Dr MEHREEN FARUQI ( 11:56 ): I speak on the Greyhound Racing Bill 2017 on behalf of The Greens. Just when we thought that what happens in this Parliament could not sink any lower, here we are. In less than 12 months, we have gone from a special commission of inquiry highlighting the entrenched cruelty of greyhound racing to a Premier banning the industry, to him then backflipping on his conviction in spite of overwhelming evidence, to this sad and shameful day. The House is proposing not only to repeal the ban but also to provide $41 million of taxpayers’ money to prop up and to revive the industry, which will allow the cruelty to continue. We have a spineless Government and a shamelessly opportunistic Opposition, both rejoicing in the misery of animals.
Over the past 12 years, 97,783 greyhounds were bred and between 50 per cent and 70 per cent were deliberately killed, simply because they never were, or were no longer, capable of being competitive. That is up to 68,448 dogs killed a year, or more than 15 every day. We saw the overwhelming evidence of drugging, of live baiting, of corrupt Greyhound Racing NSW officials involved in crimes, and of a systemic culture of animal cruelty and cover-ups. Yet, here we are today. We are meant to accept the industry’s promises that this time things will be different; that this time things will change.
The industry cannot and will not comply with the law. It is an industry based on lying, cover-ups and animal abuse. Now it cannot afford to meet even basic animal welfare provisions, so the begging bowl is out and the taxpayers must step in. If the greyhound racing industry cannot afford to pay for basic animal welfare measures then it should not be operating. Using public money that should be going into schools and hospitals to prop up greyhound racing, all for the sake of a bet, is obscene. What an insult.
What a slap in the face to those thousands of people who stood in solidarity with this Government when the ban was announced and to those who clean up the greyhound industry’s mess that their taxes will now be fuelling the industry that inevitably continues to kill dogs.
There is not a single dollar for the greyhound rehoming groups in this package—those people who will continue to rescue animals, often at significant personal, emotional and financial cost. Today’s package is a textbook example of the capitulation of this Government to vested interests and in particular of the shallowness of the Berejiklian Government, which has exceeded everyone’s expectations by taking former Premier Baird’s backflip even further to pour in taxpayer dollars to satisfy their factional backers and the National Party. This Government is beginning to look more and more like that of the latter days of Labor’s New South Wales reign when Labor stood for nothing but self-preservation—and we all know how that ended, don’t we? Not very well, to say the least.
Today one can almost smell the shame in this Chamber. There are members of Parliament from the Labor Party, the Liberal Party and The Nationals who supported the ban, but I suppose thousands of dogs will have to be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. Labor’s hypocrisy on animal welfare has been well canvassed in this place. I guess the Hon. Luke Foley can add a notch to his belt that he managed to overturn what would have been the most significant animal welfare reform in New South Wales—one that could have reverberated across the nation. For Labor it is not about stopping coal seam gas mining, phasing out coal or transitioning from coal to 100 per cent renewable energy, but Labor will go in to bat for gambling and racing interests with gusto—that was what woke up the sleeping Labor leader.
The Christian Democratic Party have also made it clear whose side they are on. They pretend to be anti-gambling but are quite happy not only to see this being resurrected but to pour in public money to prop it up even further. I guess I should give a shout-out to the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party who have held a position that is consistently indifferent to the suffering of animals for some time now. And what about the Liberals and Nationals? I do not need to make an argument for why the ban on greyhound racing needs to stay. It was all done for me 10 months ago by Government Ministers. It is all in Hansard for everyone to read. The Hon. Duncan Gay stated:
We have also seen clear evidence of an industry where the problems run so deep, where there is an endemic culture of animal cruelty and deception at all levels.
He went on to say:
Fundamentally all of the incentives and motivators in greyhound racing will always lead to unacceptable animal welfare outcomes.
He also said:
From either an economic or welfare perspective, it just does not add up.
Or how about the Hon. Niall Blair? He stated:
… the New South Wales greyhound racing industry has been exposed for widespread illegal and unconscionable activity including: systemic mistreatment of animals; unnecessary slaughtering; deliberate misreporting; and a culture that has lost the trust of the community.
