Racing greyhounds

The report by former High Court justice Michael McHugh into the NSW greyhound industry makes for, literally, sickening reading. There’s an entire volume — 237 pages — on what the industry terms “wastage”, but what normal people would understand as slaughtering dogs. Mass slaughtering.

McHugh provides the maths based on hard numbers from the industry itself:

“Over the last 12 years, in excess of 229,219 greyhound pups have been whelped in Australia. Of these, approximately 97,783 were whelped in NSW. Twelve years is within the natural lifespan of a greyhound and some will live longer. There are currently 6,809 registered racing greyhounds in NSW. That number will have varied slightly over this time period. Absent death through misadventure or illness, it follows that approximately 90,974 greyhounds should be alive today… where are the remaining 80,721 greyhounds? What was their likely fate?”

The following pages explains what drives this — the ignorance, stupidity and cupidity of greyhound breeders and the industry body, Greyhound Racing NSW (GRNSW), overbreeding, poor breeding, mass euthanasia of those deemed unable to race, the euthanising of those injured while racing, the euthanising of those deemed too old to race.

That’s before you get to the atrocious conditions many dogs are kept in before being deemed unfit to survive, before the live-baiting, before the pain dogs endure from being ill-treated by owners, “stewards” and the pseudo-vets who lurk in the industry.

What’s all this for? McHugh reviewed several reports about the economic contribution of the greyhound industry in NSW, and thought they were all too high. The lowest one suggested it generated $145 million per year and employed the equivalent of 1500 people. The commission itself could only find just over 600 employees (full-time or part-time) in the industry, and it concluded the industry’s economic contribution was falling. Indeed, it found there were serious questions as to whether GRNSW itself could afford to keep running, so parlous was the industry.

The attacks mounted on the NSW government’s decision to ban greyhound racing next years centre on three points — that it’s some sort of inner-city elitist attack on a working-class pastime, that the industry can reform itself to significantly improve animal welfare, or that it’s a kind of nanny statism.

[Greyhounds slaughtered for ‘dental studies’ at Melbourne Uni]

The McHugh report spells out in forensic detail why the idea that GRNSW and the industry could somehow reform itself, or be reformed, is ludicrous. This is an industry that can’t afford to reform itself, and doesn’t want to. GRNSW is barely financially viable as it is; a former CEO, in fact, told the commission it wasn’t.

It would only possibly be financially viable if major changes in the distribution of gambling industry revenue and taxation were made in its favour, and it shut a large number of racing clubs. The fundamental changes in industry practice needed to make anything more than token changes in animal welfare in the industry will cost money. Where will that come from? Why should taxpayers fund the industry to conduct itself in accordance with even the most basic standards of animal welfare? GRNSW proposes that owners and trainers foot the bill. Except, the commission found, that’s not going to work.

“Speaking generally, if the industry continues, the outlook for participants is bleak. The reforms envisaged by GRNSW will add to the cost of owning, training and breeding while increases in prize money are at best uncertain. The opportunity to increase prize money to meet these rising costs will be hobbled by the reforms that GRNSW must make to enable the industry to meet welfare standards that are even arguably acceptable to the community.”

Moreover, even if it could afford to, GRNSW simply can’t do what is needed — it “has not been able in the past, and is unlikely in the future, to ‘appropriately’ address the problem of wastage,” the commission found. But GRNSW doesn’t really want to reform. The commission itself uncovered evidence of systematic lying by GRNSW to hide the extent of greyhound deaths and abuse, which was still going on last year, well after the industry had learnt it was under severe scrutiny:

“the Commission finds that GRNSW engaged in the conduct knowingly and with the intention of sanitising the information that became available to the public concerning injuries suffered by greyhounds. The motive for the policy was the hope that, by doing so, substantial criticism of the greyhound racing industry in NSW could be avoided. Similarly, deaths on track were not recorded in the stewards’ report… This conduct of GRNSW was revealed only as the result of the Commission’s investigations. It may have continued to this day if the Commission had not discovered it.”

But is this some inner-city elitist attack on working class culture? As a supporter of greyhound rehoming, I’ve encountered a number of people who deal directly with the result of the industry’s abuses. There’s not a latte-sipping inner-city type among them — they’re suburban mums and dads, ordinary people who just happen to love greyhounds and hate what’s done to them. And the report deals specifically with claims of the social benefits of greyhound racing, and finds them minimal. Non-participant attendances at racing events are tiny — often zero — and falling, suggesting the community has no interest in it.

The whole notion that abusing dogs is legitimised by some nebulous and fictional benefit of class solidarity has been seized on by NSW Labor, once again exhibiting its extraordinary capacity to vanish when Barry O’Farrell and Mike Baird made bad decisions (Barangaroo, lockout laws, etc) but emerge blinking into the public gaze to rail at its good ones.

NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley even uttered the immortal right-wing cliche “political correctness gone mad”. Labor Senator Sam Dastyari has promised a Senate inquiry into the ban and the economic benefits of greyhound racing, which would at least have the benefit of being able to personally hear from every single employee in this industry. Presumably, Dastyari and Co. will rigorously scrutinise the fact that GRNSW itself wants to close parts of the industry and its proposed welfare measures will force many participants out.

[Yes, I hate the cup — and for damn good reason]

The right, too, has grabbed hold of the issue in furtherance of its own agenda, viz the victimisation by the left of good, solid, salt-of-the-earth, plain-spoken, honest-working-man, likes-a-drink-and-a-smoke-and-a-punt types, the repository of true common sense wisdom of the kind sneering elitists will never be able to understand, so fried are their brains by Fair Trade soy lattes and quinoa while they put the rights of animals and trees above other human beings.

Those being defended in this episode 6,562,301 of the Culture Wars, of course, are the very people relentlessly targeted by the crony capitalist policies espoused by the walking braindead of News Corpse: slashing health and education funding, removing industrial relations protections and assaulting unions that protect workers is all fine; it’s even OK to steal for your own corporate purposes a working-class sport like rugby league, as News Corp tried to in the 1990s — but taking away a working bloke’s right to bet on the dishlickers is, apparently, an outrage.

And is this nanny statism, a continuation of Mike Baird’s social agenda, locking not just Sydneysiders out of pubs but racers out of greyhound tracks (no need to lockout racegoers, there aren’t any)? This comes down to a judgement call: do you think an individual’s right to their own property extends to allowing them to treat an animal they own any way they like? If you do, then there’s no basis for animal welfare legislation of any kind, since it’s all interference in someone’s property rights. If banning greyhound racing because the industry simply can’t stop its cruelty, slaughter and abuse is nanny statism, then at least be consistent and call for all animal welfare laws to be overturned.

We slaughter cattle, sheep, pigs and other animals in their millions to eat them; even the horseracing industry, a haven for corruption, organised crime and brutal cruelty, at least generates hundreds of millions in revenues and employs tens of thousands of people. What’s particularly nauseating about greyhound racing is that all of this slaughter, abuse and exploitation is going on for nothing other than a few jobs, a trivial economic contribution and a quaint fiction of working-class solidarity. Cruelty to animals is bad enough; cruelty with no point is even worse.

Peter Fray

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