Greyhound Racing Prohibition Bill 2016

23rd August 2016

Mr GREG PIPER ( Lake Macquarie ) ( 23:07 :35 ): It is extraordinary to be here tonight debating the Greyhound Racing Prohibition Bill 2016. The die has been cast and the numbers have come up, so very little will change based on the merits of this debate. If nothing else, bringing this matter to a head today and having it completed tonight will bring about certainty for all sides of the debate. Those who support the bill will have the certainty that in time greyhounds will not be subjected to cruel practices and animals such as cats, possums, rats and others will also not be subjected to cruelty from greyhound racing, at least not in New South Wales. Those who staunchly oppose the bill will have their lives changed as they lose their hobby and employment. Many will lose not only their income but also their financial investment in an industry they thought would be ongoing.

I have read the report of the special commission of inquiry. As a matter of fact, I read it while on holiday with my grandchildren. It was a harrowing thing to do. I have spoken to many opponents as well as supporters of the bill. I formed an early position that I would lean towards supporting the Government, though I always had strong concerns about the process.

The issue has divided the community and it is my guess that, given the option of business as usual or a complete closure of the industry, the community would overwhelmingly support the closure. Given a middle option as provided for in the recommendations of Justice McHugh, most seem to support significant changes and greatly increased regulation. For the record, I am not and never have been keen on greyhound racing or, for that matter, horseracing. It is many years since I attended a race, although I used to as a young man. Do I believe that greyhound racing in itself is wrong? No, I do not. Indeed, these dogs love to run, and chasing or racing is a natural behaviour—a natural behaviour relied on by the industry and one that has, unfortunately, been gamed and exploited by some.

As I have mentioned, I have deep concern about the process of this decision. At least some Government members—some of whom have spoken in this debate—are very upset by being trapped in a position due to an announcement of great magnitude on social media without the courtesy of consideration by the party room. It would have been great if this was brought from the Cabinet to Government members, the Opposition and the crossbench without a pre-determined outcome. It is a conversation that should have been had. I note the presence at the table of the Deputy Premier and I pay respect to him. He knows I respect him, but I have to say that this was an opportunity for this Government to change the paradigm of how business is done.

I hear the Premier, whom I also respect, saying to the Opposition that this is an opportunity to be bipartisan. How can anyone be bipartisan if they are not brought into the tent? That is not how bipartisan agreements come about. They are not about somebody making an announcement and then the Opposition falling in line. It does not work that way. So I am not surprised that the Opposition took an alternative approach. Of course, that approach was very similar in that in a very short time a decision to oppose was taken. However, I think that the Opposition possibly came up with a more nuanced and better outcome in the proposed bill of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. I truly believe that this could have been an opportunity to change the way we do business in this House. But then it would be great if greyhounds were not bred for gaming or viewed by some as a commodity. That is just my personal opinion—it is just how I feel.

It is impossible to separate the issue of greyhound welfare from money and from gambling. Clearly the more money on offer, the higher the likelihood that someone will look for an edge by way of doping, blooding or perhaps other measures—just to get that extra edge. I have no doubt that the growth of the industry—with its demand for dogs to service the many tracks, meets and races and the money involved—has been a factor in bringing us to this point. On that I have to ask: Where have successive governments and respective responsible Ministers been for many years? They have also failed the industry and the community. How has it got to this point without their knowledge or more direct interest? This bill, in closing down an industry, will have far-reaching ramifications on the lives of many people—not just trainers and breeders but also vets, ground attendants, track workers, those who like to own a dog or two, those who enjoy the spectacle and those in associated industries such as pet and racing suppliers.

Clearly the greyhound racing industry has been plagued by a shocking litany of abuses over many years. Equally I have no doubt that there are many people working in the industry who have not only always followed the letter of the law but also cared for their dogs beyond the minimum requirements of the rules and regulations. The report of the special commission of inquiry, the McHugh report, confirmed many of my long-held views about the greyhound industry. It is an industry that clearly has a dark side to it that many knew about, even those who did not participate in reprehensible activity. The commission of inquiry has shone a light on the industry's very serious shortcomings over many decades and cast considerable doubt on its ability to overcome those shortcomings in the future. It did not, however, sign the death warrant for the industry. We are doing that tonight.

I have had many conversations with greyhound industry groups over the past month. I understand and accept that their efforts are well intentioned, but in some ways they have come frustratingly too late. We should not have had to wait for the Four Corners report, the McHugh report or the Government to get to this point. As an industry, it has failed in so many ways, particularly the body most would have thought could be relied upon—that is, Greyhound Racing NSW. How wrong we were. A large part of this industry knew of its dark underbelly. These people, who knew what was happening but did not speak out or take action, are also to blame for the grubs in the industry getting away with things which are clearly outside the realms of social acceptability and outside the law—those actions that saw the industry lose its social licence.