Neither the Leader of the Government in this Chamber nor the Deputy Leader of the Government, the Hon. Niall Blair, is even here this morning. Those on the opposite side know that what they are doing today is wrong. When former Premier Baird announced his gutless backflip I accepted that it was done begrudgingly and following white-anting in his own party, but even I did not think that the Government would reward the greyhound industry and make it stronger than ever with pocketfuls of public money.
I cannot remain silent about the RSPCA’s role in this. RSPCA New South Wales should be ashamed of the role it has played in giving greyhound racing in New South Wales the big tick of RSPCA approval. I for one believe RSPCA New South Wales is far too close to the New South Wales Government to maintain independence. When the ban is government policy, the RSPCA policy is a ban. When the Government said greyhound racing can continue under this system, the RSPCA New South Wales chief executive officer, Steve Coleman, said he “was pleased with the Government’s announcement today”. This pattern of behaviour has not gone unnoticed.
Let us now turn to the bill itself. It repeals the ban, re-establishes Greyhound Racing NSW and creates a new Greyhound Welfare and Integrity Commission—and that is where the good news ends. We were told these reforms would be based on the recommendations of the Greyhound Industry Reform Panel, which included animal welfare measures such as controls on euthanasia, litter limits for breeding females, bonds for dogs and lifetime tracking. But where are these measures in this bill? All the things we were promised are nowhere to be found. Presumably they will be included in a code of practice to be developed by the Greyhound Welfare and Integrity Commission but there is no legislative commitment to do any of this. Even if they do make it into the code of practice, the Minister for Racing may amend it at any time, solely at the Minister’s discretion. The Minister can remove or weaken any animal welfare codes—codes, by the way, which we are yet to see.
Here is a system that can be circumvented by the Minister at any time. When the spotlight on greyhound racing eventually fades, we will see a gradual weakening of any standards that may be put up. This package is a marginal improvement on the current mess of greyhound cruelty but it will not stop the deaths. If there is one thing the greyhound racing industry has proven it is that it knows how to evade the law and how to pressure weak governments and opposition parties to not hold it accountable. Let us suspend reality for a moment and pretend that pigs are flying through the air and that all the commitments made by the Government are enacted. That is enough, right? That is completely wrong. The reality is this: The lack of a breeding cap means dogs will continue to be bred unsustainably, because that is what the industry relies on. Financially it relies on the disposal of dogs that are not economically profitable from racing and it relies on dispatching—also known as killing—dogs that become financial burdens. Oscar’s Law, one of the largest movements against puppy farms, stated:
… greyhound racing is the largest puppy factory of all. An industry which churns out thousands upon thousands of dogs each and every year. An industry that tortures, maims and kills small, defenceless animals in live baiting. An industry that breeds so many puppies deemed not suitable for racing—and simply killed often by cheap and painful practices as the special commission found and confirmed.
The PRESIDENT: I interrupt Dr Mehreen Faruqi for one moment to take the opportunity to welcome into the public gallery student leaders from high schools in New South Wales who are attending the Secondary Schools Leadership Program conducted by the parliamentary education unit. On behalf of all members I welcome you to the New South Wales Parliament and the Legislative Council and trust that you will enjoy your time here.
Dr MEHREEN FARUQI: The decision of the Greyhound Industry Reform Panel not to recommend a breeding cap, even though this formed part of their terms of reference as “a controlled breeding program, including the immediate restriction of 2,000 greyhounds annually for New South Wales racing purposes” and was explicitly mentioned in the guarantees given by the industry to the Government in a letter on 9 August 2016, is deeply disappointing. With unrestricted breeding, the question about what will happen to dogs who are not suitable for racing or who have become uncompetitive, especially in the context of the endemic culture of euthanasia, remains unanswered.
The special commission of inquiry heard evidence that just 30 per cent of dogs racing today have a chance of being retained as a pet by the owner or being rehomed by the industry or not-for-profit groups. The rest form part of the up to 68,448 dogs that were killed because they were considered either too slow to pay their way or unsuitable for racing. With continued breeding and low rehoming rates, it is inevitable that these dogs will continue to be disposed of in one way or another. Where does the Premier think these dogs will go? If the reforms for lifetime tracking are enacted, and I remind members that there is nothing in this legislation to suggest that they will, the only legitimate pathway for a greyhound owner to discharge their obligations without it impacting their licence is to retain the dog as a pet or have the dog rehomed—both of which take place at a very low rate—or the dog will put down either by the owner in an emergency situation or by a veterinarian.
