You are here

Inquiry into the Office of Racing Integrity (Negatived)

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 16 August 2023

Tags: TasRacing, Office of Racing Integrity, Animal Welfare

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, the Greens are very pleased to hear that the minister indicated his support for this review proposed by Ms Johnston; I imagine she is surprised to hear that. That is good news, because there is unfinished business from the greyhound racing committee investigations that happened years ago.

We see that the Animal Welfare Act and the Office of Racing Integrity as they function are clearly not fit for purpose. We only have to look at the footage that was released by Animal Liberation Tasmania - the drone footage of Mr Bullock's property - with 91 apparent greyhounds living there in what to the viewer's eyes looks like appalling conditions. That is under investigation at the moment.

We remain concerned that there is a real disconnect between the expectations of Tasmanians about how animals will be cared for and the reality of what happens in the racing industry. There is an obvious disconnect between people who want a racing industry that is fair and protects the rules of racing.

We have an investigation at the moment, the Murrihy investigation, into race fixing and team driving. The minister told us yesterday that the findings of Mr Murrihy will not be provided on that term of reference on 31 August and he gave no time frame for when they will be completed. That is unacceptable and people are concerned about the whole culture that is the racing industry in Tasmania, and especially about the culture within the Government, within the minister's office and within the Office of Racing Integrity that means that serious complaints of race fixing and team driving and serial animal welfare abuses do not get investigated and sometimes whistleblowers are outed to the community.

We would all remember the member of the harness racing industry who was moved to tears in a television interview about the pressure on him. He was moved to tears about the fact that he had been forced, basically bullied, to provide information and to have that go uninvestigated. To be outed is an appalling abuse of genuine, good-hearted people who want to point out failures in a system that are causing unfairness in racing rules, but also and particularly from the Greens point of view, especially failures in the care for animals who are at the heart of this industry, because it is animals that we are really here to talk about.

It is the animals that are the basis for the profit making of the racing industry. It is the reason, we believe, that Mr Bullock has not been closed down and his dogs have not been removed from racing at all while he is suspended, because he has become too big to fail, so big that it appears the Government has created a culture within government based on the ideology of the Liberals to support the racing industry at any cost. That flows through, it seems, to the Office of Racing Integrity, because the matters they should investigate at arm's length they have not done. This is why we are in a situation now where we have had the Monteith review into the Racing Act, but most importantly at the moment the Murrihy review into the allegations of race fixing, team driving and animal welfare abuses.

We expected the minister to give us a date for when that review will be completed into that second, most important part, because unless we understand what is going on in the culture, we can change the laws as much as we like, but we have no confidence that if we have not rooted out the rot in the system that the laws will be upheld. What we are seeing under the Liberals across all portfolios is an erosion of regulatory independent statutory bodies, with over years now, repeated pressure from government and ministerial offices to perform in the interests of growth of industry over the protection of the environment in the case of the Environment Protection Authority, and the protection against animal welfare abuses that ought to be at the heart of the Animal Welfare Act and also the job of the Office of Racing Integrity.

We were concerned at the outset and we noted in our submission to the review of the Racing Act that the public outrage and pressure that led to the initiation of the Monteith review was not mentioned at all in the purpose of the review, and that outrage was around the allegation that the acting general manager of ORI requested a fine to be withdrawn and deleted from the Office of Racing Integrity's systems as well as other allegations that were made about the office's dysfunction and the low morale.

Despite that being the main reason that brought this review to a head, the review did not even acknowledge it or at any point attempt to identify how the proposed reforms would address those concerns. The mission statement on ORI's website tells us everything - that ORI contributes to a healthy, growing and competitive racing and breeding industry by ensuring that it is safe, fair and credible.

That gets to the nub of the problems with ORI and where it has come under this Government when its mission is first and foremost about promoting the viability of the industry.

