: Premier Mike Baird wagered moral authority on greyhound ban but wavered under pressure

Premier Mike Baird wagered moral authority on greyhound ban but wavered under pressure

Kcasey McLoughlin
New South Wales

In a move that has angered animal welfare groups but no doubt placated the industry, Premier Mike Baird announced that the government would not be forging ahead with the ban to the greyhound racing industry that was scheduled to come into effect in July 2017.

The impetus for the ban was the Special Commission of Inquiry into the Greyhound Racing Industry in NSW. The Inquiry followed the February 2015 broadcast of the ABC’s Four Corners program that exposed the practice of live animals being used to train greyhounds. The Commission was required to evaluate ‘whether the issues [relating to the governance, integrity and animal welfare standards of the greyhound racing industry in NSW] are able to be appropriately addressed, to permit the continuation of a greyhound racing industry in NSW’.

Commissioner, former Justice of the High Court, the Hon Michael McHugh AC QC delivered his report in July 2016 and recommended that, in light of findings of widespread animal cruelty, ‘the Parliament of New South Wales should consider whether the industry has lost its social licence and should no longer be permitted to operate in NSW’.

One tension in the recommendations concerned whether to ban the industry, or in the alternative, whether the industry should be given additional time to address issues such as overbreeding and ‘wastage’. Although the Commission made a range of recommendations about possible reforms, it clearly formed the view that the industry was beyond repair — finding that additional time was ‘likely to prove fruitless and, at the same time, continue to result in the deaths of many more thousands of healthy greyhounds’.

In July, Premier Baird and his Cabinet shared that view. Persuaded by the Commission’s report, and in light of findings of systemic animal welfare issues, Baird reasoned that there was ‘chilling and horrific’ evidence of animal cruelty which meant ‘there was no other alternative’ but banning the industry.

The Greyhound Racing Prohibition Bill 2016 was assented to in August. Some National Party MPs crossed the floor to vote with Labor in opposing the legislation but the Premier remained steadfast about the need to forge ahead with the ban.

But by October, amid growing legal and political pressure from Greyhound Racing NSW (and some constituents) the government announced that it had been too hasty in moving ahead with a ban and reversed its decision in order to give the industry ‘one last chance’.

Granted, the reversal will still see some conditions placed on the industry (such as reducing the number of tracks and events, life bans and increased jail terms for live baiting, the appointment of a new independent regulator and a new greyhound registration regime). However, given how much the Premier wagered on the ban by framing it as a necessary consequence of Justice McHugh’s report and as a matter of personal conviction about animal welfare, his capitulation to political pressure is all the more unedifying.

KCASEY McLOUGHLIN teaches law at Newcastle Law School.

(2016) 41(4) AltLJ 286
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