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Racing – Greyhound Racing Industry

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 9 June 2022

Tags: Greyhound Racing

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, I have here a petition from the Greyhound Rehabilitation Enthusiasts Association of Tasmania, Let Greyhounds Run Free, Coalition for the Protection of Greyhounds, the RSPCA and Dogs Home of Tasmania, the Kingborough Dog Walking Association and the Huon Valley Dog Walking Association. These marvellous people have spent the past six months pulling together a petition which is now the largest ever e-petition in the history of the Tasmanian parliament. There are 13 378 signatures and counting.

They are calling on the Government that you're a part of to recognise the inherent animal cruelty and suffering of greyhounds in the public funded racing industry, the opposition to the cruelty that cuts across politics, that this industry is opposed by the majority of taxpayers and the RSPCA and as pet owners, they will use their purchasing power and influence to send a message to retailers, veterinary practitioners, pubs and all businesses supporting and enabling greyhound racing. Minister, what is your response to evidence that the greyhound racing industry really doesn't have much of a social licence?

Ms OGILVIE - Firstly, let me say I think it's fantastic that people are participating in their democracy and I'm very supportive of that. As to the petition that you have on the table but I presume you will table in parliament, what I can say is that the Government and the racing industry regard the welfare of animals as critical. The vast majority of industry participants provide great care to their dogs. The Government is investing more money than ever before into greyhound welfare to ensure that dogs are treated with dignity and care before, during and after their racing days, and you will of course be aware of the Greyhound Adoption Program or GAP.

Tasracing, ORI and the industry are working together to examine ways to further improve animal welfare outcomes. I am aware of the current petition you have with you today to end the public funding of greyhound racing, which has been sponsored by you as Leader of the Greens and I'm aware also of recent media activity calling on all dog lovers to support the petition. The Government is a strong supporter of the Tasmanian racing industry and we know it matters, particularly in regional Tasmania. The industry generates $185 million per annum in economic activity.

We accept that people will have different views on the racing industry in Tasmania. I will say again that the Tasmanian Government regards the welfare of animals as critically important. We are investing more money than ever before into animal welfare to ensure that racing animals are treated with dignity and care before, during and after their racing days. To improve transparency on animal welfare, Tasracing is providing information in their annual report on track injuries, euthanasia, retirement and rehoming statistics. I will further say the majority of industry participants provide great care to their animals.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, minister. The genesis of this petition was the fate of a dog called Tah Bernard and you undoubtedly know that dog's sorry story. That dog did not receive great care and that dog was trained by a trainer who, as I understand it, still doesn't have a kennel licence. You would have to acknowledge that when you talk about how much the Government cares about the welfare of animals in this industry, this industry by its very nature is cruel because it breeds dogs for profit and then when they're not turning a profit, they become disposable. Do you acknowledge that the industry can be cruel at its heart?

Ms OGILVIE - There are very different views on the racing industry. I will address your query around Tah Bernard in relation to Mr Bullock and the investigation.

Ms O'CONNOR - Do you have to read every answer? You haven't given a single answer off the cuff. Not much of a minister if it all has to be read.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, you asked the question, please allow the minister to answer.

Ms OGILVIE - In relation to the investigation of the matter of Tah Bernard and Mr Bullock - and as I said we regard animal welfare as critically important - the number of greyhounds euthanased at racecourses because of injury received is trending downwards over time, and you would be aware of that, Ms O'Connor, from the days when you were in government. We've seen a massive decrease in numbers so I think that is a very positive thing. In pursuing improved animal welfare outcomes, both ORI and Tasracing continue to work very closely with veterinarians and the greyhound racing industry to minimise the risk.

I am aware that the Director of Racing released a report in relation to the incident involving greyhound Tah Bernard. I've read the report and I'm sure you have too. The report follows a comprehensive investigation by ORI and the RSPCA to determine the facts.

Ms O'CONNOR - And let the trainer completely off the hook.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, order.

Ms OGILVIE - The report made two recommendations. The first was that veterinary surgeons be present at all greyhound trials events or procured in such a way that allows for attendance in case of injury within 15 minutes. The second recommendation was that a review be undertaken of all policies in guidelines in respect of the euthanasia of greyhounds to ensure that the information available to participants and to the community is clear, consistent and transparent. The Government supports the recommendations of the director in that report.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, I am disappointed that every answer you're giving has to be read out and has been prepared by the department. You've been minister for a little while now, you should know this stuff.

