VICTORIAN Racing Integrity Commissioner Sal Perna has said he does not believe live-baiting is an isolated matter.
As a part of his final 114-page report on the Victorian Greyhound Racing Industry, released on Thursday, Perna confirmed the industry's worst-kept fear and stated his commitment to eradicate live-baiting forever.
Perna announced on February 17, 2015, that he would be commencing an Own Motion Inquiry, the type of inquiry which does not relate to a specific complaint and one that may include an investigation into systemic issues within the racing industry.
This inquiry followed the damning vision shown on the ABC's Four Corners program titled ‘Making A Killing‘ which depicted trainers allowing their greyhounds to maul live animals which were attached to a lure at the Tooradin Trial Track.
So far 17 trainers from Victoria have been suspended by Greyhound Racing Victoria (GRV). One of those, Anthony Mills, was found guilty by the Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board last week, with the other 16 to face the music over the next few weeks.
The objective of Perna's inquiry was to uncover whether live-baiting was an isolated to just Tooradin or a systemic issue within the industry, whether it was known about by GRV, whether there was any evidence to suggest GRV officials had tried to cover up the issue, if the powers of GRV in relation to governance controls were adequate and whether the Rules of Racing addressed animal welfare issues adequately.
“There is no direct evidence as to how regular and widespread the practice of live-baiting is/was,” Perna said.
“Accordingly, while I cannot make a finding of fact that live-baiting has been occurring on a systemic basis, I am confident in my view that the practice is unlikely to be confined to one property or one group of participants in Victoria.
“To be clear, I am not in receipt of any one piece of information that proves live-baiting is occurring, either in a specific instance or as a general practice, excluding matters currently under investigation by other bodies. However, taken as a collective, I am satisfied the information received by my office during the course of this Inquiry indicates that live-baiting is well-known and occurs within the Greyhound racing industry in Victoria.”
Perna also concluded GRV believed the issue of live-baiting was isolated and therefore did not place a large focus on it, instead devoting their animal welfare attention to the dogs themselves.
“It is clear that GRV and the Former GRV Board had not identified animal welfare issues, other than that of Greyhound welfare, as a current or ongoing risk.
“Whilst the historical practice of live-baiting is well-known within the industry and GRV, I am not convinced that GRV considered it to be anything but isolated and therefore the issue, or the risk of it occurring, was afforded only minimal attention.”
He went on to say that, although GRV admitted that they should have known that live baiting was occurring, there was no evidence to suggest it was covered up.
“The GRV Board, CEO, senior management and staff with accountability for integrity and animal welfare accept that the perception is that they should have known about the practice of live baiting occurring in Victoria,” Perna said.
“I am not in receipt of any evidence of GRV staff ‘covering up', or being complicit in live baiting or acting corruptly.
“However, industry participants raised conflicts of interest concerns due to GRV staff who are responsible for ‘policing' due to their personal and family connections with industry participants.
“My view is that this results in distrust of GRV staff by industry participants, and is a factor in the reticence of participants to come forward (and report issues such as live-baiting) and is the cause of complaints regarding favourable treatment of registered persons with GRV connections.
“I am of the view that until such time that the GRV Board addresses this issue, industry confidence in GRV will be affected.”
Within the report, Perna made 18 recommendations which have now been handed down to the Minister for Racing, Martin Pakula. Six of these recommendations were included in his initial report and have been further endorsed by his final findings.
Some of the key points within the new recommendations were that:
- GRV initiate formalised agreements between relevant animal welfare groups to allow for the exchanging of information and to ensure alleged and suspected animal cruelty is reported to the authorities. It was also recommended that GRV work with these groups to develop an education campaign to benefit the industry and the public relating to raising awareness of animal cruelty issues.
- That the Local Rules are amended so that a breach of section 13 of the Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals Act, which relates to baiting and luring, is automatically considered to be a breach of the Rules of Racing and that the ensuing penalties be substantial enough to act as a deterrent.
- That the Racing Act 1958 (VIC) is amended to establish one statutory independent body to look after the integrity of the three racing codes, therefore removing that responsibility from the controlling bodies. Current integrity services staff, Stewards, welfare officers and existing integrity budgets should then be transferred to the newly formed body.
- That a person with an animal welfare background is appointed to the GRV, Racing Victoria Limited and Harness Racing Victoria Boards.
- That the GRV Board consider a review of the management and potential conflicts of interest in regards to the staff at GRV as a means of ensuring that participants have confidence in the authority body's impartiality.Also releasing a final report was Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Charles Milne who conducted a review when commissioned by the Minister for Agriculture and Minister, Jaala Pulford.
Milne made 50 recommendations centring around the need to improve animal welfare measures within the industry. His report detailed information on breeding within the greyhound racing industry and ways to control and monitor greyhound businesses to ensure they are meeting the required standards. For example, Milne recommended that all premises involved in greyhound breeding, rearing, breaking-in, bullrings, boarding, and training should be registered and monitored by GRV.
Another focus was the tracking of greyhounds throughout their life cycles and the recommendation that the Local Rules are changed to require that all greyhound deaths are reported to GRV, with carcasses to be disposed of once permission has been given. This would allow GRV to undertake autopsies when and if required to examine the cause of death and to ensure greyhounds are not being disposed of inappropriately.
It was also announced on Thursday that GRV Chairman Ray Gunston, who took up the position when the previous GRV Board stepped down in March, has accepted an executive role with the AFL. He will remain on the Board, with Bernie Carolan to take up the Chair position.
Gunston will remain in the top job until July and welcomed the findings of both reports.
“We thank the Racing Integrity Commissioner Sal Perna and Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Charles Milne for their work in compiling these reports and appreciate the context of their recommendations,” Gunston said.
“In principle we accept the direction of their recommendations and will continue to work with the government, the industry and its participants, and other stakeholders to ensure that the necessary and appropriate changes are implemented to secure the future of the industry.
“It is vital that the entire greyhound racing community accept the need for change to ensure this industry prospers into the future. Ultimately this requires full compliance with well researched and clearly understood integrity and welfare standards.
“There was an environment that existed where this shameful act occurred and went undetected. There is no doubt more work needs to be done to ensure we are able to prevent and/or detect such barbaric behaviours. GRV is committed to the strengthening of its operations and animal welfare and integrity standards within GRV itself and across the Victorian greyhound racing industry.”