The secret papers released as a result of my call for papers in the upper House, and then my successful challenge to the privilege claimed on these, showed thousands of reports, including of animal neglect and cruelty, dog drugging, dodgy GRNSW officials, the involvement of organised crime and outlaw motorcycle gangs, and live baiting investigations. “The Return to Order—Greyhound Welfare—Further Order” documents tabled by the Clerk on Wednesday 12 October 2016 showed significant evidence of dogs being euthanized simply for being unsuitable for racing, in suspicious circumstances, or dogs being reported as dying of natural causes in similarly suspicious circumstances. I cannot see any reason this will change. I will go into these disturbing cases further in a proposed amendment to try to deal with this.
There is also currently no plan to track greyhounds once they have been adopted. It is conceivable that a trainer could adopt out an animal to a relative or associate, who would then be free to dispose of the animal to the local pound or have the animal euthanized, with the trainer having discharged their responsibilities. This is an ongoing concern which has been a risk for some time and which has not been addressed. Page 9 of the “Chief Executive Brief PN25/106—Greyhound Euthanasia Considerations and Emergency Euthanasia Provisions” of Greyhound Racing NSW states, “There remains a risk that a greyhound owner may submit to GRNSW a Notification of Retirement form advising their greyhound has been retired as a pet to friend or family member. As the greyhound is no longer registered with GRNSW, this friend or family member could immediately take the greyhound to the local council with the intention that the greyhound be euthanized.”
I think we can see the future by looking into the past. Even with the threat of closure dangling over their heads, the deaths have continued. The drugging has continued; the cheating has continued. This is an industry that has continued to see dozens of dogs being killed on tracks or being so seriously injured that they have to be euthanized immediately. On April Fools’ Day—just one day—on just three tracks, Wentworth Park, Bulli and the Gardens, we saw two dogs killed and seven injuries. This carnage continues. From 1 January 2016 to September 2016, one greyhound was killed every three days and there was a major injury every single day. Those are just the dogs that we know about; who knows how many have been put down and refused medical treatment.
There has been continued doping of dogs with things like amphetamines, ketamine, pesticides and human growth hormone. Dead dogs on tracks, unnecessary euthanasia and drugging have continued unabated even when the industry was under intense public scrutiny. This is an industry that knows it will get away with anything it wants because no Government will have the backbone to ever hold them to account. When the next exposé of live baiting, mass graves or drugging occurs, we can lay the blame squarely on the Labor Party for their craven political opportunism, and the Liberal and The Nationals parties for their cowardice. I am deeply disappointed, frustrated and incensed that this bill will be passed today. I know that the industry will not be able to meet even the modest animal welfare standards being enacted today. They will slip and they will collapse. The $41 million taxpayer lifeline has to come to an end sometime. We cannot prop up this failing so-called sport for long.
The special commission of inquiry report pointed out that the industry was planning on downsizing. It is facing huge financial issues and was planning to reduce the number of tracks by up to 24—a massive 70 per cent reduction in tracks. That would put hundreds of people out of work, mostly in rural and regional New South Wales. The majority of those tracks are in places like Armidale, Broken Hill, Moree, Tamworth and Young. So instead of talking about a $41 million transition package for workers after we have banned greyhound racing and ended dog deaths and cruelty, we are here today talking about a $41 million package to continue the suffering of animals. This is nothing but blood money from a gutless Government.
This bill is a step forward on the almost non-existent animal welfare standards in greyhound racing, which is inherently lethal and dangerous for animals. It is an inevitable reality that allowing greyhound racing to continue will result in the continued deaths and cruelty for potentially thousands of dogs. The simple reality is that as long as greyhound racing is around dogs will continue to die for no reason other than a bet. It is The Greens’ strong position that the ban not be reversed and the industry be closed down as per the Greyhound Racing Prohibition Act 2016. The Greens oppose this bill.