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Estimates Reply - Ogilvie

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 16 June 2022

Tags: Greyhound Racing, Animal Welfare

Ms O'CONNOR - Mr Chair, this was obviously Ms Ogilvie's first Estimates as minister so I will cut her a bit of slack for reading every answer out of her brief -

Ms Ogilvie - I thought you wanted the information -

Ms O'CONNOR - Okay, I will take that interjection.  I know I sound like an old fart, but when I was a minister it was a matter of great pride to me -

Mr Winter - I think the correct term is 'back in my day'.

Ms O'CONNOR - Back in my day, Mr Winter, when I was a minister, it was a source of great pride to me to be across my portfolios and be able to sit at the Estimates table and answer questions eye to eye with opposition, or in some cases, Greens members who were giving me grief across the table.  I am always a bit disappointed when I see ministers at the Estimates table rely heavily on material that is prepared for them in writing by the department.  I put that on the record and I hope next year Ms Ogilvie is more across her portfolios.

We started this Estimates session with Racing and the outstanding petition signed by 13 378 Tasmanians calling for an end to public funding of greyhound racing, remembering that the greyhound racing industry receives about $10 million each year in public funding.  I acknowledge the work of the Greyhound Rehabilitation Enthusiasts Association of Tasmania, Let Greyhounds Run Free, the Coalition for the Protection of Greyhounds, the RSPCA and the Dogs' Home of Tasmania, the Kingborough Dog Walking Association and the Huon Valley Dog Walking Association.  Those incredible people who just love these dogs, with zero resourcing managed to sign up the biggest e-petition in the history of the Tasmanian parliament.

I asked the minister for her response to that petition.  She acknowledged that it is great that people are participating in democracy and was very supportive of that, but then we got the usual propaganda we get from every minister in this role - this is not personally about Ms Ogilvie; it is just the official position.  She said, 'What I can say is that the Government and the racing industry regard the welfare of animals as critical'.  Well, we can all say that.  It is very easy to say that, but it is what you do about those words if that is your belief set.  We have a government here that is on the brink of pulling the integrity arm of the racing industry, the Office of Racing Integrity, which has been beset by troubles, taking away its independence and separation effectively from Tasracing and absorbing it into Tasracing.  We are going to have the stewards and the integrity element of the racing industry, which were separated from Tasracing for a good reason, now back in the tent with Tasracing, which we regard as a highly regrettable outcome.

Each week on the track dogs are injured, some catastrophically, and are either put down on the track or taken away - as was the case with Tah Bernard, a dog in Launceston late last year - and they die a short time later as a result of their injuries or are put down.  The fate of Tah Bernard came up at the Estimates table.  I asked the minister what her thoughts were on the investigation into the fate of Tah Bernard and trainer Mr Anthony Bullock.  Again, there was another read-out answer from the department that said: 

In relation to the investigation of the matter of Tah Bernard and Mr Bullock, as I said, we regard animal welfare as critically important.  The number of greyhounds euthanised at racecourses because of injuries received is trending downwards over time.  You would be aware of that, Ms O'Connor, from days when you were in government. 

Irrelevant, because I never had anything to do with the racing industry. 

Ms Ogilvie - You were in government.

Ms O'CONNOR - Twice Ms Ogilvie tried to say 'you would know about this because you were in government'.  I had zero to do with the racing industry.  It was an attempt to have a crack at me, which I did not even realise until I was re-reading the Hansard earlier today. 

We had a situation where the Director of Racing released a report into what happened to Tah Bernard, who was taken to the Mowbray vet, could not be seen in time, then allegedly dragged out squealing from the vet, tossed into the back of a trailer and taken away and was put down the next day.  There were zero consequences for the trainer and zero guidance from the Office of Racing Integrity about how you might prevent a situation like that from happening again.  We have an industry that is cruel at its heart and profits from the suffering of animals. 

I know there is a couple of recommendations that came out of that investigation, but one of them, as the minister said, was that veterinary surgeons requested that all greyhound trial events be procured in such a way that allows for its attendance in case of injury within 15 minutes.  Why was that not happening already?  The second recommendation was that another review be undertaken of all policies and guidelines in respect of the euthanasia of greyhounds to ensure that the information available to participants in the community is clear, consistent and transparent.  Blah, blah, blah.  Nothing for these dogs except a life invariably cut short. 

We did hear that because of some reforms that have taken place in the greyhound racing industry, and part of this is because of the work of the select committee that we established, the minister reported that euthanasia rates are down.  I will say that 'euthanasia' is the wrong word.  Euthanasia is from two Greek words and it means a sweet death, a gentle death.  In contemporary parlance we might calling it a mercy killing.  These dogs are being killed because they are injured, they are past their use-by date, and they are expensive to feed. 

We have seen the number of dogs killed, euthanased, decline in 2016-17, with 309, and in 2021 there were 40, so that is some progress.  Part of the solution has been to better resource the Greyhound Adoption Program and Brightside and to some extent the RSPCA to make sure these beautiful dogs are found homes.  Now of course we have a glut of beautiful greyhounds looking for homes.  As long as this industry is subsidised to breed dogs for profit we are going to have an animal welfare issue with how we look out for these beautiful dogs.  They are such gentle, sweet-natured dogs.

I also asked about the fate of Fly Calypso, a young greyhound that crashed into the catching pen gate, I understand, at the Devonport track.  Mr Helmich said there was a post-race vet examination and it was found that the dog had a spinal injury so they euthanased the dog.  The understanding is that the dog collided with the catching pen gate and for some reason which is unknown it failed to stop, probably because he hit the gate, but again, dogs are expendable in this industry.

I encourage the minister, who I am certain, like all thoughtful people, actually loves animals, to sit down with the wonderful people who put together that petition and listen to their side of the greyhound racing industry.  It is all very well to go along to the races and wear a hat with a fascinator -

Mr Winter - Have they sat down with the racing industry?

CHAIR - Order, Mr Winter.

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes, they have; a number of those organisations have had conversations through ORI and Tasracing and sat down with Mr Helmich.  There is quite a constructive conversation there and a relative openness about data.  I encourage this minister to spend some time with the greyhounds and listen to the stories of people who love and care for them because this industry is most certainly not sustainable and it is losing its social licence. 

I also asked the minister what the Minister for Science and Technology did in relation to the latest science.  I am still baffled why we have a Minister for Science and Technology who apparently has not sat down with all our outstanding climate scientists since she became minister and was not up to date with the most contemporary science on logging and bushfire risk. 

Ms Ogilvie - I did sit down with them prior to that, though.  You're just being a little bit selective there.

CHAIR - Order.  I am sure Ms O'Connor will listen to you in silence if you listen to her in silence.

Ms O'CONNOR - If you are going to be the minister for Science you might want to take notice of some of the science.


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