Parliamentary Inquiry into Greyhound Racing SA

Legislative Council

Wednesday 27, 2016 Private Members Business


GREYHOUND RACING     The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (15:57):  I move:

  1. That a select committee of the Legislative Council be established to inquire into and report on greyhound racing in South Australia, and in particular—

    1. the economic viability of the greyhound racing industry in South Australia;

    2. the financial performance and conduct of the industry and of Greyhound Racing SA;

    3. the effectiveness of current industry regulation, including the level of autonomy of Greyhound Racing SA;

    4. the sale and breeding of greyhounds, including the market conditions and welfare of animals;

    5. the welfare of animals in the industry and the role of Greyhound Racing SA in establishing and enforcing standards of treatment of animals;

    6. financial incentives for reducing euthanasia and prosecutions of animal mistreatment;

    7. the adequacy and integrity of data collection in the industry, including the number of pups born, the number of dogs euthanased and injury rates; and

    8. any other relevant matters.

  2. That standing order 389 be so far suspended as to enable the Chairperson of the committee to have a deliberative vote only.

  3. That this council permits the select committee to authorise the disclosure or publication, as it sees fit, of any evidence or documents presented to the committee prior to such evidence being presented to the council.

     4, That standing order 396 be suspended to enable strangers to be admitted when the select committee is examining witnesses, unless the committee otherwise resolves, but they shall be excluded when the committee is deliberating.

    I rise today to move a motion for a select committee to inquire into the greyhound racing industry in our state. I do so framing that select committee's terms of reference on those used by New South Wales in their independent inquiry which recently reported and found findings to such a significant concern to the Premier of that state that he has, in fact, declared a ban on that industry to take effect as of 1 July next year. A few hours later, that ban was echoed by the ACT and the territory government, with both the Greens and Labor members supporting that ban to take effect as well.

     Those criteria look to the economic viability of the greyhound racing industry in our state; the financial performance and conduct of the industry and Greyhound Racing SA; the effectiveness of current industry regulation, including the level of autonomy of Greyhound Racing SA; the sale and breeding of greyhounds, including the market conditions and welfare of animals; the welfare of animals in the industry and the role of Greyhound Racing SA in establishing and enforcing standards of treatment of these animals; the financial incentives for reducing euthanasia and prosecutions for animal mistreatment; the adequacy and integrity of data collection in the industry, including the number of pups born, the number of dogs euthanased and injury rates; and, of course, any other relevant matters.

      Members interjecting:

     The Hon. T.A. FRANKS:  It would be very unparliamentary to make a reflection upon the government benches or the absence thereof. I think the New South Wales Premier in this past fortnight surprised many in the community but it was no surprise to those who for some decades have followed the reports of cruelty and corruption in the greyhound racing industry. The New South Wales inquiry, of course, was instigated by the revelations made in the Four Corners program Making a Killing some 18 months ago. Those revelations used undercover footage and exposed the practice of live baiting. I commend the member in this chamber, the Hon. Michelle Lensink, for her work in putting forward some legislation that would have addressed that issue which was in fact watered down in the version that came to us from the government side but certainly unanimously passed in this place to increase penalties for live baiting.

     But what the Premier made quite clear in his statement and what the New South Wales report makes quite clear is that live baiting was just the tip of the iceberg—in fact, it was the wastage rates. Wastage is just a pretty word for killing dogs needlessly; healthy dogs needlessly killed, so that the wastage rates were indeed one of the key factors that led to the Premier declaring that in New South Wales from 1 July 2017 the greyhound racing industry in that state would not continue.

     He has also noted that there will be a transition package for those who have employment tied to that industry and also, of course, a process for rehoming the dogs. I must just put at this point that he has also made it very clear that this is not a land grab from working-class communities and that all of those current spaces used by Greyhound Racing NSW will not somehow be taken by the government for profit on its behalf but will be for the benefit of those particular communities.

     That report was quite comprehensive, and I must at this point also acknowledge the work of my Greens' colleague the late John Kaye MLC who initiated that particular inquiry but for decades had been raising concerns. For decades those concerns had gone largely unheard but certainly he was instrumental in supporting the work of the Four Corners program, as was Animal Liberation Queensland and Animal Australia. The RSPCA both here in this state and across the country has long campaigned on the issue of greyhounds and the cruelty against greyhounds. I thank John Kaye for his legacy. Unfortunately, he passed away just a few short weeks before that report and that announcement was made by Premier Baird. I think even the Hon. John Kaye would have been surprised but I am certain that he would have been delighted.

