Calling out cruelty in greyhound and horse racing legislation

Abigail attempted to pass amendments to racing legislation dealing with animal cruelty, welfare, and regulatory oversight. Unfortunately yet again the Government and Labor continue to support such a cruel industry. 

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (17:46): On behalf of The Greens I contribute to debate on the Racing and Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill 2022. My colleague Ms Cate Faehrmann will address the aspects of the bill that relate to gambling. The Greens welcome the Racing and Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill, which is a long overdue response to both the 2021 Greyhound Racing Act statutory review and the 2015 Harness Racing Act statutory review. Both statutory reviews identified that the key priorities for the racing industry must be to strengthen governance and integrity and improve animal welfare outcomes. Perhaps the Government has waited seven years to implement the recommendations from the five-year statutory review into the Harness Racing Act 2009 because improving integrity and animal welfare outcomes is not at the top of its to-do list.

While The Greens support the Racing and Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill, I make it clear that the bill is an extraordinary disappointment. Once again the Liberal-Nationals Government is tinkering around the edges of industries that are fundamentally unethical. Harness racing has been regulated under New South Wales law by a State-constituted body since 1977 and greyhound racing since 1948. Only in 2022, however, has the Government decided to insert animal welfare objectives into its regulating Acts. Of course, it has also inserted objectives into the harness racing and greyhound racing Acts to protect the interests of the racing industries—two objectives The Greens view as fundamentally at odds with each other and which history has shown are frequently in direct conflict.

I have spoken many times in this place about the outrageous welfare abuses that the greyhound racing industry is directly responsible for. I will not go into detail on that now, but I will talk briefly about welfare issues in the harness racing industry. The wealthy thoroughbred racing industry quite rightly gets significant attention for its egregious and near-constant animal abuse, but that often means that the small and less profitable harness racing industry gets off scot-free for its own welfare abuses. Let us start with bits. The bit is a metal device that is designed to control the horse by applying pressure to sensitive parts of its mouth. It can and often does cause bruising, lesions and chronic breathing and swallowing problems. Studies have shown that force applied through reins is greatly multiplied by the time it makes contact with the horse through the bit, with the minimum force per square centimetre applied to the horse's mouth being around 50 kilograms and the average being around 200 kilograms. Another study found that 84 per cent of harness racing horses had oral lesions caused by the bit.

The use of tongue-ties is common and is permitted in all horseracing codes in Australia to prevent the horse getting their tongue over the bit during a race—something horses do because bits are incredibly painful. Eighty-five per cent of harness racing trainers use tongue-ties compared to 72 per cent of thoroughbred trainers. There are no restrictions on when, why or how long a tongue-tie can be used or on how tight a tongue-tie can be. A recent study of harness racing horses found that those fitted with a tongue‑tie showed significantly more signs of stress—which is really unsurprising, considering that tongue-tie use can cause cuts, bruising, swelling, difficulties swallowing and permanent tissue damage.

In 2016 Australian Harness Racing announced a ban on the use of whips in harness training and racing—which was obviously welcomed by welfare advocates. However, in true racing industry fashion, objections from industry participants led to a change of heart and the planned ban was drastically scaled back to a set of new rules on the specific movements that can be used when whipping the horse. But this does not change the fact that whips exist to use pain to motivate an animal into pushing past its limits.

Speaking of pushing horses past their limits, let us discuss exercise-induced pulmonary haemorrhage [EIPH], which is the name for bleeding in the lungs and airways caused by the sheer pressure of blood pumping around the body during strenuous exercise. Studies have shown that the incidence and severity of EIPH is virtually identical between thoroughbred and harness racehorses and occurs in as many as 95 per cent of raceshorses. Then there is a raft of other health issues associated with all horseracing codes, such as stomach ulcers that are caused by feeding patterns that are designed to optimise racing performance at the expense of long-term health, and inflammatory airway disease caused by stabling arrangements and exacerbated by EIPH.

