Chance for greyhound industry to start again
THE greyhound racing industry has only itself to blame for what could prove to be a near-death experience.
As Alan MacSporran QC, who chaired the Commission of Inquiry into greyhound racing in Queensland, says in the opening remarks of his report: “public confidence may have been dealt an almost terminal blow …”
That is almost an understatement, given the truly horrendous evidence of recent months that paints a picture not so much of an industry sector but rather a subculture within society that has scant regard for the basic ethics and sense of humanity that most of us take for granted.
The MacSporran report details a litany of abuse covering a range of animal cruelty that few Australians could stomach, along with allegations of race cheating and an overarching culture of silence and tacit complicity.
The animal cruelty allegations alone are enough to make even the strongest stomachs turn.
These range from numerous claims of live-baiting – using animals such as possums and kittens to “blood” greyhounds and make them hungrier for the race – to the appalling death of dogs considered past their use-by date.
As similar inquiries follow their course in NSW and Victoria, yet more evidence of animal abuse, mismanagement and claims of racefixing will inevitably emerge.
None of it will be pretty. It reflects badly on racing in general but needs to be brought to light and be subject to the harshest of scrutiny.
Quite simply, if the greyhound racing industry is to survive in any form in this country it must forfeit any right to selfregulation. That model has proved to be a cruel and abject failure.
As the commission pointed out, that live baiting was allowed to continue in a culture which tended to turn a blind eye to the practice, “is a sad reflection on the state of the greyhound racing industry and those who participate in it, whether it be for pleasure or profit”. The culture must change. This will be a challenge in a subset of the wider racing industry which is dominated by a relatively low-profile and amateur contingent often comprising backyard participants, as opposed to the professionally managed and better scrutinised studs and training operations associated with thoroughbred horse racing.
Quite simply, the onus of both responsibility and eligibility must now shift to greyhound racing’s participants. They must demonstrate they are fit and proper people to be in the game in the first place.
On this front, the MacSporran inquiry has recommended eminently sensible reform, including far tighter licencing requirements and monitoring of all animals from birth to death.
More far reaching recommendations include splitting administration of the Queensland racing industry into two separate bodies – one to manage the commercial aspects of racing, and the other, a new seven-person Queensland Racing Integrity Commission, to ensure we never see a repeat of the abuses uncovered in recent months.
This should ensure a thorough cleanout of the rogue operators, 20 of whom have already been banned for life, and others who are facing criminal charges.
It also represents a chance for greyhound racing to rebuild.
For the Palaszczuk government, the key when considering the MacSporran recommendations will be to strike a balance between cleaning up a section of racing that needs a dose of salts put through it, or taking a scorched earth approach that risks destroying the livelihood of innocent participants in the sport.
It must also take into account the internecine politics of racing in Queensland, some elements of which might like to see the greyhound industry used as a lever to force wider change on the Racing Queensland Board, which was only recently restructured by the former Newman government.
The greyhound racing industry has been a “see no evil, hear no evil” nether world for many years.
Simply lopping off more heads at the top of racing’s wider administrative tree will not be as effective as cutting out the cancers with a very sharp scalpel, and enforcing a punitively strict new regulatory regime on those who are charged with the care of animals at the pointy end of the business.