FORMER US president Harry Truman famously had a sign on his desk which read “the buck stops here”. Although far from being the originator of the phrase, Truman displayed the sign to make it clear he was the person ultimately responsible for running the government. Basically, the person at the head of any organisation who should shoulder the ultimate responsibility for any failings within that organisation. Those at the top are usually only too ready to accept the acclaim and the kudos for doing things right, and are happy to be paid pretty well for their endeavours, so it only stands to reason they should also be the first to put their hands up when the system fails, especially when it fails in such a dramatic way as we saw last week.
Yet, as the live-baiting scandal moves from the initial shock and awe stages into the internal inquiry stage there is the very real chance those at the absolute top will manage to keep their jobs, despite the overwhelming evidence of systemic failure to address what is clearly an issue that’d hardly been a secret to those on the front lines of animal welfare. After all, the key words here are “internal inquiry”, basically mates and colleagues going about the task of supposedly uncovering what their mates and colleagues have been doing.
The NSW government essentially did the right thing by disbanding, sacking, or removing – you pick the word you want – the GRNSW board. There was and isn’t, as I understand it, any suggestion any of the members of that board were involved directly in the live baiting of greyhounds. The point the NSW Premier and Racing Minister correctly made, in my opinion, is that, collectively, these were the people charged with overseeing greyhound racing in NSW and, essentially, they failed. That is, the buck should have stopped with them, and so it has.
Unfortunately, in Victoria and Queensland, those at the top of the racing tree remain virtually unscathed. Certainly the chairman of GRV, Peter Caillard, did the honourable thing and resigned from his position. That action showed a measure of integrity, no matter what pressures were being brought to bear behind the scenes.
Yet in Queensland the only senior person to have been removed so far is Wade Birch, the general manager of Stewarding and Integrity Operations, and he’s only been “stood down” at this stage. One has to wonder whether there’s been a bit of a quiet word along the lines of, “look, this will all blow over in a few weeks, and it’ll be business as usual here in the Sunshine State. We’ll throw a few of those that were sprung under the bus, but all our mates will be back in the saddle before you can say Fine Cotton and cobalt”.
Am I being cynical? Maybe, but then you have to wonder how it is at all possible that those at the top of what is now called the Queensland All Codes Racing Industry Board can possibly remain in place given the story broken by journalist Brad Davidson in the February 18 edition of the Gold Coast Bulletin where he claimed, and I quote, “Racing Queensland have conceded they received an email detailing concerns about live baiting in October  from the animal welfare group which helped expose the illegal act … But RQ officials have blamed an ‘administrative error’ for not looking into the matter further.”
The article went on to say, “The Bulletin yesterday [February 17] obtained an email addressed to Racing Queensland chief executive Darren Condon from Ms Cotton on October 29, 2014, requesting a meeting to discuss ‘a number of animal welfare concerns I have, including … cruel training methods such as live baiting’. The email was addressed to Mr Condon’s office but the chief executive said yesterday an administrative error meant he never personally saw the email and that his assistant forgot to organise a meeting with Ms Cotton.”
Yet, in the first annual report delivered by the QACRIB the same Darren Condon notes: “Welfare continues to be a major focus for Racing Queensland across all its animal participants.”
Elsewhere in the same report comes the clearly fatuous statement: “We set the standard worldwide in the humane treatment of our animals and champion their welfare. We treat our animals, which our sport is totally dependent on, with the same respect and dignity we treat all our sporting legends.”
On Sunday, the ABC Offsiders program hosted by Gerard Whateley covered the story. After outlining the basics of industry participants suspended, greyhounds seized, sponsors pulling out and “ambassadors” leaving their posts came the “but” comment: “Rather incredibly the racing has gone on, unabated…”
Francis Leach, from ABC Grandstand, chimed in, “It beggars belief there hasn’t been a moratorium on the sport just to take stock, because this is obviously endemic and widespread industry practice. It’s gobsmacking.”
Whateley noted, “So the first line of defence was, this is a rogue minority within our sport. How did government not say to them, go away and prove that, because as of yesterday you claim not to have even known this was going on? How do you stand there with the motherhood statement and say, no, no this is not common practice? You, frankly, wouldn’t know.”
Whateley agreed with those who said the sport should have been stopped, for a short period of time. He felt racing should have been suspended for seven days. Fellow panellist Richard Hinds wondered, “Is this a practice that’s been going on and has got worse because the money’s come in, or has it always been there?”
Leach answered with the interesting point, regarding the high level of prizemoney now available, “The bigger the ‘pot’… the bigger challenge it is to people’s moral authority to do the right thing, and they really should have stopped it…”
“The staggering turnaround from Greyhound Racing Victoria,” said Whateley, “was they’d initially banned dogs from the affected stables (sic) from racing for the time being and then under threat of a Supreme Court challenge, which, frankly, they should have met, from owners they asked the owners to sign Statutory Declarations that they had no knowledge that their dog had live baited, which was absurd, and then in the Group 1 race last night which was at The Meadows, the Temlee, one of those dogs ran second, so it’s a purse of $30,000 and … so the trainer affected has been stood down, he was able to transfer all of his dogs into his wife’s name, the environment is absolutely unchanged, the owner was able to threaten the sport to get his dog to be able to run and they picked up their $30,000 …”
And yet, as I write this, the board of GRV remains steadfastly intact.
I would like to address a couple of points made by those who took the time and effort to comment on my first article on this subject.
Dale Hogan wrote: “Why not mention Sweet It Is since your bringing up dogs mentioned to rubbish them? What, is that a dog you have an interest in so you sweep that one under the rug? I have interstate friends that sent there dogs here to Victoria to compete in Group level racing and are now suspended even though only temporarily staying at ppl who were considered of high standing in racing the dogs hi or low lvl are not at fault so stop rubbishing them or at least mention them all because to me it seems like u just have your own agenda not the sports best interest…”
As I recall there was no mention in the program that Sweet It Is had been given live baits or been broken in using them, so I left it out of the equation. No, I do not have any kind of interest in Sweet It Is, nor, for that matter, do I have any financial or personal interest in any greyhound, anywhere. I have not owned, or part-owned, a greyhound since about 1992. I do not know any of the trainers or any of the people interviewed by, or who appeared on, the Four Corners program. Hence my error in the statement at the end of my piece regarding Amanda Hill, assuming she was still employed as a steward in Tasmania.
The reason I pointed out the overall poor performance levels of both Cee Cee Quoted and Dorak Dessa was not to denigrate those greyhounds per se, it was to make the argument that live baiting did not help either of them go from being slow to fast conveyances.
The best interests of greyhound racing at this juncture are to make sure absolutely every aspect of breeding to rearing to breaking-in to training and retirement is done completely transparently. No excuses.