A chance to reform

A chance to reform

 The live baiting scandal of 2015 combined with evidence of systemic animal cruelty within the greyhound racing industry triggered a number of inquiries.

Despite these inquiries finding widespread and entrenched animal welfare issues, the industry was given a chance to reform.

On 11 October 2016, Premier Baird appointed a Greyhound Industry Reform Panel to provide recommendations on potential new animal welfare and governance arrangements to reform the industry.

The Greyhound Industry Reform Panel made 122 recommendations, all of which, with one exception, were accepted by the Government. These recommendations led to a new Greyhound Racing Act, new Greyhound Racing Regulations, new Greyhound Racing Policy and the establishment of the Greyhound Welfare and Integrity Commission (GWIC).

Recommendation 73 of the Greyhound Industry Reform Panel report which was accepted by the NSW Government states: A new greyhound racing register should be established and managed by the integrity commission to capture the identity and whereabouts of all greyhounds throughout their lifecycle.

This mechanism is central to reforming the industry as it prevents the killing of thousands of greyhounds each year.  As of March 2020, GWIC admits that it is not always happening. This is due to a legislative restriction which prevents GWIC from keeping tabs on retired dogs.

This situation is not GWIC’s fault. Regulators can only do what they are empowered to do. It is the responsibility of the relevant NSW Minister, currently Kevin Anderson, and the NSW state government.

In April 2015, following the live baiting expose, the Queensland Government announced a Commission of Inquiry into the Queensland greyhound racing industry. The Commission returned its final report on 1 June 2015. The next day Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk abolished all Queensland Racing Boards responsible for greyhound and horse racing. Additionally, Queensland Racing CEO Condon was ordered to demonstrate why he should keep his job after the Commission found live baiting and other animal cruelty issues were most likely widespread in the greyhound racing industry.

The Commission’s report known as the MacSporran Report after Commissioner Alan MacSporran QC, made 15 recommendations including that the industry should be separated into two parts: Racing Queensland and the Queensland Racing Integrity Commission (QRIC).

As at 31 January 2020, eight of the 15 recommendations had not been implemented. Recommendation 7 is one of the most critical recommendations as it concerns whole of life tracking. It stipulates the development of a single standardised form that reports all aspects of a greyhound’s whereabouts and status. The recommendation states that the form “should make it plain that sufficient information is required to enable the dog and/or person responsible for it to be located.” This recommendation was initially due to be implemented by December 2015. The tracking system is currently scheduled to be in production by the end of May 2020.

The original implementation dates for the recommendations yet to be implemented range from late 2015 to mid 2016. A number of the recommendations were granted a three year government deferral in September 2017.

According to the QRIC Animal Welfare Strategy 2016-2020, QRIC has a mandate to safeguard the welfare of racing animals. One of the key activities still to be implemented is: “Improve whole of life tracking for racing animals”.

In 2015, following the live baiting scandal, the Victorian government launched two separate enquiries into this exposure of ongoing animal cruelty. One was led by Victoria’s chief vet Dr Charles Milne and one was an own motion inquiry by Sal Perna, Victoria’s Racing Integrity Commissioner.

Following the release of an interim report, the entire board of Greyhound Racing Victoria resigned despite the report finding there was no evidence that the GRV board knew about live baiting or covered up the scandal. However, Perna said it would be “naïve” to believe that live baiting has been eradicated. He went on to say, “The weight of information from industry participants indicates that the practice continues to occur as a clandestine method of educating, breaking in and training of greyhounds for racing.”

The review by Dr Charles Milne made 50 recommendations in relation to the industry’s approach to animal welfare. As with the NSW and Queensland State Government reports, a key recommendation was related to whole of life tracking: “5.2 That Greyhounds Australasia coordinate the collection and dissemination of greyhound lifecycle information.” Currently, there is no centralised whole of life tracking maintained by the Victorian racing industry.