     The report had two options; the second option was not taken up. That would have been to maintain the industry and undertake reforms to improve transparency and governance and reduce the level of greyhound deaths—that was option 2. Premier Baird chose option 1 and that is recommendation 1: no longer permit greyhound racing and close down the industry. To make such a statement there must have been great reason. Certainly in those many hundreds of pages of the report there are significant levels of evidence that, in fact, this was an industry that had been given the chance to reform but was showing that it was not willing to.

     The transition in New South Wales will be some 12 months in the making. An administrator will be appointed and the protection of those animals, as I say, will be undertaken and the government in New South Wales has engaged the RSPCA of New South Wales to do that. The findings of that report found that of the 97,783 greyhounds bred in the last 12 years, between 48,891 and 68,448 dogs were killed because they were deemed uncompetitive as racing dogs. That is 50 to 70 per cent of those greyhounds were killed because they were too slow. There was no other reason, simply too slow; not profitable enough; could not make money out of them, so they were put down. 

     The report also found that even if the number of races were to be reduced to the minimum required for the industry to remain viable—and that was estimated at 593—even at that there would be a wastage rate of some 2,000 to 4,000 dogs killed prior to reaching racing age each year. Premier Baird found that unacceptable, and the Greens certainly agree with him. It also found that the evidence of live baiting extends back as far as 2009 and that approximately 10 to 20 per cent of trainers were engaged in the practice. The commission concluded that there was an endemic support for the practice and, indeed, that Greyhound Racing NSW knew about the practice and did nothing about it.

     New South Wales, however, is not alone in banning greyhound racing. Indeed, greyhound racing is only commercially run in eight countries. The largest of these is the United States of America. I must say, even in that nation, Arizona just became the 40th state to ban it in that country. So New South Wales does not stand alone in taking this action. Premier Baird does not stand alone in taking this action.

     The deaths and injuries involved with this particular industry have lost it its social licence. Animals Australia has a flyer that is titled 'The ugly truth about greyhound racing'. They say approximately 8,000 pups born each year will never race and most likely are killed. They say five dogs every week are killed on the race track. They say piglets, possums and rabbits are all victims of brutal live baiting. They talk about the fact that most of these dogs who do live, live lives of deprivation when they are not on the racetrack. After they are retired from racing, four out of every five dogs are killed. That is approximately 10,000 annually, as Animals Australia had contended. Of course, we know that the figures are so astounding—and from that New South Wales report, so concerning—that they led to that Liberal government action in New South Wales.

     What the New South Wales inquiry found that is of relevance to this particular discussion is that it is not unique to New South Wales—surprise, surprise. Indeed, a document that was only able to be gained through the processes of the New South Wales inquiry, authored by Greyhound Racing SA and Greyhounds Australasia, actually admitted that they had a problem. Indeed, this strictly confidential document, which is called 'Crisis to Recovery Program', is indeed well intentioned in that its subject is the framework for achieving zero euthanasia—certainly a worthy goal. They state:

               The Goal

     Build trust in the greyhound racing industry The memo continues:

              Our Problem

  • 7,000 greyhounds a year do not make it to the track (40% of all greyhounds whelped)

    That is the greyhound racing industry's own figures. They talk about the greyhound assistance program, which rehomes those greyhounds after racing, and they boast, or indeed bemoan, that only 6 per cent of all pre-raced and retired greyhounds are actually rehomed. I will repeat that: 6 per cent of those who make their owners a profit are actually rehomed. That leaves some 94 per cent seemingly unaccounted for. They go on, in this manner, to say:

  • That means this industry is responsible for the unnecessary deaths of anywhere between 13,000 and 17,000 healthy greyhounds a year (we don't know how many are being rehomed by charity groups or live out their lives on owner properties)

    The Animals Australia estimate was, in fact, conservative. It was not 10,000, it was somewhere up to 17,000. The solution, in this memo, is three words: 'Reform the industry.' That is a worthy goal, but I cannot see how this industry will be reformed without transparency. At the very least, transparency around the kill rates in this state of healthy greyhounds. It would seem reasonable that this council would know that number for this state. I have certainly asked it in parliamentary debates.

