In April 2014, Barry O’Farrell resigned as NSW premier for accepting a gift of a bottle of Grange, and now his successor, Mike Baird, has self-destructed his premiership by giving a lease of life to the widely reviled greyhound racing industry.
Baird’s spectacular backflip came with a double somersault and pike and probably merits an honorary Olympic gold medal. It is only seven weeks since the Premier steered the Greyhound Racing Prohibition Bill through both houses of Parliament, banning the industry from July next year. It was signed into law on August 26.
Now, like the Old Grand Duke of York, Baird is marching his troops down the hill that they had previously marched up. He is promising new legislation early next year that will overturn the ban and give the greyhound industry yet another “last chance”.
Baird’s backflip has enraged voters across party lines. Polls show that more than 60% of people want the industry — which has slaughtered tens of thousands of greyhounds and secretly buried them in mass graves — banned for good.
But voters are also alarmed by the way the original policy was dumped. On Monday night, Baird and his cabinet colleague Brad Hazzard trooped down to the multimillion-dollar Circular Quay apartment of right-wing Liberal broadcaster Alan Jones to seek his approval for the greyhound switcheroo.
In recent weeks, Jones has used his breakfast program to flay Baird, calling him “Kim Jong Baird” and comparing him to Soviet strongman Vladimir Putin.
The Premier decided to take private counsel from Jones before consulting his own cabinet, Coalition backbenchers, Parliament or the public. According to Baird’s critics, his night-time visit to Jones’s harbourside residence was ill-advised because it diminished the office of premier and his own public standing.
At Tuesday’s backflip announcement, Baird said that he expected to be criticised. “People will call me all types of names, they really will,” he said.
He wasn’t wrong there. Voters are asking, if Baird is ready to buckle to a 73-year-old radio ham, how will he stand up to major property developers? The answer is, he probably won’t.
A former senior minister sent a message to Crikey asking: “Will the Premier consult Alan Jones over future policy decisions made by his government? Is this a new protocol where Coalition policy is obliged to pass the Alan Jones test?”
RSPCA chief executive Steve Coleman said the animal welfare body would be wary of joining any Coalition body to reform greyhound racing.
“It’s tremendously frustrating to have been so close to seeing a ban implemented only to have it pulled off the table,” Coleman said.
“As demonstrated time and again, animal cruelty and poor animal outcomes are heavily entrenched and inherent to greyhound racing, including wastage and live baiting.”
He predicted that the proposed reforms are “likely to prove fruitless and continue to result in the deaths of many more thousands of healthy greyhounds”.
Baird’s choice of former ALP premier Morris Iemma to head a five-member Greyhound Racing Reform Panel has failed to inspire confidence. There is no reference in the panel’s brief to the implementation of a legally enforceable, legislation-backed regime. If that means the industry’s conduct will remain voluntary and self-regulatory then it is a sick joke.
Apart from leaders of the NSW Labor Party, “Blind Freddy” knows that greyhound racing is the state’s most disreputable form of gambling. The “dishlickers” have a worse reputation than the “red hots” [trots] and have benefited from tens of millions of dollars of public spending on new courses, grandstands and facilities.
When Baird flip-flopped and said, “I got it wrong, the cabinet got it wrong, the government got it wrong”, it is only part of the story.
In Queensland, former LNP premier Campbell Newman introduced the Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment (VLAD) Act in 2013 when he was surfing a tabloid-driven fear campaign against bikies.
In the process, the LNP criminalised the entire motorcycle-riding community, many of whom were law-abiding veterans and retirees who rode Harleys, wore leathers and grew long beards.
When Labor’s Annastacia Palaszczuk became Premier, the VLAD laws were scrapped and a new code introduced specifically to target criminal elements.
Baird would have succeeded with his greyhound reforms if he rejected the tabloid sensationalists and targeted the minority of organised crime figures, drug traffickers, race fixers, money launderers and tax dodgers who have infiltrated the industry.
Moral of the story? Stop taking policy advice from Rupert Murdoch’s tabloids … and Alan Jones.