Are you able to provide to the committee the data on euthanasia and serious track injuries this year and also what your understanding is of what happens to dogs that are catastrophically injured and are not so-called euthanased but actually killed before their time on the track?

Ms OGILVIE - I am able to provide some information to you. In relation to the greyhound industry, which I think your question goes to greyhounds only, the greyhound industry is working towards zero euthanasia for suitable greyhounds. This is by proactively monitoring breeding rules and supporting adoption programs, of which you're aware, that socialise greyhounds as pets.

For the benefit of Hansard, greyhounds can be euthanised for a number of reasons, including serious injuries, medical conditions, and unsuitable temperament for adoption. Racing greyhound euthanasia rates have been trending downward over several years, which displays an improved commitment to animal welfare practices within the industry. We know that the Office of Racing Integrity (ORI) must be notified when greyhounds are retired from racing and their intended management post retirement. Monitoring the industry is proactive, and ongoing.

On 1 March 2020, Tasracing and ORI implemented new retirement rules, aimed at further reducing euthanasia rates. The rules required the following prior to retirement and rehoming: a 28-day wind-down period post-racing; restriction on all racing activities; record of genuine socialisation efforts.

I have some quick facts on greyhound euthanasia rates per year, which, as you will recall from your time as a minister in Government, Ms O'Connor: in 2016-17, there were 309; in 2017-18, there were 109; in 2018-19, there were 137; in 2019-2020, there were 90; in 2020 21, there were 40; and this year, 2021-22 -accepting that the year has not yet completed - there were 39.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thirty-nine dogs whose lives were cut short.

Mr WOOD -Thank you, Chair. Can you please give the committee an update on the cadet steward program, and what actions the Government is undertaking to entice people and especially younger people to a career in this area.

Ms OGILVIE - It is important. The 2022-23 Tasmanian Budget is delivering for all Tasmanians, and is making Tasmania's priorities our priorities.

Ms O'CONNOR - What has this got to do with racing? Nothing.

Ms OGILVIE - I am very pleased to announce that the successful cadet stipendiary steward program will continue to provide important career pathways for young Tasmanians wanting to work in the industry, with funding secured for three more positions. The 2022-23 Tasmanian Budget includes additional funding of $964 000 over four years for three cadets to learn the trade, under the direction of qualified and experienced stewards to set them up for a fulfilling career.

Tasmania's racing industry is a vital part of Tasmania's social and economic vibrance. The program will be structured into two-year contract cadetships for three cadets, in two separate programs running 2022-23 to 2023-24, and from 2024-25 to 2025-26. Providing clear future pathways and encouraging the stewards to consider the racing industry as a long-term career option will be the focus of the contracts. The program has been well received since its inception. I am pleased to report that the two most recent cadets have both been promoted within ORI to other roles, with one being successful in gaining a position as a stipendiary steward, and the other taking on a permanent role as an operations and support officer where he undertakes harness, handicapping, greyhound grading, and licensing activities. Two new cadet stewards have recently been appointed. That's good news.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you. Minister, I note that when you said before that you'd be working with participants in the industry on the Monteith report, you didn’t say anything about working with animal welfare agencies. I simply make that observation and recommend that you do.

Ms OGILVIE - Yes, I have met with the RSPCA and am working with them.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thanks. I haven't asked the question.

We'd like to get to the bottom of the 22 serious track injuries since the start of 2022. I'm happy for this to be on notice. But for each of those dogs, we need to know immediately after the race, what did the track vet recommend after discovering the injury, if anything? Did the track vet administer pain relief and stabilisation of the wound? What treatment was administered? What else did the track vet do at the track and recommend to the trainer/handler while at the track for the best care of the dog? After leaving the track, was each dog taken to the vet? If so, how long after the injury occurred did this happen? And please provide the time, date, and vet practice.

And if the dog was not taken to the vet, why not? And what care was that dog given to ensure its best health outcome?

Ms OGILVIE - Thank you. I know how much you care about this issue, as do I. I just want to check in with you: I do have some raw details about this, but the question you've asked is very specific in relation to individual animals. That is one that I will have to either ask ORI or perhaps it might even need to be taken on notice, depending on the level of detail.