Finally we come to wastage, the term used for horses that exit the industry whether they have raced or not. The truth is we just do not know what happens to the vast majority of the horses that leave the racing industry because there is no requirement for the industry to report on what happens to their horses. However, we know that almost 2,500 horses leave the harness racing industry nationally every year and around a quarter of horses bred into the harness racing industry will never go on to race. We also know that a 2008 study of horses entering abattoirs for slaughter found that around 60 per cent were less than eight years old—compare that with the natural lifespan of a horse of 25 to 30 years—and that around 9,000 horses are slaughtered in abattoirs each year, around half of which may be ex-racehorses from both thoroughbred and harness racing codes.

All of those outrageous abuses of animal welfare by the harness racing industry, like the thoroughbred industry and the greyhound racing industry, occur because the racing outcomes are improved when welfare outcomes are compromised. The racing industry would not do such cruel things, or tie itself in knots trying to justify those cruel things, if doing so was not profitable and was not in the interests of the industry. The truth is that to the racing industry horses and dogs are just machines that generate profit. The broken bodies of these sentient beings are fed into the furnace, fuelling the racing and gambling industries, no matter the welfare cost. I say to the Liberal-Nationals Government and to Labor: You cannot have it both ways. When animal welfare and the interests of the racing industry come into conflict, one of them has to win. The Greens have chosen the side of animals and will move amendments to ensure that the protection and promotion of the welfare of greyhounds and harness racing horses is the first object of each of the Acts. We will also move an amendment to strike the protection of the interests of the racing industry from the objects of the bill.

If Government and Labor members are serious about animal welfare, I encourage them to support the amendments. I flag also The Greens amendments that would amend the Greyhound Racing Act to finally allow the tracking of greyhounds for the entirety of their lives, closing a loophole in the existing law that may be allowing for the disappearance of former racing dogs once they leave the purview of the Greyhound Welfare and Integrity Commission. The Greens amendments are common sense and would bring the Greyhound Racing Act into alignment with the whole-of-life tracking commitments that the Government made when it overturned the greyhound racing ban in 2017. The Greens support the tightening of the regulation of the commercial horseracing and greyhound racing industries, so we support the very small regulatory improvements included in the bill. However, we also will continue to fight for an end to the commercial racing of animals because we have seen time and again that those industries are incapable of meaningful reform and the cost to animals is simply too high.

 

Abigail then moved Greens amendments, which are as below: 

 

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (18:52): By leave: I move The Greens amendment No. 1 on sheet c2022-079A and amendments Nos 1 to 4 on sheet c2022-083A in globo, to be voted on seriatim:

Whole-of-life tracking 

Page 8, Schedule 2. Insert after line 21—

[2A] Section 35 Commission to prepare code of practice

Insert after section 35(2)(c)—

(d) standards for the re-homing of greyhounds,

(e) standards for the euthanasia of greyhounds.

[2B] Section 35(6) 

Insert after subsection (5)—

(6) In subsection (2) (d) and (e)— greyhound includes a greyhound that has, at any time, been owned or kept in connection with greyhound racing.

Objects of Act 

Page 8, Schedule 2[2], proposed section 3A(a) and (b), lines 11–14. Omit all words on those lines. Insert instead—

(a) to protect and promote the welfare of greyhounds,

(b) to provide for the efficient and effective regulation of the greyhound racing industry,

Objects of Act

Page 8, Schedule 2[2], proposed section 3A(f), lines 20 and 21. Omit all words on those lines.

Objects of Act

Page 9, Schedule 3[1], proposed section 2A(a) and (b), lines 6–9. Omit all words on those lines. Insert instead—

(a) to protect and promote the welfare of harness racing horses,

(b) to provide for the efficient and effective regulation of the harness racing industry,

Objects of Act

Page 9, Schedule 3[1], proposed section 2A(g), line 18. Omit all words on that line.

 

I turn first to the amendment on sheet c2022-079A. In 2015 and 2016, the shocking and systemic animal cruelty being perpetrated by the greyhound racing industry came to light. One such cruelty that was fundamentally tied up in the industry's viability was the mass overbreeding and systematic killing of greyhounds, known as "wastage". The McHugh inquiry found that before the so‑called reform of the greyhound racing industry in 2017, every year 5,500 healthy greyhounds were being killed by owners, breeders and trainers in New South Wales alone because they were considered unsuitable or too slow for racing.