Having said that, I believe the industry is likely salvageable. I believe it has reached a point where it has displayed a genuine desire to reform and take the drastic measures needed, even if that has come about as a measure of self-preservation. Greyhounds like to run. Exploiting natural behaviour for our amusement and gaming purposes in ways highlighted by the McHugh report is, however, more questionable and goes to the difference between this industry and others that also experience wastage. Many figures are being used, and contested, by both sides of the debate to support their arguments, but the Greyhound Racing Industry Alliance has given me an undertaking that it could reduce the number of dogs bred each year to 2,000, down from the current 6,000 estimated by Commissioner McHugh. [Extension of time]

If the industry were to survive, there would need to be total life cycle management of all greyhounds. I note that the industry did introduce such a system for all dogs bred from 2015 onwards. In my opinion, the industry has grown too big, with too many tracks and too many meets requiring too many dogs to be whelped each year to service the racing schedule. I believe every dog whelped should have a reasonable expectation that it will be able to see out its natural life. That would also mean that tracks and procedures in racing should change to reduce track-borne injury. With reduced races and dogs racing for longer—that is, perhaps, age group racing—the number of dogs needed should allow for all to be rehomed for their retirement. If that cannot be done, the industry should be closed down.

Animal cruelty has no place in our society and we need the best regulation and supervision possible to eradicate it altogether. There should be zero tolerance for the barbaric acts shown by Four Corners. There needs to be ongoing cultural reform within the industry and harsh penalties for those who breach the code of practice, and all costs associated with that reform should be drawn from wagering revenue. I accept that Commissioner McHugh has made a number of changes to his initial report following responses from those in the greyhound industry. After discussions with some of those industry representatives and local enthusiasts, I also accept that some of the figures used in his report are not as clear-cut or as accurate as they may have first appeared. However, even accepting that there were errors, the overwhelming findings that are not contested would by themselves be enough to justify a major reset to greyhound racing in New South Wales.

Compensation or assistance to participants in greyhound racing has been very much part of the discussion in shutting down this industry but is explicitly denied by the bill. I do not know how an appropriate level of compensation could be quantified anyway. I do not know how we can come up with a figure that would be considered fair. It is a very complicated matter, but I am sure that the Deputy Premier will speak about the industry assistance package that has been referred to. It is my belief that a proper discussion of the McHugh report needed to occur before a decision was made, and I believe that could have produced a better outcome for all.

There is no doubt that the greyhound racing industry has done itself no favours in recent decades. The historical resistance to change by many in the industry has contributed significantly to its current predicament. Things must change dramatically if the industry is to be allowed to continue. That can only be achieved by ongoing discussions with all stakeholders. Some have put to me that the change would have come with generational change, and I tend to agree, but perhaps an even more important driver of change would have been the incredible modern surveillance technology that the industry would face were it to continue.

My opposition to this bill is largely due to the way in which this decision was made and announced, namely, locking Government members into this position without the ability to debate it other than post decision. The McHugh report offered a raft of options that could have been explored, and the Opposition has added to them in its proposed Greyhound Racing Amendment (Greyhound Racing Integrity Commission) Bill 2016. If the decision had not been made to close the industry then these changes would have been well received by those fighting for animal welfare, and if the industry could not comply then it would not be viable and would be closed. This major decision will have wideranging ramifications. Importantly, consideration must be given to those devastated by what will be a very real loss. For many people this industry has been their life and they struggle to see a future without their dogs. Indeed, the emotional and psychological impact will be a very real risk for them.

Once again this a failed opportunity by a government to engage with the entire Parliament. Government backbench members were denied their view, and Opposition and crossbench members were also denied the opportunity to show that they could work with the Government on such an important matter. In fact, I would have been surprised if as a Parliament we could not have come together and shown strength and solidarity on such an important decision. I have agonised over this matter because of its impact on people's lives. I take this opportunity to acknowledge from my electorate Mr Russell Ware, chairman of Greyhounds Australasia; Ryan Freedman, a greyhound owner and general manager of Warners Bay Sports Club; Kevin Gordon, a spokesman for local breeders and trainers; and Brenton Scott, the chief executive officer of the Greyhound Racing Industry Alliance.

On the other side of the equation, I am not attacking those who are advocates for animal welfare. Over the years I have been in contact with the RSPCA, Animal Welfare League, Hunter Animal Rescue, Animal Liberation and like organisations, and I have no problem with any of them. It is incumbent on us to consider the impacts of what we are doing and make our decision accordingly. If nothing else, those organisations have helped to inform us. For those reasons, I will not be supporting this bill.

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