STATE Nationals MP Chris Gulaptis has said he will do “whatever it takes” to support greyhound racing as the sport faces a statewide ban at the hands of the Baird government.
Gulaptis is the member for Clarence, a region in the far North Coast of the state. With two tracks in his electorate, Grafton and Casino, he has a deep understanding of the heartache a shutdown would cause to his area.
“Apart from the impact on the livelihoods of those who are directly involved, that includes vets, food (suppliers), people who supply muzzles and leads – it’s also the people who just love the sport,” he said.
“Those people are a part of the very fabric of Grafton and Casino… these are the battlers, they are the people who have trained the dish lickers and we know that and we love it.
“We should try to take the politics out of this and look at supporting the people in the industry.”
Gulaptis, like others, was completely stunned by Premier Baird’s decision to ban greyhound racing as of July 1, 2017.
“I can understand the reasons for the decision being made because animal cruelty is totally unacceptable in today’s society,” he said.
“Like everyone else I am repulsed by the vision we saw and the thought of animals being harmed for the sake of a sport or for any reason whatsoever.
“In saying that I felt the decision was harsh…
“It has been quoted as 20 per cent (of participants have engaged in live baiting) in the McHugh Report, but that means 80 per cent have not and that is an incredible majority of people who have done the right thing.
“My sentiments lay with all those good people who have done the right thing – the owners, trainers and breeders who have now had their livelihoods snatched out from under them.
“I will do whatever I can to support these people… they are the battlers and that’s what the Nationals Party is all about.”
While Premier Baird based his decision on the animal welfare concerns associated with greyhound racing, Gulaptis fears the decision to ban the sport has now created another welfare issue.
“This started off as an animal welfare issue, but I now see it as a human welfare issue,” he said.
“My concern is with those people who haven’t had a voice and who have done the right thing.
“You cant blame everyone at the grass roots level who are part of the fabric of regional communities for the mistakes or actions of the minority.
“There have been leaders in the industry, possibly administrators, who have not cleaned up the industry, but have covered it up and that has led to the government not having confidence in the industry.”
Gulaptis felt the industry was making considerable improvements in regards to strengthened animal welfare initiatives, leaving him to conclude the ban was a heavy handed decision.
“The reform the industry was undertaking over the past 18 months, at the behest of the government following the Four Corners report, was serious,” he said.
“It cost owners, breeders and trainers tens of thousands of dollars to get their facilities in shape to meet current standards to ensure that they were meeting and satisfying animal welfare issues.
“Now they have essentially been thrown to the scrap heap by this decision and I just don’t think that it’s fair.
“I think that reform would have worked given time and I don’t think that making a decision in the midst of that reform is giving the industry a fair go.
“We need to give the industry time to actually clean up its act in a bonafide way, given the fact that it has no choice.”
Gulaptis has an alternative approach to banning the industry altogether which he plans on addressing at the next sitting of Parliament.
“I am going to try and see if we can extend the moratorium for three years and then have a look at the industry after the reforms have had a chance to take effect,” he said.
“Rather than throw the baby out with the bathwater I think we need to give the reforms a chance to take effect and have a look and see what the industry is like in three years time.
“At that time if it meets certain benchmarks, if it satisfies animal welfare criteria, then let the industry survive and progress.
“If it can’t then there is every justification to close it down, but at the moment we are only half way through the reform and it’s not right.
“You need a chance to show what you can do and that’s what the reform was always about.”
When asked if he was prepared to cross the floor on the matter if required and potentially drive a wedge between the Liberals/Nationals Coalition, Gulaptis was quick to respond.
“I am going to do whatever it takes to support those people who have done the right thing over a long period of time in this industry,” he said.
“The reason I became a member of the Nationals is because I believe people in regional NSW need representation in Sydney.
“I am going to bring my constituency’s concerns to Sydney, I am not going to bring (a decision) that Sydney makes back to my region which is going to harm people in my electorate.
“I am a member of the Nationals and I am going to support my region.”