Mike Baird’s cave-in on his greyhound racing ban is one of those moments that makes you think politicians really are as bad as the disengaged, the malcontented, the conspiracy theorists say they are, that they’re every bit the venal mediocrities and grubs many in the community malign them as.
We don’t know the details of Baird’s backdown yet. But, for once, the policy detail is irrelevant. Undoubtedly there’ll be frameworks and programs and safeguards and commitments and evaluations. Jargon like “management” and “proactive” and “zero tolerance” and “world’s best practice” will be deployed. The words comes straight from the managerial and bureaucratic handbooks and often mean nothing; in this instance, they mean less than zero. This is an industry that fundamentally relies on mass slaughter of and cruelty to dogs as its business model, and it will now be allowed to continue. And even if, by magic, you could rehome the thousands of greyhound pups whelped each year that aren’t deemed good enough to run, if you could somehow delete from the industry the hundreds of trainers and owners who brutalise dogs and torture animals via live baiting, that doesn’t change the inherent cruelty of the sport. Dogs get injured, disabled and killed while racing and training, just like horses. Their spines snap, their legs break, their skulls crack. Then they’re put down — or if they’re lucky, face a lifetime of disability and pain.
That’s what greyhound racing does. That’s what will continue no matter what “best practice” or other bureaucratic drivel is put in place, no matter how much greyhound abusers say they “love their dogs” and that “the dogs love to run”. This is an industry that, even more than horse racing, has abuse and death at its very heart. There’s no proactively safeguarding that away.
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But the process here is what is genuinely disturbing. This is, by all possible evidence, a popular ban with voters. More than 60% of voters want an end to greyhound racing, according to the most recent poll; that follows polling from Essential showing support at around 55% in NSW. But the industry, and its media allies, have helped overturn it. News Corp has been in the thick of it, driven by the gambling profits it stands to make from the continuation of the greyhound abuse industry. All things being equal, you’d think a clutch of people who not just opportunistically but systematically abuse, torture and slaughter dogs wouldn’t get much traction in the media. But the media makes money from that abuse, that torture, that slaughter, so things are by no means equal.
Not by a long stretch.
We’ve seen good policy overturned before, of course. We saw Kevin Rudd weaken and eventually abandon what was initially a worthwhile emissions trading scheme, we saw Labor abandon Rudd and the mining tax in the face of a campaign of lies. This is different, of course. The impact isn’t, nebulously, on the national interest, or on future generations, or on quality policymaking — the stuff we obsess, or pretend to obsess, about in Canberra. It’s animals — the dogs that will die at the hands of the abusers who race them. They’ll be forgotten, of course, the lurid names under which they race jotted down in a scrapbook somewhere with the notation “spinal injury in race 4, euthanased”. Just dogs. Who cares? Only the people who undertake the emotionally exhausting work of trying to rehome the often battered and damaged animals that survive the industry, animals abandoned by their owners, confused, scared, poorly socialised, bearing the scars of abuse. Try doing that for a week and see how many of these good people are inner-city, latte-sipping elitists.
Then there’s Luke Foley, the mostly invisible opposition leader in NSW, a mediocrity from a party so wretched that it can only dream of mediocrity, one that became a by-word for corruption and mismanagement in its far-too-long period in power. Foley peddled a middle-class fantasy of working-class authenticity barely one step removed from cloth caps and “it’s grim oop north” cliche, with an assumption that low-income people have some genetic disposition to enjoy hurting animals at its trite, patronising heart. The party that gave us Obeid, Tripodi and Macdonald purporting to stand for the working classes? Seriously.
But of course it all come down to Mike Baird, a man with the political smarts and policy courage to successfully take electricity privatisation to NSW voters, humiliated over something backed by nearly two-thirds of voters. Interesting what that says, isn’t it, about the relative power of the media elite — relentlessly pro-privatisation (a position I share) — and voters in a city like Sydney. There’ll be much written about how Baird has trashed his credibility; already there are comparisons with Kevin Rudd, another politician on whom voters pinned hopes that he was more than just another politician, that he believed in something and was prepared to stand up for it.
Rudd turned out not merely to be just another politician, but barely even that. Baird, it seems, is the same, just another shitty politician looking after himself. Still, it’s only dogs, eh Mike? Their blood will wash off easily enough. More easily, one suspects, than the damage to your reputation will be repaired.