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Estimates Reply - Minister Howlett

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Tags: Commission of Inquiry, Greyhound Racing, Horse Racing, Greyhound Adoption Program

Ms O'CONNOR - I thoroughly endorse the statements of Mr Street. It has been interesting to observe the way the attitudes to Tasmania have changed nationally over the last 20 or 30 years. We should all be immensely proud of the talent we produce, not only our sporting but our literary talent, people like Richard Flanagan, and the big-hearted people we send out into the world.

What an interesting session the Estimates on the Minister for Racing, and Sport and Recreation was. Ms O'Byrne has covered quite thoroughly the really disturbing revelations about the lack of processes around Mr Griffin's presence in the Northern Tasmanian Netball Association and the fact that a predator could be within that sporting community for such a long time undetected. It certainly raises some serious issues about reporting and communication between funded entities and government. I hope that when the commission of inquiry gets under way some of those questions that still linger in the minds of people who care are answered.

I want to talk about the animal welfare issues associated with the Minister for Racing's portfolio. Again this year we focused on the two major codes which are horseracing and greyhounds. No one in this House will be surprised to hear that the Greens do not support the industrialisation of animal cruelty for profit. That is what we are dealing with in the horseracing industry and the greyhound racing industry. It was a real disappointment but not a surprise to see in this year's budget papers that $8 million has been set aside to build a new greyhound racing track at Devonport.

Because I was on the parliamentary inquiry that we helped to establish into greyhound racing and, in fact, was chair of it until I was sacked for calling for a ban on greyhound racing, we know that the Devonport track is really not good for the dogs because of the design of the track. I understand that, but once you have $8 million in public funds allocated towards the greyhound racing industry it is saying that government will back that industry through the next decade or two.

That is a very sad story for the dogs because the evidence tells us really clearly that these beautiful animals are bred to run and turn a profit. They are bred in excess numbers. When they are no long fast enough or turning a profit, far too many of them are disposed of through various means.

We sought some information on the record in the 2019 20 financial year as to how many greyhounds were raced, injured, retired, rehomed, deceased by natural causes and were destroyed, and the total number raced was 9596. Out of a unique group of 701 of these beautiful dogs, 257 of them were injured and 356 were retired, and this is a key number because too rarely do the number that were retired add up exactly to the number that were rehomed or reported as deceased by natural causes or destroyed. The retired number in this past year was 356 of these beautiful dogs, 233 of them were rehomed, apparently 24 of them were deceased by natural causes and the number of what the Office of Racing and Integrity calls humane euthanasia was 90. As we know, euthanasia is a good death, a mercy killing, and invariably these dogs are killed because they are surplus to requirements.

A positive out of this is that in 2015-16, the year we established the inquiry into greyhound racing in Tasmania, the total number of dogs that were destroyed in that year was 678, so it has dropped from 679 to 90. As we know, this is an industry that has cruelty at its foundation. We all know terrific people who are trainers or owners of greyhounds. This is not about them, it is about the fact that this is an industry which has to produce an excess of dogs in order to turn an excess of profit.

It is intimately and horrifically connected to the horseracing industry because as has been made clear now particularly by Caro Meldrum-Hanna, the ABC's investigative reporter, routinely, as it is with greyhounds, race horses, whether they be pacers or thoroughbreds on the track, are too often sent to the abattoir. You have this terrible cycle where horses that are bred for the horseracing industry become surplus to requirements and a significant number of them, we do not know exactly the extent of it, are destroyed, many of them go to the abattoir and then those dead horses are fed to the greyhounds.

I want to briefly talk about the Greyhound Adoption Program and again point to this Government's reluctance to let Tasmanians know about a development that is not positive news. After greyhound trainer and former director of GAP, Susan Gittus, was suspended from racing because a dog she owned had a prohibited substance in it, there was a period of time where Ms Gittus was able to still engage in the racing industry because her husband, as we understand it, was racing the dogs. After a period of time Ms Gittus left the Greyhound Adoption Program, but it was six days after Ms Gittus left that we found out at Estimates that had in fact happened.

It is a bit like the Government taking 10 days to tell Tasmanians that three staff members at the Ashley Youth Detention Centre had been stood down. This is communications 101. Whether the news is good or bad, it is always better to be upfront about it and in this Government's case, any time there is a bit of bad or uncomfortable news, invariably there is a choice made not to make a public statement.

Ms Gittus is no longer running the Greyhound Adoption Program and we put it to the minister that it is time to think about someone from outside the industry to run the GAP, an independent person, so that we can make sure there is no potential conflict of interest between the person who is charged with looking after and rehoming greyhounds and the job they have to do.

I will come full circle to the $8 million that has been poured into a new track at Devonport and make the case again. This is an industry which is losing its social licence, an industry which an increasing number of Australians know has cruelty at its core and for $8 million you could fund an animal welfare commissioner. You could increase the funding to the RSPCA; you could give some funding the Cat Centre; you could rehome every single greyhound that needs a home in Tasmania. Mr Deputy Chair, $8 million is an extraordinary amount of money for an industry that is already heavily subsidised by Tasmanian taxpayers, and that is across the three codes.

It just makes me sad that, time and again, it is the Greens in this place that are advocating for animal welfare. I do not say that in a 'we are the only ones who care' way. I say that in a genuinely sad way that there are not more debates in this place where animal welfare is prioritised. Where we are thinking first and foremost of the wellbeing of animals - the sentient beings we are privileged to share life on this planet with.

But again and again, animals become purely a product for us, or a source of income, and again it is so obvious they are regarded as disposable. I have no doubt that, in time, this gradual loss of social licence of industrial racing industries will lead to an end to these cruel industries, which are by no measure sport.