At a time when the industry should be celebrating the wonderful achievements of its top racers the Special Commission in NSW, packed full of high priced lawyers, has now blundered down a road which will lead nowhere. Nowhere sensible, that is.
Its latest media release – actually an issues paper on overbreeding – calls for comments and suggestions about what constitutes overbreeding and how it should be reduced. Unfortunately, the document is riddled with improper and inaccurate assumptions. Here are some samples.
1. The term “overbreeding” is not defined and has appeared out of nowhere in several inquiries, all without proper research and analysis. So far, it is no more than an assumption, a media catch-phrase with political overtones. There is also a big difference between bad breeding (e.g. from poor stock) and overbreeding (whatever that is).
2. The Special Commission has cherry-picked advice from Working Dogs Australia and Greyhounds Australasia when both have been using faulty or incomplete numbers to support a case.
3. The WDA report, which otherwise contains much helpful comment, assessed breeding issues only within NSW, thereby ignoring the fact that breeding is a national subject. Sires, dams and pups jump back and forth between states as matter of routine. Owners are free to choose any location they wish and regularly swap from one to another. Data from a single state is meaningless.
4. The GA paper has no standing whatever. It was prepared by the bloke in charge of the office, together with limited help from the CEO in South Australia. Neither of these people have the authority to make such decisions or proposals. Indeed, GA’s charter does not allow it to address commercial subjects at all. Final authority on any subject rests solely with each state.
5. The GA paper uses incorrect figures – which it admits itself – to predict an apocalypse unless drastic action is taken. To emphasise the amateurish state of the art at GA, its latest official data is for 2014 where a check of race and starter numbers tells us that an average of 7.99 dogs lined up for each race – an obvious nonsense. Historically, the average has been around 7.3 or so.
6. The GA paper is not only mistake-ridden but calls for a 40% reduction in total activity in order to reduce breeding numbers. A catastrophic change like that would have every chance of killing off the industry completely. How, for example, could you apply that to states with only three tracks in use – i.e. Tasmania and WA? What do they think about the proposal? In total, some 32 tracks across the nation would have to shut down together with all their supporting services. The effect on income and employment would be shattering. And would it solve the problem anyway?
7. GA proposed a single solution to an improperly defined problem. Why were other options not examined and put forward for consideration?
8. The attack on alleged overbreeding is founded on alleged euthanasia numbers. Yet, whatever the numbers, euthanasia is a legal act under both racing rules and the law of the land, providing only that it be done properly. Most certainly, efforts to reduce its impact are worth consideration.
9. The Commission makes much of what it sees as community expectations (without any research backing) yet has continually failed to mention or consider how the community regards euthanasia in other areas. For example, just a few days ago, the ABC’s Landline program ran a segment on working farm dogs where the proprietors of a “rescue” organisation pointed out that some 60,000 farm dogs were destroyed each year – a figure that did not include all the dogs put down at home by farmers. Farm dogs are a highly commercial deal these days, with top ones changing hands for over $10,000.
10. The Special Commission quotes the interim chief at GRNSW, Paul Newson, as claiming that unnecessary euthanasia is “the main threat to the industry”. Yet only a few weeks ago he informed meetings of participants that the industry’s main threat was a shortage of income. What will it be next week?
In total, the Commission’s effort to seek out a range of views is worthwhile in principle. However, the way it has done that is flawed in the extreme. The issues paper displays a poor knowledge of how the industry works; it uses incorrect and unchecked data; it repeats subjective claims or inferences made during witness examinations; it echoes assumptions and un-researched claims made in other inquiries. It is a dog’s breakfast.
It is also leading us down the garden path. It asks for detailed responses to imponderable situations. Neither the Commission nor the respondents can hope to come up with practical answers unless and until decent research and analysis has been conducted. Failing that, everything will be guesswork which, ironically, is pretty much how the industry has been run for decades.
But we are left with some lessons.
First, the absence of national control and professional leadership of the industry is a serious barrier to the achievement of progress and efficiency.
Second, the nature, structure and mode of operation of Greyhounds Australia are hopelessly inadequate for today’s needs.
Third, the industry could benefit hugely from the centralisation of all statistical functions in an independent unit charged with servicing many users, including customers. That would include form and results services, as occurs with the thoroughbred code.
Fourth, political reform is necessary to allow the industry and its parts to innovate and prosper. Government involvement is excessive and unhelpful.
Fifth, the now-outmoded bureaucratic nature of state and club authorities retards the development and progress of the code. They must be replaced by structures which properly assign responsibility, authority and accountability.