Further, over 80,000 greyhounds bred in the 12 years prior to the McHugh inquiry were missing, presumed dead. Separately, independent investigations from the same time period uncovered the mass graves of around 150 greyhounds, the vast majority of which were killed with a blow to the head and showed no sign of any other injury. In response to those galling numbers, the day the Government backflipped on the greyhound racing ban in October 2016 it committed to introducing dog whole-of-life-cycle management. During the 2017 debate on the repeal bill the then Minister for Racing, now Deputy Premier Paul Toole, said that the bill would enable the commission to implement whole-of-life-cycle tracking for every greyhound that enters and exits the industry to ensure that dogs are not put to death for the crime of being too slow to cut it in the racing industry.

It quickly became apparent after the passing of the repeal bill, however, that the newly established Greyhound Welfare and Integrity Commission [GWIC] did not have the power to do that. In early 2020 then CEO of GWIC Judy Lind admitted:

When greyhounds are sold, retired, or given away to members of the public who are not industry participants, the Commission has no lawful right to intervene in any way in relation to those dogs.

That leaves GWIC in a bind. It knows that more than 200 dogs every year are transferred off the industry books privately and without going through any rehoming service, but it has no legislative power to make sure that those dogs, which are no longer wanted by the racing industry, live out the rest of their natural lives. That includes dogs that are advertised on Gumtree, sold cash in hand or simply given away. Currently, if a greyhound has been retired from racing and their owner, trainer or a bookie decides to keep them as a pet, then GWIC is able to check on the dog to ensure that animal welfare standards are being upheld. However, if that same greyhound is rehomed to anyone technically outside the industry—be it the owner's sibling, neighbour or friend—then GWIC has no ability to keep tabs on the dog, no matter what it suspects may have happened to them.

Between 15 per cent and 20 per cent of dogs who leave the industry every year fall into that category, and there is a very real possibility that some of those greyhounds were rehomed on paper and killed in reality, thanks to a loophole in the Greyhound Racing Act. In 2018 a new mass grave of nine greyhounds was uncovered by the RSPCA on the property of a registered greyhound trainer in Sydney's west, two years after the greyhound racing ban. Paul Toole said at the time that "there is zero tolerance for such abhorrent behaviour" and that "unprecedented investigative surveillance and enforcement powers" were introduced at the time of the overturning of the ban to address that type of animal cruelty. Clearly those powers are not cutting it. Analysis by the Coalition for the Protection of Greyhounds showed that up to 2,149 greyhounds disappeared in the 2019-20 financial year, not including those 239 dogs that were privately transferred to industry non-participants, and GWIC has admitted that 190 greyhounds are potentially unaccounted for in 2019-20.

The concerns of the community that greyhounds are still being killed as wastage are very real and legitimate. The public deserves to know where those greyhounds are going, and those dogs deserve to have those loopholes in the law, which allow for their deaths, to be closed. The amendment would close that loophole. The amendment expands the remit of the Greyhound Welfare and Integrity Commission to include oversight of the rehoming and euthanasia standards for greyhounds that are or have been connected to greyhound racing, allowing for investigation into the welfare of all rehomed and euthanised greyhounds, not only those that are owned by or euthanised in the care of industry participants. It is well past time that every single greyhound that exits the greyhound industry is properly accounted for.

I will briefly touch on the other two amendments that I have moved. The very simple impact of those amendments would be to prioritise greyhound welfare by amending the Greyhound Racing Act to prioritise greyhound welfare and remove the protection of industry interests from the Act's objects. Similarly, amendments Nos 3 and 4 on the same sheet would prioritise the welfare of harness racing horses and remove the protection of industry interests from the Act's objects. I commend the amendments to the Chamber.

 

Unfortunately, none of Abigail's amends were passed.

The full transcript can be found in Hansard, here.

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