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Racing – Greyhound Adoption Program

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 8 June 2023

Tags: Greyhound Adoption Program, TasRacing, State Budget

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, you have confirmed that in more than a year of being a minister, you have not been to the Greyhound Adoption Program.

Ms OGILVIE - I have been to the front gates and, unfortunately, there was a diary mix up and I had to return to Hobart.

Ms O'CONNOR - You didn't try again?

Ms OGILVIE - I didn't have an opportunity with my diary. I will augment my answer. I have met a number of times with the GAP staff and leaders, and I have been out and about in Tasmania with them, but I have not been able to see the kennels.

Ms O'CONNOR - You've never seen the operation of GAP and availed yourself of an understanding about how it operates.

Ms OGILVIE - I haven't been able to, no, although I have tried to.

Ms O'CONNOR - On your watch and in recent months, there's been changes to GAP announced which we believe place more dogs in peril. Is it true that retired greyhounds will be expected to be 'adoption-ready' when they arrive at the GAP facility, and given what these dogs go through, the privation, the lack of social connection, how is it expected that that will be achieved?

Ms OGILVIE - Thank you. I will give an overview. This is obviously a Tasracing question as well and I just wanted to flag that with you. I'm very happy to provide what information we do have. You will have the opportunity to raise it during Tasracing's GBE hearings. We know that Tasracing is committed at that strategic level to increasing the number of adoptions for suitable retired racing greyhounds. The Greyhound Adoption Program is a key welfare initiative for the greyhound racing industry and I'm a firm supporter and believer in it. It facilitates the rehoming of retired greyhounds and promotes greyhound ownership in the community.

I know and we all know that the Tasmanian Government and Tasracing and anybody with a good heart wishes to increase the number of greyhounds that are rehomed whilst also reducing the amount of time it takes to achieve rehoming. Tasracing, I am advised, has recently released a draft GAP working paper. I have to emphasise the word 'draft'. It's a working paper. A recent review of the GAP by Tasracing senior management and the chief veterinary and animal welfare officer identified a need to make strategic and operational changes of the GAP and I am advised that this will see more greyhounds rehomed in shorter times. The GAP facility, as you know, is situated in Mangalore in the south of Tasmania -

Ms O'CONNOR - Point of order, Chair. If we could just direct the minister to the question on relevance. What we're trying to understand, given the changes that have been flagged with GAP, which will -

Ms OGILVIE - In that draft paper, is that where you're at?

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes - which will inevitably see more dogs who have not had the time put into their rehabilitation, if you like, after the way they've been treated in the industry, adoption ready. We've all met greyhounds who've been in the industry; they're traumatised dogs invariably. What the new regime is saying is that these dogs are expected to be adoption-ready when they arrive at the GAP facility. How can that be possible given what those dogs have gone through? The regime at GAP or at Brightside or any of these rehoming places is clear that you need to put some time into these creatures before you adopt them out to give them the best chance of being adopted and having a happy life.

Ms OGILVIE - As I said, really to get to the heart of the answer for you, it is a Tasracing question, which I'm happy to follow up, but you do seem to be using the phrase adoption-ready, and to get some granularity on that definition would be helpful. I'm happy to do that from Tasracing or through the department if that is helpful.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thanks, minister. I think the plain English interpretation of adoption-ready is pretty clear.

Ms OGILVIE - Then I would come back to the fact that this is a draft proposal and certainly I'm happy to take all inputs on that.

Ms O'CONNOR - All right. There's some history here and it was possibly a bit before your time as minister, but the record shows that the former manager of GAP, Susan Gittus, had a low threshold for dogs with behavioural issues brought about by their treatment as racing dogs. The GAP behavioural assessment tool used while Ms Gittus was in charge did not give shy or traumatised dogs any hope. Is it the case that Susan Gittus' Greyt Life Pet Prep, a private business, will undertake this function to get the dogs ready for adoption?

Ms OGILVIE - Thank you. We'll try to get some information for you but as a general proposition, private businesses are not within my purview as minister.

Ms O'CONNOR - Why?

Ms OGILVIE - They're just not. Mr Helmich, are you able to -

Ms O'CONNOR - This is a private business that is likely to have a financial benefit from GAP.

Ms OGILVIE - I understand the question. I don't know if that’s the case, but I will ask for some advice from Mr Helmich.

