Greyhound Racing Bill 2017
4th April 2017
Mr GREG PIPER ( Lake Macquarie ) ( 18:43 :30 ): I contribute to debate on the Greyhound Racing Bill 2017. The Greyhound Racing Prohibition Bill thrust upon us in 2016 may have been prosecuted by its supporters for what they believed at the time to be all the right reasons—and indeed I believe for many that was the case—but the process of its conception and passage through the House was so flawed that it was destined to be repealed or to cause a major, ongoing rift within our community. I acknowledge that the original legislation winding up the industry had its strong supporters and many people are disappointed that the decision is being reversed. The reality is that the original decision was not transparent and did not involve proper consideration and debate before the inevitable was put to a vote. That was a major flaw in process and in procedural fairness for people within the industry that impacted debate about the substantive issue: the endemic and pervasive problems with greyhound racing as identified by the Hon. Michael McHugh.
This bill is a step forward in putting animal welfare issues above those of the gambling industry and goes a long way towards restoring integrity to an industry plagued by bad seeds and those wishing to exploit animals for personal gain or greed. As I have said in this House before, I am not and never have been keen on greyhound racing—or, for that matter, horseracing. That is not to say that such racing is wrong. What I find wrong is the exploitation of these natural behaviours without due deference to the rights of the animals involved to live without cruelty and to live out the term of their natural lives and not be snuffed out prematurely as some accepted, euphemistically termed "wastage". Like everyone else in the House, I was disturbed and disgusted by some practices that had become all too common in the greyhound racing industry, even if practised by a minority of participants. The live baiting, the overbreeding, the callous treatment and the disgusting way in which many greyhounds were discarded because they could not run fast enough were totally unacceptable in a modern society.
This was an industry that, while denied procedural fairness in the move to shut it down, was also betrayed and diminished by certain members of its own community, and I am sure the industry recognises that. Those people should have been weeded out much earlier not only because of their cruelty to greyhounds and other animals but also because of their disregard for the good people in the industry who would suffer collateral reputational damage when and if their actions became known, and because of their contempt for the law. There are many good people within the greyhound industry who have always worked within the rules and care greatly about the welfare of their animals before, during and after the racing careers of those animals—and I have met many of them over the past six months. But even some of them were aware of this industry's dark underbelly yet, I guess for many reasons, did little or nothing to address them.
It is also on the record that, despite my feelings towards the industry, I opposed the greyhound racing ban, which was eventually approved by the Government, on numerous grounds but mainly because I had deep concerns about the way in which the process and the final decision had been undertaken. The then Premier announced his decision without any real consultation with his own Government members, let alone with the Opposition or crossbench, the industry or the community. It was a highly flawed process that failed to engage with the people or the Parliament. Indeed, the ban on greyhounds, carried out as it was, may become a textbook example of how not to act even when one has the power to do so. Drawing a deep breath and discussing such matters broadly to allow genuine debate will always bring about a better result than a capricious decision, no matter how well intended.
The McHugh report offered two main solutions: option one was to ban the industry and option two had 79 embedded suggestions. The Opposition added to those with further proposed amendments, all of which could have been explored. If the decision to close down the industry had not been made on a whim the changes would have been well received by those fighting for animal welfare. I believe also that the industry would have responded positively. There has been a lot of criticism of the Government and of former Premier Mike Baird. I admire the way in which Mike Baird subsequently dealt with what was a mistaken process that he had implemented. I think he caused a lot of difficulty for his own people in the Liberal-Nationals Coalition and if some situation had not occurred it would have put heat on the Opposition. Under the rules, party members are put under a lot of pressure as to how they act. As an Independent member of this House, I am certainly not in that situation. However, I acknowledge the difficulty caused for many members.
I spoke to the Premier at the time and I know that he certainly did not take the decision lightly. But he acknowledged that it was a mistake and he should be given credit for that. Too much is being made of the opportunity to put the boot into the Government over this matter. My personal view remains that, despite the flawed process and despite my concerns about the exploitation of these animals, the greyhound racing industry, like any industry or entity, should be given the chance to prove that it can be redeemed. It can be rightly argued that the greyhound industry had many shots across its bow before the McHugh report made its findings but that report delivered an ultimatum that I believe was both warranted and gave the industry its final and gravest warning. This bill takes us back to the debate we should have had in August last year. I note that the Minister in his second reading speech said:
The Government has listened to all these concerns and announced that the industry would be given a further chance to prove itself.
That is the sort of discussion we should have had last August, so I commend the Government for its review not just of the greyhound industry but of its own actions. I believe this new bill establishes a framework for governance and the application of best practice in regard to animal welfare. I note that it significantly increases penalties for animal cruelty and establishes a welfare and integrity commission, which will oversee the welfare of the animals. The accountability and monitoring of race meetings, training, breeding, safety and licensing will also be increased significantly and be the most stringently and transparently managed in the country.
I note also that some in the industry have argued against the Government's insistence that the new body of Greyhound Racing NSW be a state-owned corporation and not a self-governing commercial entity. I support the Government's stance on this issue because it builds in an extra layer of regulation and oversight that I believe is needed to stop this industry from falling into its old patterns where commercial interests and profits for some rise above the welfare of the greyhounds. I also support moves that will require each greyhound to be registered and subject to an annual bond, refundable in certain circumstances, to further protect the greyhounds and minimise the sort of overbreeding and wastage that we have seen previously. It will provide whole-of-life care and monitoring of the animals and ensure better oversight of their treatment throughout their entire lives, not just while they are fit to race.
As I mentioned earlier, heavier penalties for rogue operators are very much welcomed and I know are supported by those good people in the industry who want the bad held accountable and weeded out. I have no doubt that the implementation of this new era of regulation will be difficult for many and expensive in some respects, but it has to happen if the greyhound industry is to deliver something that is acceptable to the broader community and if it is to overcome the litany of problems it has struggled with in the past. Already, this regulation and the establishment of the new welfare and integrity commission will cost taxpayers $11 million. The industry and those who gain from it should, in my mind, meet any extra costs or at least be able to mount an absolutely compelling argument for receipt of additional public funds. In that regard, I acknowledge that this process needs to be watched closely so that access to funds is not restricted unfairly and used to cripple the industry
In summary, while my own personal thoughts on greyhound racing are very clear, I firmly believe this industry should have a final chance to redeem itself, and can in fact be redeemed. The bill provides a tough and comprehensive framework for the industry to exist, for the welfare of the animals to be paramount, and for the industry to become much more accountable and consistent with broader community expectations. Therefore, I commend the bill to the House.
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