identify the live baiting problem I am inclined to prefer Allan’s claims on this particular item.
Either way, the outcome of the inquiry is still likely to be headed by the alleged over-breeding and “wastage” subjects where everyone is going to be hampered by the shortage of reliable data.
Survival of the luckiest
It’s been fascinating to learn that a couple of readers view crocodiles quite favourably. While figures are scarce one academic study revealed that an average of three attacks per year on humans occurred in Australia between 1974 and 2000. Since then the croc population has increased rapidly – following protection laws – to an estimated 75,000-plus now.
I have lived for some years with crocodiles, and for some years without. Without is better.
Hard and soft
A blogger reminded me the other day of an important matter concerning breeding and the state of our tracks. He wrote (grammar corrected):
“I reckon it’s because we build nothing but hard surfaced high speed tracks so we can claim super fast times. Tracks in America are a lot softer, harder going, but a lot safer. Soft, harder to run through type tracks in America have created a bigger boned, stronger structured dog, created over time through adapting genetically!”
He may have something there. I have yet to hear a debate in this country about the nature of racing surfaces. Years ago there was lots of talk when many tracks were switching from grass to loam. That included Wentworth Park – a necessary move when the GBOTA moved across from Harold Park. At that time many owners complained the soft surface disadvantaged lightly framed bitches – Pom Pom Girl was one example I can recall – because they put their paws down too far into the loam. In the event the track progressively firmed up to what it is today.
Even so, there remain the questions of how soft versus firm options affects injury rates, turn interference and career lengths for all dogs. This is the sort of thing that prompted our longstanding proposal to establish independent scientific panels to report regularly on “THE STATE OF THE BREED” and on “TRACK DESIGN CRITERIA”. Unfortunately, until we experience something as extreme as the live baiting saga, nothing much happens and guesswork dominates.
To start with, we do have within GRNSW some expertise on the construction of surfaces. However, nowhere can we see what the objectives are, nor the relationship between surfaces and all the other factors involved in building and maintaining tracks.
The world today?
Nick Cater, writing in The Australian, offered two interesting quotes about campaigners pushing a particular barrow. They are appropriate to current greyhound discussions.
“As sociologist Howard S. Becker wrote in 1964, the moral crusader “feels that nothing can be right in the world until rules are made to correct it”. “He operates with an absolute ethic; what he sees is truly and totally evil with no qualification. Any means is justified to do away with it.”
“Jonah Goldberg writes in The Tyranny of Cliches: “Progressive’’ has become a euphemism for “all good things.” To oppose a progressive argument shows that “you just don’t get it” or, worse, that “you are part of the problem”.