Legislation banning greyhound racing in NSW from July next year remains a mystery. The proposed bill hasn’t been seen by the cabinet, Coalition, opposition MPs, Speaker or the Bills Office despite the fact it is due to be introduced in Parliament later today or tomorrow.
Publication of the bill is under a cloud because Premier Mike Baird and Deputy Premier Troy Grant, leader of the Nationals, have been preoccupied with hosing down mutineers in the lower house.
An 11th-hour meeting by National MPs on Monday night agreed to ask Baird for the ban to be delayed for three years while the chronically damaged industry reforms itself. “Tell ‘em they’re dreamin’,” as Darryl Kerrigan says in The Castle.
If Baird and Grant make too many concessions to their lower house “refuseniks”, they risk alienating the critical votes of four Greens MPs and one Animal Justice Party MP to secure the legislation’s passage through the upper house.
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The small batch of backbench recalcitrants all bear political grudges against either Baird or Grant: Jai Rowell, Liberal MP for Wollondilly, for being dumped as a minister in 2015; and three Nationals: Katrina Hodgkinson, MP for Burrinjuck and Kevin Humphries, MP for Barwon, both axed from Baird’s post-election cabinet in April last year, and Andrew Fraser, the irascible MP for Coffs Harbour.
The government-commissioned report by former High Court judge Michael McHugh found that between 48,900 and 68,500 greyhounds were killed in the past 12 years and that 20% of trainers engaged in the illegal practice of live-baiting.
It confirmed the horrifying practices exposed by the 2015 award-winning Four Corners program “Making a Killing” and concluded that the industry’s culture condoned “the mass slaughter of tens of thousands of healthy greyhounds” simply because they weren’t winning races.
McHugh, a brilliant QC once associated with the “Legal Eagles” racehorse betting syndicate, is married to former left-wing Labor MP for Grayndler Jeannette McHugh.
It is not only Baird and Grant who are making a hash of greyhound reform — Opposition Leader Luke Foley is as well.
In a rash moment of opportunism, Foley took Labor MPs into an alliance with the disgraced greyhound lobby and supported last week’s protest march from Hyde Park to Parliament House. He was joined at the rally by upper house MPs Fred Nile and Robert Borsak, of the Shooters and Fishers, making an unusual unity ticket.
At question time last week, Baird embarrassed Foley by reading a letter to an anti-greyhound racing group from rising Labor backbencher Jo Haylen, MP for Summer Hill, in which she said:
“Overwhelmingly, the people who have contacted me do so in support of a ban and I have expressed that view to the leader and will continue to argue the case within my party and the Parliament. I am a passionate advocate of animal welfare and in my view the [Michael] McHugh report is clear in its conclusions. Abuse in the greyhound racing industry is systemic. There are doubts as to whether the industry can make the necessary reforms to guarantee animal welfare.”
Haylen also wrote on social media: “I am a proud and passionate supporter of animal welfare and I have put my view and the views of the vast majority of my constituents to the Leader of the Opposition.”
Another Labor backbencher, Trish Doyle, MP for Blue Mountains, wrote on Facebook that constituents wanted a greyhound racing ban “at a rate of almost 100 to one”.
“I abhor animal cruelty and have never been a fan of the so-called sport,” Doyle wrote.
Further grief was inflicted on Foley when Grant tabled transcripts in Parliament that discredited prominent dog trainer Tony Gannon, one of the Labor leader’s allies.
In a taped phone call after discovering Four Corners had footage of live-baiting, Gannon told then-CEO of Greyhound Racing NSW, Brent Hogan: “I would have bashed the fuck out of them and took the camera. I mean, if you know they’ve got the video, surely you would have done something?”
In the conversation Gannon said: “Personally, I don’t care about dead rabbits. The issue of money is more my concern to keep the industry going.”
Foley and Senator Sam Dastyari, a former NSW Labor general secretary, held a joint press conference with Gannon at Wentworth Park dog track to whip up opposition to the proposed ban.
Foley foolishly told the media conference: “It’s great to be here with respected greyhound industry figure Tony Gannon.”
When Grant, a former police inspector, tabled the transcripts in Parliament, Grant rubbed in Foley’s embarrassment saying the Opposition Leader should never have aligned himself with Gannon.
“What we will not do is stand next to thugs and bullies unlike others who may choose to do so,” he told MPs.
By week’s end, Dastyari remained the only Labor identity still backing the discredited industry, and he has yet to resile from bizarre comments condemning Baird’s ban, which comes into force next July.
“This whole thing reeks of inner-city elitism, where the pastimes and enjoyment of thousands of NSW residents is looked down upon by a bunch of snobs,” the $200,000-a-year senator and former Hawker Britton lobbyist said.