     Most ironically, I thought, on the very day that this state finally passed, proclaimed and announced with a fanfare of media releases from minister Hunter the fact that we had a new Dog and Cat Management Act and the amendments would mean that the 10,000 dogs and cats needlessly euthanased currently would be supported by a clamping down on puppy factories, by microchipping and by desexing. Now, of course, those 10,000 dogs and cats figures were provided through the processes of the citizens' jury and used by the government and members of this place to debate that particular suite of reforms.

     It became very clear in the debate that those figures did not include greyhounds and, when asked, the government refused to disclose the number of greyhounds that were being needlessly euthanased under these so-called wastage rates. I say 'refused', but I suspect that they do not even know the figures themselves, and whether that is minister Bignell and Minister Hunter not asking the questions or not receiving an answer is something that I would certainly like those ministers to clarify.

     I have also tried writing to Greyhound Racing SA and asking them for a clarification on these wastage figures. In relation to my letters of 27 April, 28 April, 29 April, 2 May, 3 May, 4 May, 5 May and 6 May asking for these suites of figures to be provided under freedom of information, on 27 June I received a response, addressed to me and signed by Matt Corby, the Chief Executive Officer of Greyhound Racing SA, which stated:

                Dear Madam, Freedom of Information Request: Statistics on Greyhounds in South Australia. We refer to your letters— on those dates that I have mentioned— by way of purported applications under the Freedom of Information Act 1991 (the Act). It appears that the abovementioned applications are misconceived as the Act applies only to the 'agencies' as defined in the Act. Greyhound Racing SA Pty Ltd is not an 'agency' within the meaning of the Act and the Act has no application in respect to it.

    I certainly have sought legal advice and will be contesting that particular refusal of a freedom of information request, but I have also tried asking, politely, in meetings with Greyhound Racing SA for those figures to be provided, if not to me as a member of parliament, certainly to the Dog and Cat Management Board. At this stage, we are still waiting for those figures. I must say that the key to this is how can you reform an industry if you are not willing to publicly admit your problems, and how, without transparency, can you expect the trust not just of this parliament but the people of South Australia?

     Importantly, if greyhound racing in New South Wales is to be closed down and if greyhound racing in the ACT is to be closed down, and these so-called bad apples are not going to take this lightly, what is to stop them coming across the border and instigating their practices in this state? I would ask members to consider those factors as they make their decisions on whether or not they will support this select committee.

     I think it is a fairly simple thing to ask the question: how many greyhounds are being needlessly killed, either before they ever hit a racing track, because they are too slow, or after they have served a racing career and made their owners potentially a profit, because they cannot be rehomed? How many each year in South Australia are being killed? How many are included in this so-called wastage rate that seems to be part of the business model of this industry? What I would say to this industry is that perhaps if your business model relies on a number so high that it would be unpalatable to the public, you need to change your business model or we will change your business model for you.

     I note that the inquiry in New South Wales was not a stand-alone inquiry. There was also an inquiry in Queensland and an inquiry in Victoria, and a continuing inquiry in Tasmania. Four states, from the Four Corners report, saw fit to initiate an inquiry. But what happened under the Weatherill Labor government? Minister Bignell stood up for the greyhound racing industry. He said that the bad apples were all in the Eastern States, according to some media reports I reappraised myself of this morning.

     He sent the greyhound racing industry of South Australia and the RSPCA into consultation with each other and told them to come up with an agreement, a consensus position, between those two groups. They brought back the very small changes that we saw around live baiting that were passed in legislative form in this place. Even at that very first meeting, the RSPCA of South Australia asked Greyhound Racing SA, 'What are your wastage rates?' To this day, they have yet to receive an answer. The only answers we do have were gleaned from the New South Wales inquiry.

     That is why we need a South Australian inquiry to ensure that South Australians know what is going on in our state in this industry. It is the compassionate thing to do but it is also the responsible thing to do. If this industry is to have future, it actually has to create that transparency. Certainly there is much more I could say, but with those few words I would hope that members of the government, the opposition and the crossbench will take this motion seriously and see a need for this industry to provide that transparency.

     I know that we have tried asking nicely, we have tried asking through ministers in parliament, we have tried letters and we have tried FOIs. So far, none of those pathways has given us the information about wastage rates that I think the South Australian public deserves. If we need to do a parliamentary inquiry to get that information, then that is perhaps what we should do. With those few words, I commend the motion.

             Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. J.M. Gazzola.


Stay Connected

Sign Up to news and updates from Tammy.