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Estimates Reply - Attorney-General

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Tags: Animal Welfare, Office of Racing Integrity, TT-Line

Ms O'CONNOR - I want to talk to you about a horse, minister. I rise to speak specifically about the minister's animal welfare responsibilities and the response to information we put to the minister in the closing hours of Estimates last Thursday relating to the death of a horse at the Brighton training tracks on the night of 31 May. The question is, what happened to that horse?

I asked, on the basis of very solid information from a racing industry insider, if the Office of Racing Integrity was aware that a horse had died, cause of death unknown, at the Brighton training grounds on the night of Friday, 31 May. I also asked if an investigation was underway. It was confirmed to me that the Office of Racing Integrity had begun its investigation into the death and disappearance of that horse the day before the Estimates hearing. I believe that day was 2 June. I will get this sequence absolutely right.

I raise this today as I did in Estimates the other night: there have to be some people in this place defending the welfare of animals consistently. That is the Greens.

Other members might go, 'It's just a horse, why the fuss?' The fuss is because we are supposed to have a set of standards in place for the racing industry in Tasmania. The Greens will always argue it is not industry, it is cruel. It produces beautiful animals for profit and then disposes of those animals when they no longer turn a sufficient profit or they have simply passed their use by date. That is why I come in here and talk about this horse.

We had it confirmed by Mr King from the Office of Racing Integrity that the ORI was made aware of the disappearance of this horse on Sunday, 2 June. The investigation into the disappearance of this animal did not begin until Wednesday, 5 June.

The first question is, where was the Office of Racing Integrity on the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday? They had information that points to an unexplained horse death, no vet present and an allegation that the horse was sent to the local zoo to be fed to the big cats. That is information we got from a highly respected industry insider.

Where was the Office of Racing Integrity for those days when it knew that a horse had died? It had information to say that there was a problem, yet did nothing until the Wednesday before the minister was due to appear before Estimates. Where has the Office of Racing Integrity been since then? Horses do not evaporate?

Horses, when they die, are large objects. The allegation is that in the dead of night, this trainer piled that horse onto a trailer and took it to the local zoo. The local zoo, Zoodoo, has denied the allegation. They have confirmed that they do feed ex-race horses to the big cats but they say in this instance this situation has nothing to do with them.

What we need to know is: what is the status of the investigation? Can the minister confirm this trainer is notorious for not paying his bills and therefore vets don't want to work with him? That is a matter of very serious concern.

Can the minister confirm this trainer has stated to the Office of Racing Integrity that the horse's carcass was buried but he refuses to take them to the alleged burial site? This is a matter of standards in the racing industry. A horse has died. We do not know what happened to it. A very solid tip to us is that it was spirited away on a trailer to be fed to the lions.

Until there is confirmation that the Office of Racing Integrity has found that horse's carcass, that is the most solid information we have. It has the ring of truth about it. That is the problem the minister and the Office of Racing Integrity have.

If, as alleged, this trainer is refusing to take the Office of Racing Integrity to the site of that horse's burial, he should be struck off the Tasmanian Racehorse Trainers Directory. We cannot have people like that looking after those beautiful animals. I use the words 'looking after' somewhat loosely.

We need to know what happened to that horse's carcass, just as we need to know what happened to the 13 beautiful ponies that died on the Spirit of Tasmania in January 2018. A year and a half after those deaths, we still don't have an answer from government about what happened to those animals. We do not have an answer from TT-Line about what happened to those animals.

There is an appalling track record on animal welfare under this Government, which came into office, lifted the Treasurer's Instruction on procuring cruelty-free eggs, removed the ban on the use of 1080, which leads to such excruciating deaths for animals that ingest it, will not answer questions about what happened to beautiful ponies on the Spirit of Tasmania, and now has not provided to this House or the people of Tasmania any update about what happened on the Brighton training ground on the night of 31 May. This is a really serious matter.

Mr King said when I asked him, 'A horse dies; there is no vet present, there is no cause of death determined, how can this be? - '

The requirements are outlined in the National Racing Rules. Where a horse dies within 14 days of racing or trialling there is a requirement under the national rules for the trainer to contact the controlling body, which is the Office of Racing Integrity, within 24 hours of the death of an animal. We do not get notified when as racing animal is ill beforehand but the rules do require them to notify us. In this instance and like I said this is ongoing but we were not notified, our office did not become aware of the incident until two days later.

We have confirmation from the Racing Integrity Body that a horse died at the Brighton training ground on the night of 31 May. We have confirmation that the Office of Racing Integrity began its investigation into the horse's death and disappearance the day before the minister came to the Estimates table. We have a very clear understanding of what that trainer was supposed to do in that circumstance and what he failed to do. We now have an allegation from inside the racing industry that the trainer is refusing to cooperate with the Office of Racing Integrity and take them to where that horse's body was allegedly buried.

I hope that when the minister gets up to respond we have some detail here. Someone in this place has to speak for that horse and all the horses caught in this cruel industry. It will be the Greens. I note that in the budget papers, rather than strengthening the capacity of the Office of Racing Integrity - and do not talk about the steward cadetships because that is not about increasing the capacity - we have a racing industry that is being funded to breed more thoroughbred and harness horses. As the paper says 'funding of $350 000 per annum was provided in 2018-19 over five years to breed more of these horses'. If the Government cannot ensure the wellbeing of horses which are bred into a cruel racing industry, what is it doing providing more funds to that industry?

We need to have some explanation here. We need to know what happened to that horse. We need to understand why a trainer can apparently be so negligent in paying his vet's bills that the local vets do not want anything to do with him. We need to understand how the Office of Racing Integrity can claim that the carcass was buried but have no proof whatsoever of its being buried. We need to understand how someone can give evidence to the racing industry's integrity body that is at best deceptive and misleading. How can it be that a trainer charged with looking after these beautiful animals can be allowed not to tell the Office of Racing Integrity where he disposed of the carcass? That is disgraceful. It is a damning indictment on the Office of Racing Integrity. It casts a very poor light on the minister's animal welfare responsibilities.