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Estimates Reply – Minister Howlett

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 16 September 2021

Tags: Greyhound Racing, TasRacing, State Budget

Dr WOODRUFF - Mr Chair, I want to speak about some of the questions Ms O'Connor asked of the minister in relation to the Office of Racing Integrity. Ms O'Connor asked about the concerning indicators of cultural problems in the Office of Racing Integrity (ORI). A large number of people - 21 working staff - have left in the past three years. The minister did not disavow Ms O'Connor of the report that many of those vacancies are still unfilled and the morale in ORI is at an all-time low.

The minister has announced that the Racing Regulation Act 2004 will be reviewed. We have raised on behalf of people who are concerned about the welfare of dogs and horses in the racing industry that this review is procedurally incapable of dealing with the real issue at hand - cultural change in the Office of Racing Integrity. ORI requires appropriate separation, independence and enforcement capability to do its work of keeping animals safe and protecting conditions for people involved in racing who want to be humane and essentially forced to whip and beat animals just to make a quick buck, which is what some people have been forced to do in the past. Gavin Kelly was fined for refusing to be cruel to an animal. That is by any reasonable measure a disgraceful way of managing the Office of Racing Integrity and the application of the law.

The minister did not give Ms O'Connor a satisfactory answer regarding the incapability of a legislative review to manage a cultural change process within the organisation. There is no satisfaction for people in the racing industry and for people with animal welfare concerns with what is being proposed. It does not appear that there is anything the minister and the Government is prepared to do to call ORI to heel and require ORI to fulfil its responsibilities under the Animal Welfare Act 1993.

We have not yet heard the reason why the number of swabs being proposed in the drug detection process for the coming year are fewer than the number undertaken in 2018-19, which were 4226. That dropped to just 3070 in 2019-20. The aim for the department in the 2021-22 financial year is to undertake just 3500 swabs. We do not understand on behalf of people who ask the genuine question, why are we investigating less? On the one hand, we are seeking to improve the conditions for animals and improve the reputation of the racing industry, yet we are intervening and undertaking less detection and less independent monitoring on the other hand. There is no doubt that the minister could not come up with a reason for that. That is concerning in itself. There must have been a reason for that reduced projection. We hope that she gets back to the Greens and people who are concerned about ORI's activities.

The other thing I wanted to mention was the mental health situation for small business owners. I spoke at some length with Ms Howlett about this. The pressures on people owning small businesses are enormous at the moment. The continued restrictions because of Delta outbreaks on the mainland we know are having a very substantial effect, particularly on people in the hospitality and events industries, but there is a flow-on impact to other areas. Mental health support is critical. The minister talked about a number of things that had been done. I pressed her to explain how the Government is gauging the need in the sector. It is very clear that for people in small businesses there is not a one-size-fits-all form of support. It needs to be tailor-made to the individual business. It needs to be personalised and often, not always, but where appropriate, face-to-face.

Often what we have heard, and this was reinforced by the questions that were asked by Ms Finlay, it is clear that people do not want to speak in a public forum; they want to speak one on-one when it comes to mental health support. People do not just want to get information online. Sometimes they do, that is appropriate. There have to be the other options for people who actually want to speak human to human about the difficulties they are in. These difficulties could involve sacking employees or winding up businesses, huge changes and pressures that small businesses are operating under.

At the moment there is more that can be done. It really is incumbent on the Government to have that very close connection with small businesses to make sure that we are as up to speed as the changes in the market and the workplace are enacting on small businesses; that we are as up to speed with mental health support as the changes that are occurring. I really hope that the minister continues to put the emphasis, not just into providing mental health support in general, but into making it very specific, to making it varied and to making sure that we are asking stakeholder groups and representative bodies as often and as openly as possible for their suggestions about how things can be improved.