ACCORDING to Premier Mike Baird, he claims he was left with no real alternative but to ban greyhound racing in NSW following the release of the McHugh Commission report.
Although the report had 80 recommendations, the first was to shut down the sport; the remaining 79 were to be implemented if the sport were to continue. Baird, apparently unilaterally, took the decision to ban it as of July 1 2017.
Reading through part of the McHugh Commission report, which is broken down into three substantial volumes as well as a fourth volume divided into eight sections, you can get a sense of where this seemed to be heading from the start, and it didn’t look good.
Wastage, the euphemism for the large number of unexplained deaths, was one of the two major planks employed by Premier Baird for his decision. The other was the alleged continuation of live baiting.
The three key figures tabled in the report surrounding wastage are:
– 40% of greyhounds whelped each year, or about 7,000, will never race. (refer to Vol 2 11.46 of the McHugh Commission report; also Vol 2 11.60)
– Between 74 and 97% of greyhounds are euthanized before they reach 4.5 years (or 53 months of age). (refer to Vol 2 11.47 of the McHugh Commission report)
– Between 13,000 and 17,000 healthy greyhounds are killed annually. (refer to Vol 2 11.46 of the McHugh Commission report)
All these figures are arguably unreliable and inaccurate, yet the truth is that nobody really knows as there are no reliable figures available.
What is especially noticeable is the scathing response of McHugh to the submissions and responses of GRNSW, writing of ‘a particularly unhelpful submission’ (Vol 2 11.78), ‘figures provided…riddled with inconsistencies, inclusions and exclusions’ (Vol 2 11.81) and so on. It was obvious from the beginning McHugh considered those in control of GRNSW to be next to useless: ‘It is worrying that GRNSW continues to display resistance to full lifecycle tracking for any reason.’ (Vol 1, 10.55).
The Commission claims GRNSW failed badly in its first Strategic Plan, adopted in July 2010, and entitled ‘Chasing 2020’ in respect of its ‘need to improve lifecycle tracking’. As the Commissioner notes, ‘That aspiration was also publicly reported in the GRNSW Annual Report 2010. It was not mentioned again in subsequent Annual Reports. It is another aspiration which was not achieved.’ (Vol 2, 11.33)
McHugh continues, ‘The Commission does not accept that deficiencies in the lifecycle data are solely attributable to weaknesses in the information technology systems…Those systems were inherited almost seven years ago. In September 2011, the digital greyhound tracking database, OzChase, was introduced but the status of individual greyhounds was not fully documented or maintained within the system. It was not until March 2013 that OzChase was used to record the reasons for a greyhound’s death, including reasons why it was euthanized. However, that information was not entered into the system until the owner or trainer of the animal lodged an R 106 Form and even then it was not always entered.
GNSW did not enforce R 106 compliance [until] late 2015…’ (Vol 2, 11.34)
It gets worse. McHugh then makes the claim (and one that must be seen as valid given what has gone on), ‘It has very much suited the industry under prior management to maintain substandard and incomplete records of lifecycle outcomes. It enabled GRNSW to claim…that because there were many possibilities…no definitive conclusions could be drawn.’ (Vol 2, 11.35)
The then-CEO, Brent Hogan, when asked by the Select Committee Public Hearing in November 2013 to explain what happened to the many greyhounds who never made it to the track, responded that it wasn’t a black or white issue because greyhound racing is a borderless industry with dogs moving interstate and between trainers. ‘The issue of 30% to which you refer [by this I think the committee must have claimed 30% of greyhounds registered were now unaccounted for] is that they could be…retained by their owners as pets…privately adopted by…individuals…or through…Greyhounds as Pets…they could also be used for breeding purposes…’
Brent Hogan’s defence had some validity if you accept the view that running an organisation where you have no idea where your racing product happens to be at any particular time is acceptable. That defence smacked of either total incompetence or deliberate obfuscation, or a bit of both. Basically, it was a ‘if we don’t know the real numbers then we can’t be held accountable’ argument. Well, look at the result.
Of course the failures of GRNSW are also the failures of the relevant Minister for Racing and the State government as a whole. After all, they ultimately control GRNSW.
The only potential consolation for greyhound racing is that both horse racing and harness racing are equally in danger, as wastage in both those codes is at high levels and the spotlight is certainly being turned on them following the greyhound decision.
Of course, large numbers of healthy horses being carted off to the knackery for no other reason than they can’t run very fast is not a valid argument to have greyhound racing restored.
Nonetheless, if the NSW government were to determine that wastage in harness and horse racing numbers is somehow acceptable, then it rightly leaves itself open to charges of blatant discrimination against greyhounds.
Of course, if greyhound racing is to successfully fight a battle to have Premier Baird’s decision overturned, there will no doubt be a severe restriction placed on breeding numbers and almost certainly restrictions on who will be given a licence to breed. The days of the hobby breeder, owner, trainer may well be over. Each and every greyhound whelped in the state will indeed need to be well and truly accounted for across its entire lifecycle as a potential racer.
I believe it is an absolute priority that whoever leads the charge to have this decision overturned immediately formulates a comprehensive detailed plan as to how each and every greyhound whelped in the state will be accounted for throughout its life.
If we as a sport/industry are able to produce the kind of welfare response that can be implemented across the state and properly overseen, with extreme penalties for non-compliance, that should be a major first step towards the rehabilitation of racing.