IT has been a tumultuous year for the sport of greyhound racing in New South Wales.
Things seemed to be looking up following on from the live baiting scandal in 2015. A wide range of reforms were introduced to optimise animal welfare and integrity conditions and participants became more aware of the requirements needed for the sport to meet community expectations.
Breeding was down, rehoming was up, and yet none of this was taken into consideration on July 7 when Mike Baird announced his government’s plan to shut down the sport.
Looking back, I don’t think there is anyway the Premier could have known what an enormous impact his announcement would have.
The son of a politician, Mr Baird lives in a different world to greyhound folk, and paired with his cohort of north shore Liberals and inner city Greens, how could they relate to the day-to-day lives of the industry’s battlers?
Teamed with this, the Special Commission of Inquiry report was damning, especially to those who had no reason to believe it was prejudiced.
Imagine not knowing anything about an industry and then being told of those horrific figures – up to 70 per cent wastage and as many as 68,000 dogs killed over the past 12 years.
Since then, the industry has been able to prove bias within the report and discredit many of those figures, however when your government spends 15 months and $15 million on a report, Baird was doomed to insult, no matter what his next move was.
Deputy Premier Troy Grant’s move to back the Premier was painful for the industry. As the leader of the Nationals, Grant should have stood up for his regional constituents, however it was left to three brave Nats MPs to cross the floor in August in order to send a message to the government that it’s decision was the wrong one.
Thankfully, the industry was able to rally, and with public and political pressure, the Premier backflipped on his original decision. But where to next?
When announcing the reversal on October 11, the Premier also confirmed the establishment of a newly-formed Greyhound Industry Reform Panel.
Made up of five members, only one of those is from the greyhound industry (the GBOTA’s Brenton Scott), with the others being from the RSPCA, the Department of the Premier, the Department of Primary Industries and, of course, former Premier Morris Iemma.
But can the industry feel safe with these people in charge?
The RSPCA celebrated the announcement that the industry was being banned back in July, whilst the day after the reversal was made official, another message was shared on the group’s Facebook page, urging the Premier to ‘Bring Back the Ban’.
Since then, this post has been deleted and replaced with another message from RSPCA NSW CEO Steve Coleman announcing he will be a part of the panel.
However, part of this post also expressed disappointment in the change in policy.
Whilst agreeing that animal welfare needs to be front and centre for the industry moving forward, how can the sport reform with people working on the inside who have publicly campaigned against it?
It would be like employing a vegan to manage a knackery — personal beliefs are always going to create a bias — it just won’t work.
The panel needed an independent person who is passionate about animal welfare, not an animal rights organisation such as the RSPCA — there is a big difference.
In essence, animal welfare ensures living creatures are cared for following a range of humane guidelines – whereas animal rights dictates animals cannot be used for food, clothing or entertainment – no matter how well they are nurtured.
It’s hard to believe the RSPCA will ever do anything other than condemn greyhound racing – no matter how many reforms are successfully undertaken.
And yet the organisation has now been tethered to the industry.
Add this to the fact that the industry has one representative up against two government appointed members, one former Premier and an anti-racing mob.
It’s four against one from the outset and it is arguable the sole agent for the dishlickers isn’t even a true representative for the entire cross section of greyhound racing.
While Brenton Scott has done a fine job campaigning for the ban to be overturned as a part of the NSW Greyhound Racing Industry Alliance, at the end of the day he is the CEO of the NSW Greyhound Breeders, Owners and Trainers Association (GBOTA).
While it is a member-based association, the GBOTA’s main responsibility is managing a selection of racetracks – so where does the individual fit into the equation? Who will look after the trainers, owners and participants, particularly those not linked to the GBOTA, and make sure their thoughts and ideas are taken into consideration?
And what about transparency? Will the industry and public have any idea in regards to what is being discussed about the industry before recommendations and restrictions are decided upon? Or will we just have to deal with what we are dealt?
The industry has not had a racing board since it was removed following the live baiting scandal. I understand the structure of the sport may change dramatically at the end of the panel’s work, but in the interim we should have one to protect the needs of the whole industry, not just a sector, and this board should have been represented on the panel to ensure every man, woman and greyhound had their interests covered.
Don’t get me wrong, I am very thankful that the industry has been given another crack and I do think things need to change, particularly in regards to animal welfare and integrity.
However, I am very concerned about what has been set in place already and what will be decided for the future.
Call me a pessimist, call me a troublemaker, but it would be wrong for me to sit back and say nothing when I hold these concerns.
By speaking out, I hope to send a message that the industry is tired of being walked over.
Here’s hoping the government is finally ready to listen.