That is what we are seeing. That footage showed 91 beautiful greyhounds sleeping on dirt and concrete slabs in the middle of a freezing Tasmanian winter without bedding and with food in the form of rotting carcases, or a range of different carcases sitting in the back of a trailer dumped in a paddock. This is not the way that you treat beautiful dogs, but it is what people who want to make money out of greyhounds are allowed to do under this Government.

Unless the Monteith review can do more than fulfil industry propaganda and promote dubious claims about the industry's benefit to the economy, we are not going to make any headway. We support a review on the basis that we have not seen any progress in getting to the heart of the Office of Racing Integrity's dysfunction.

We obviously have flaws in the Animal Welfare Act. Our regulations for animal welfare are not working when you have the conditions exposed by a member of the public even though the RSPCA and ORI have attended that property. We heard that the RSPCA attended 13 times in the last year, so there is something wrong with the funding that is available for the RSPCA to be able to do their work. There is something wrong with the fact that we have these investigative bodies looking at conditions for animals. The public is outraged at them but they find it is all fine.

The background paper also did not discuss the findings and recommendations of parliament's Joint Select Committee on Greyhound Racing, many of which still stand and have to be implemented. The brief mention that the paper makes of that committee incorrectly calls that committee an inquiry into live baiting. That issue made up only one element of the committee's scrutiny. A huge concern we have with the Monteith review is that it recommends several functions be transferred to TasRacing. This includes policing of integrity and animal welfare in Tasmanian racing, the responsibility for licensing for participants, and the employment of race-day stewards and officials.

The review also seeks to relegate the new integrity body to an advisory and educative role rather than an enforcement one. Who will be doing the enforcement and how will it be at arm's length from the industry? At the moment the RSPCA says it does not have the power to act under the Animal Welfare Act. The industry is not making enforcements even though it sees gross abuses. The idea of taking away enforcement is very concerning. It is perverse that the Government has used scandals with ORI as a mechanism to further dilute the regulations and transparency. It is an Orwellian outcome.

Ultimately, the proposed reforms provide for sweeping steps but they are all in the wrong direction. That is why we support a select committee to examine these matters. The Government has shown time and again it cannot be trusted. We understand Labor is in synchronicity with the Government on their issues about racing. I look forward to hearing from them on whether they would like to participate in this inquiry. We believe that the rotten culture at the heart of ORI, the one that elevates the continuation of the racing industry at any cost, including the cost to horses, beautiful greyhounds and humans, has to be broken.

There are many issues in the racing industry that need to be investigated. We appreciate that a specific targeted review into ORI and a proposed new model has strong merit. There is a draft bill potentially on the way this month. We strongly support the member's move for this inquiry. The Greens look forward to being involved in it. We will look forward to representing the people who made the very strong submissions to the Monteith review: 50 individual stakeholders comprising 31 written submissions made comments in the discussion paper. We know from many of the people that we have spoken to that their concerns have not been addressed.

People want to have change. The mood in Tasmania, as it is everywhere in Australia, is increasingly to ensure that animal welfare is paramount above any other activity or condition. In any racing industry that situation is critical. The Greens do not support the funding of TasRacing. We do not believe there should be public monies put in to prop up an industry which at its heart is run on profit-making from animals.

We see what happens to the dogs on the track. We see what happens to the horses. We see the cruelty and we hear the pain of people who work so hard to rehome greyhounds that have been deeply harmed. I was outside last week with people and their greyhounds who stand up on this issue. I met a number of dogs on which you could see the physical scars and the harm that had been done to them. Think of the dogs that are lying tonight on a cold slab in the middle of Tasmania, in freezing cold conditions.

I stand with the majority of Tasmanians who want dogs like that to be at home in a bed with family and friends who love them. That is what a dog's life should be. Dogs and horses have their own lives. Dogs are pack animals who love to be with humans and to look after humans and to be part of a family group. That is where dogs should be. There is no place for them in an industry that cruelly uses them to make money.

Thank you, Ms Johnston, for bringing this forward. We will look forward to participating.