Ms O'CONNOR - I'm happy to put that on notice.

Ms OGILVIE - What I will do, and I don't want to be difficult, but I will give you what I have in front of me then if we need to go further, we'll do that at that stage. Is that acceptable?

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes.

Ms OGILVIE - Between 1 July 2021 and 31 March 2022, six greyhounds have been euthanised on track following race injuries from almost 9000 starts during that period, in accordance with the prescribed guidelines. I am aware that there was a seventh greyhound euthanised on track on 10 May 2022 as a result of injuries received during racing.

Comparatively, euthanasia numbers in recent years were seven in 2021 from more than 12 000 starts; 13 in 2019 20; and 18 in 2018 19. This was a result, we believe, of improvements to track safety and the introduction of the Greyhound Recovery Rebate Scheme.

The rebate scheme assists with the treatment of greyhounds who receive track injuries. Tasracing can provide information for the period of 1 July 2021 to 30 April 2022. I am advised that 26 greyhound owners have utilised the benefits of the scheme to assist in having their animals treated. During that period, $67 488 has been allocated to treat greyhounds. On 1 October 2020 the Greyhound Recovery Rebate Scheme was amended to include injuries at trial sessions -

Ms O'CONNOR - That's not relevant to my question.

Ms OGILVIE - I did foreshadow that. We'll come to -

Ms O'CONNOR - We're just looking for the data on what happened to the 23 dogs that were seriously injured on the track.

CHAIR - Minister, I will remind you that you have one minute left in your question.

Ms OGILVIE - I'll just finish that. I think it is germane to your question. On 1 October 2020, the Greyhound Recovery Rebate Scheme was amended to include injuries at trial sessions at which club officials are in attendance, and the rebate on that was increased from $1500 to $3000.

I know it is a very important question and I understand the concern that people not just in this room but everywhere have as animal lovers ourselves. I know that you have asked specifically for dog-by-dog data. I will ask the secretary if we are able to procure that information for you.

Ms O'CONNOR - Can we put that on notice so that other members might have -

Ms OGILVIE - I will ask the secretary to just see what he can do.

Mr JACOBI - I will ask Justin to explain the availability of that data.

CHAIR - There are only 10 seconds left in this answer.

Mr HELMICH - A lot of that information is included within the stewards' reports that are published on the ORI website -

CHAIR - The time to answer this question has expired.

Ms O'CONNOR - I might just put that on notice and if it's problematic, just let me know in the response.

Ms OGILVIE - Very happy to.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you. We'd like to understand what happened to the beautiful young greyhound, Fly Calypso. This dog was killed when it crashed into a catching pen gate. Are you able to tell the committee if there has been any investigation? How can this happen? If it was a malfunction of the gate, it could potentially kill others. We would like to understand what happened to Fly Calypso.

Ms OGILVIE - Thank you. That is about operational matters and what happens on the day, and I will ask the secretary if he has detailed information about that.

Mr JACOBI - I will call on Justin Helmich to respond.

Mr HELMICH - I am aware that Fly Calypso underwent a post-race vet examination after colliding with the catching pen on 10 May 2022. Upon examination, it was found to have a spinal injury, and the advice from the on-track veterinarian was to euthanase the greyhound on track; and that occurred. In terms of what occurred, our understanding is that it did collide with the catching pen gate and for some reason which has been unknown, it failed to stop. There is a limited period of time where the lure driver has to accelerate the lure away so that is not within the sight of the greyhound during that period. We are unable to determine anything else that occurred in relation to that matter, but it was reviewed by the stewards on that day.

Ms O'CONNOR - Is there an investigation, a steward's report available? What actions have been taken by Tasracing or ORI to ensure an injury like that doesn't happen again?

Mr HELMICH - There was an investigation done on the day by the stewards. I requested that they undertake a detailed examination, speak with all the people involved, the people involved in the closing of the catching pen, and the people involved in driving the lure. They also reviewed the videos on the day. I've spoken with management at Tasracing in relation to the fact that in this instance it is certain that the dog failed to stop, and it may have had something to do with the fact that the lure was not drawn away from the dogs as early as would be ideal.

Ms O'CONNOR - Another dead dog out of this industry.