Public submissions on the inquiry into greyhound racing in NSW closed on 6 November 2013 and the inquiry has now moved to the stage of public hearings. In total, 500 submissions were published by the Select Committee on Greyhound Racing in New South Wales (Committee). A snapshot of the submissions will be covered in this article.
The submissions have been published as they have been authorised by the Committee. A Committee may choose not to accept a submission if it is not relevant to the terms of reference of the inquiry. Therefore, the 500 submissions that have been published have been held to be relevant to the terms of this inquiry into greyhound racing in NSW.
The purpose of submissions is to inform the Committee on the facts or information relevant to the inquiry. It is not unusual for Committee reports to refer to and quote from the information and arguments referred to in the submissions. The Committee will also use these submissions to decide who should be called to give evidence at public hearings.
In summary, submissions have been received from various sources, including:
(i) Greyhound Action Group (GAG);
(iv) Former NSW greyhound board members;
(v) Greyhound racing clubs;
(vi) Animal welfare groups;
(vii) Betting agencies (Betfair);
(viii) Media (Daily Telegraph);
(x) Greyhound racing bodies (GRNSW, GBOTA, NCA etc);
(xi) Individuals concerned about welfare (eg/ greyhound adopters)
(xii) Harness Racing NSW
The inquiry has even attracted international submissions, the most prominent being GREY2K USA Worldwide. No restrictions were placed by the Committee on who could make a submission. However, as stated before, they determine which submissions can be authorised for publication. The test is whether the submission addresses the terms of reference. In this case, the Committee has determined that the submission by GREY2K USA Worldwide is relevant to the inquiry. However, the Committee does have a discretion on how much weight they will place on the submission.
The majority of submissions by owners and trainers concern the financial viability of greyhound racing in NSW and the current TAB distribution. Many trainers also stated that their greyhounds are looked after well and pointed to other industries, like the horse industry and show dog industry. Unfortunately ‘pointing fingers’ at other industries cannot and will not change the focus of this inquiry.
GAG’s agenda has been well publicised over the course of time and it is reflected in their submissions, with the prime focus on TAB distribution and the inter code agreement.
John Davis, from the Daily Telegraph, approached his submission from a different angle to most. At the heart of his submission is the need to increase participation in the industry by engaging the wider community in order to improve its viability. The stated purpose of his submission was to draw attention to the decline in the publicity of the sport and he indicates that national coverage has fallen away. He points to the fact that officials have gravitated towards electronic media for publicity purposes while ignoring the local community based papers where diverse cultural readership resides. He then goes on to state that the “current team of journalists working for the NSW dogs website have become internalised and there is a need to look outside the box for want of a better term”. He states that there are budgetary concessions in appealing to a community audience and then engaging with them as well. Spinoffs would include advertising and potential participation at a later time. Davis also urges that “form-guides should be carried in a variety of different languages to maximise their appeal…all potential barriers must be removed if the industry is to appeal to a wider audience”. In summing up he states that GRNSW “cannot ignore the publicity of the sport if the sport is to evolve”.
GRNSW’s individual submission addressed Items 4-12 of the terms of reference for the inquiry. A joint greyhound industry submission, addressing Items 1-3 of the inquiry, was endorsed by GRNSW. GRNSW pointed to the following initiatives to evidence the effectiveness of the regulation and integrity of greyhound racing:
(a) the introduction of the live “control room” in 2011, allowing live feeds of footage from race meetings (including kennel blocks);
(b) an increased budget commitment to swabbing (5726 swabs carried out in the 12 months to September 2013);
(c) the intention to carry out kennel inspections once every two years in order to improve welfare;
(d) the introduction of OzChase for the registration of greyhounds through their life cycle (which was defined as breeding, racing and retirement);
(e) regular reports on swab results and the outcome of inquiries undertaken into positive swabs.
In relation to the sale, breeding and welfare of greyhounds, GRNSW made the following points:
(a) a Code of Practice for the keeping of greyhounds (Code of Practice) had been developed and sets the minimum standards in which greyhounds are to be cared for;
(b) whilst not directly regulating the sale of greyhounds, participants are required to complete required paperwork when breeding litters, registering stud dogs and transferring ownership of greyhounds;
(c) GRNSW has a “zero tolerance” for those who do not meet the animal welfare standards in the Code of Practice;
(d) GRNSW has developed policies such as the Hot Weather Policy;
(e) GRNSW has created the Greyhound Welfare and Vet Services Unit to provide vets at every TAB meeting;
(f) GRNSW supports the Greyhound Adoption Program (GAP) and has a Memorandum of Understanding in place with the RSPCA;
(g) GRNSW intends to establish an Education and Support Unit to train new participants and to up skill existing ones in the care and treatment of greyhounds.
GRNSW made it clear in its submission that it “does not support financial incentives to reduce euthanasia levels”. Its belief is that the responsibility for greyhounds rests with the owners and that GRNSW will use education in order to assist in reducing euthanasia levels.
A number of regional and country greyhound racing clubs also made submissions to the inquiry. The general flavour of those was that a reduction in country tracks had led to participants in regional and country NSW leaving the sport and reducing participation levels. The Hastings-River club stated that GRNSW had an administrative agenda to close non-TAB tracks that don’t generate any income for the industry.
The joint greyhound racing industry submission dealt primarily with the financial viability of the sport. The submission states that greyhound racing in NSW delivers 20% of TAB revenue yet only receives 13% of that revenue under the inter code agreement. The submission states that the “industry in NSW in unviable in the short to medium term and unsustainable in the long term”.
The Humane Society International (HSI) submission raises facts and recommendations that are worth some thought and consideration. HSI states that GRNSW’s Code of Practice will be ineffective without close regulation and heavy penalties. As stated above, GRNSW has only stated its intention to conduct kennel inspections once every two years. HSI then state that the number of greyhounds bred for racing needs to be drastically reduced in order to guarantee homes for the greyhounds at the end of their careers. HSI also query GRNSW’s true commitment to greyhound welfare. Using GRNSW’s 2011/2012 Annual Report as evidence, HSI point out that GRNSW contributed less than 0.5% of their 50 million dollar turnover to GAP and Greenhound. HSI believes that this is a “highly unsatisfactory effort, particularly when they state on their website that the welfare of all animals must be a primary consideration”. When talking about greyhound racing, HSI states that most serious injuries and collisions occur on corners of the race track. They evidence countries such as Denmark that have overcome this by implementing straight tracks, resulting in fewer injuries. They indicate that the only straight track for racing in NSW is Appin (which has since closed) and recommends that GRNSW “phase out cornered tracks to immediately help reduce the injury toll”.
Paul Wheeler, Australia’s largest breeder and owner (who is based in NSW) also made a submission. The submission largely concerned the financial viability of the industry in NSW and he stated that 95% of his income is derived from other states and that GRNSW needs to increase its income base. In relation to welfare and euthanasia levels, Wheeler states “the biggest financial incentive anyone can have in reducing euthanasia is to make the industry as viable as possible because the more viable it is the more valuable their animals are and the more likely their owners are to care for them and to place them in appropriate premises”.
The “golden thread” that appears through most submissions is the ongoing viability of the industry. In any event, the submissions demonstrate a number of competing interests and raise more issues than answers. The Committee certainly has a task ahead of them to get to the bottom of all the issues and draft a report that comprehensively addresses the terms of reference and makes recommendations that will improve the sport and image of greyhound racing in NSW.