Mr HELMICH - Through you, minister. Can I just confirm the question with Ms O'Connor? Sorry.

Ms O'CONNOR - Mr Helmich, I am happy to restate the question, but unfortunately it just wastes time at the table. I suggest you pay really close attention to what is being asked. Is it the case that Susan Gittus' Greyt Life Pet Prep private business will undertake this function to get the dogs ready for adoption?

Mr HELMICH - Through you, minister. I have no information in relation to that specifically. What I can say is, one of the things that was raised out of the draft report is that with the GAP program - and indeed all other non-Tasracing adoption agencies - their dogs do not come under the purview of the Director of Racing. I have recently recommended to Tasracing a change to the rules, where dogs under the GAP program will need to be under the purview of the Director of Racing when there is any intent to euthanise - and that would need to be approved by the Director of Racing prior to any dog from the GAP program being euthanised. As I understand, that is with the rules committee to be approved by the board.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Mr Helmich. Minister, can you confirm that Susan Gittus may be reinstalled as the manager of GAP?

Ms OGILVIE - Again, that's an operational HR matter within Tasracing, which is for a GBE output, so I can't confirm that.

Ms O'CONNOR - Does your Director of Racing have any information about the potential to reinstall Susan Gittus as the head of GAP?

Ms OGILVIE - I'm happy to refer that question.

Mr JACOBI - Through you, minister. I have no knowledge of that process.

Ms O'CONNOR - Is it entirely outside your responsibility to know who is operating GAP, minister and Director of Racing?

Ms OGILVIE - The way the process works is that Tasracing, as I've said, is a state-owned corporation that has a board and a CEO, and its operational matters are those for it to run itself. I take a great interest in how things are managed when issues arise -

Ms O'CONNOR - It's common knowledge within the industry that this is on the cards.

Ms OGILVIE - Sorry, what is your question?

Ms O'CONNOR - Is it a fact that Susan Gittus is potentially going to be reinstalled as the manager of GAP? Also, to your point about this not being within your purview, does the chief vet - who we know has been out to GAP - do you have regular briefings with the chief vet about animal welfare issues within the industry?

Ms OGILVIE - I have briefings from my advisers, and I also meet regularly with Tasracing -

Ms O'CONNOR - The chief vet?

Ms OGILVIE - I’ve met with him a couple of times. I don't meet with him as a matter of course, but I do meet with him when it comes to the development work we’re doing by way of the review and the restructure of -

Ms O'CONNOR - What you're saying is that neither you nor the Director of Racing have any capacity to confirm what is now pretty solid industry chatter about Susan Gittus, who has, we would argue, some history that is problematic in terms of her running GAP. You’re not able to say, and the Director of Racing is not able to say, there has been no connection with the chief vet who would know this, about whether or not Susan Gittus is going to be reinstalled as the manager of GAP, because she is more likely to do what the new regime wants her to do, which is to pump more dogs through there and potentially euthanise more?

Ms OGILVIE - That seemed like a statement, but I think you are asking if we can get some information about that from Tasracing, because it’s within their operations. I’m very happy to do that.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, the Murrihy review has been established. The evidence that was the foundation for standing up that review points to a series of industry insiders, including people like Janet Ainscow, who have stood up and given testimony of an Office of Racing Integrity that's failing the industry and failing animals within the industry. For example, industry veteran, Kent Rattray, said, in relation to allegations of race fixing: 'If I was in the school ground I'd be calling it cheating, not playing within the rules'.

How can it be that so many people have come forward and given information to the Office of Racing Integrity and there have been reports of investigations of race fixing? Nothing to see here. With Ben Yole it consistently seems as though' nothing to see here', even with the previous Mar Murrihy review into Ben Yole's conduct. How can it be that there is absolutely nothing to see here, apparently?

Ms OGILVIE - The Murrihy review will get to the bottom of this matter. It is an independent investigation that has broad terms of reference.

Ms O'CONNOR - Quite narrow, really.

Ms OGILVIE - At the end of that it says 'and matters relating thereto', or words to that effect. Indeed, if more information is required I'm sure his door is always open.

In relation to the ABC Report, which sparked the Murrihy review, we know that information was brought forward which seem to be in addition to what was known previously. That's why I decided to recommend that the independent review occur. That is scheduled to wrap up in the next few weeks. I am looking forward to seeing what the report says, so that we can deal in facts and evidence and a true basis for what we all want to get to the bottom of.

It is my desire, and our desire on this side of the table, to ensure that we have a contemporary regulatory model for the racing industry in Tasmania. I have been working very hard over my year as the minister to ensure we land that. It is very important. It's been 20 years since we've done that law reform. Law reform is essential and we are working to deliver that.

That reform, including the independent Commissioner for Racing - the TasRIC model - adopts the best-in-breed regulatory model across the nation. We have looked at other jurisdictions and we are going to implement that as well.

I am very keen to make sure, not only that we do that, but when you make those changes, that we ensure the human side of things is catered for. That's working with the CPSU and working with the people on the ground; looking at people and cultural issues. This is our opportunity and I encourage everybody in this parliament and across the racing industry to help us implement those reforms. I know, Ms O'Connor, that you have a genuine concern about animal welfare.

Ms O'CONNOR - I hope everyone at this table does.

Ms OGILVIE - Absolutely. You have been on the record for a very long time and I respect that. I know you love of GAP, and I also respect that too. I hope we can find some common ground around these issues; but the law reform is essential.

Mr Winter, I believe you also want to see the best contemporary model for racing in Tasmania, and I hope that we will be able to work together across the aisle to make that happen.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, one of the issues that's become painfully obvious is that there are operators within the industry that are too big to fail. If we look at harness racing, it clearly is Ben Yole. If we look at the greyhound industry, it clearly is Anthony Bullock. The record shows they're mates, and Anthony Bullock gets the spent horses from Ben Yole and feeds them to his greyhounds.

Do you accept that in order to have an industry that has even a measure of social licence, you'll need to have an integrity body that is prepared to take on the big players; because, to date, the evidence points to a closeness between the industry, those participants and the integrity body. They have been too big to fail, which is why there has been failures to improve their practices.

Ms OGILVIE - Your question is whether we need reform in the integrity model; and the answer is, yes.

Ms O'CONNOR - The question is, do you agree that in order to have some integrity in this industry you are going to need an integrity body that is prepared to take on the likes of Ben Yole and Anthony Bullock; because without them, each of those codes would effectively not have enough animals to torture and race?

Ms OGILVIE - The integrity model that we propose has more teeth. That's a good thing that we would all agree needs to occur. The TasRIC model that we are proposing comes off the back of the Monteith review is an independent model, and that will be a very good thing. We are embedding the RSPCA into the racing model more generally, and we are empowering them with new powers and putting more funding into that.

Ms O'CONNOR - Do you agree that needs fixing?

Ms OGILVIE - That is why I am doing the law reform. The law reform is happening because I believe that we can do better. We need a contemporary, state-of-the-art regulatory model for racing in Tasmania. I have been working very hard on this in my one year as Racing minister. We have looked across the jurisdictions and we currently have that bill in drafting. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on that model to see you think it addresses the issue.

Ms O'CONNOR - Do you think there have historical problems with two big operators in the industry who have been able to skate through? Serious allegations are raised about Ben Yole's alleged race fixing and the way he treats his horses; serious allegations about Anthony Bullock; and yet, they just sail through and keep making massive profits. Do you agree the industry needs to be able to take on these big players, or the integrity body?

Ms OGILVIE - Firstly, allegations are only allegations - until proved. We have the Murrihy review under way. Let us deal with facts and outcomes. We will have that response soon.

Secondly, you raise a serious issue about competition in the sector, and that is a real issue. It's about equity and participation and that work is underway. I would like to do a deep dive on that; I suggest it would be helpful for the committee.

Ms O'CONNOR - With respect, minister, thank you. It's about understanding the policy position of you, as minister, rather than deferring to your advisors at the table.

Ms OGILVIE - In relation to equity and participation, I want a well-balanced industry. That goes for any sport where you have the wagering element. It is important that we have an industry that is sustainable and is sensible and where businesses are not marginal. I am very concerned to do what we can to make sure that occurs. I am aware there are concerns about that competition element, and our equity and participation work and the rule that we are working on and will be implemented through TasRacing looks to ensure that balance is there.

If you think about harness racing - making sure that horses come from a range of stables and a range of fields, is something that has been raised and it is an issue of policy that I have my eye on. As part of a very large overall structure, regulatory structure and operational issues in the industry, it is something we have been turning our minds to.