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Racing – Greyhounds with Prohibited Substances

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 26 November 2020

Tags: Greyhound Racing, Greyhound Adoption Program, TasRacing

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, as you are aware greyhound trainee and owner, Susan Gittus was charged on 16 October because her racing dog, Fitzgerald Grant, was found with a prohibited substance in his urine sample at the Hobart's Elwick track on 13 August. In her defence Ms Gittus suggested the substance may have been from contaminated meat and we will get to that issue later.

Susan Gittus was suspended for just two months with no monetary penalty listed. As a result of her suspension, Ms Gittus immediately transferred her racing dogs to her husband Nathan Gittus. Our understanding is that at the following two race meetings they secured $3700 from those dogs. Do you think there is something wrong with the racing system where a person can be charged, a person who has responsibility for rehoming animals, with having a contaminated animal and then just transfer their dogs to their husband?

Ms HOWLETT - I thank Ms O'Connor for her question. Integrity is critical to the conduct of racing by Tasmania's Office of Racing Integrity. ORI has conducted an investigation and held hearings into greyhound trainer, Susan Gittus; she tested positive to the prohibited substance.

Ms O'CONNOR - No, her dog did.

Ms HOWLETT - Her dog did. I am advised this is her first suspension during a nine year training career. In line with standard Tasracing policy, Ms Gittus was stood down from her role as manager of the GAP program from the time ORI was notified by the positive B sample. I have been advised that last Friday Ms Gittus resigned from her position at GAP.

I would like to say Ms Gittus played a key role in establishing GAP in Tasmania and she leaves it in a very strong position to continue to grow and develop. I understand that Tasracing advertised last Saturday for a replacement for her position.

Ms O'CONNOR - That's enough information for me on that question, thank you. I didn't see a public statement about the resignation of Susan Gittus. Was one made?

Ms HOWLETT - I certainly didn't make it. I would have to check to see if Tasracing made a statement or not.

Ms O'CONNOR - Okay. It's totally unsurprising, given it took your Government 10 days to announce that they'd replaced people at Ashley.

The question was about a structure in racing where a person found guilty of having a dog with a prohibited substance in it can be suspended with a slap on the wrist, transfer the dog to her husband, and continue to profit from racing. Why aren't the rules being changed to ensure suspensions have substance, so that animal welfare doesn't just become something people found guilty can bypass?

Ms HOWLETT - I'll hand you over to Mr King, but my understanding is Ms Gittus had a suspension, and that is why she could remain on that property with her animals. I'll pass you over to John. There's a difference with the suspension and being found -

Mr KING - Thank you, minister. There has been a lot of media, with strong words such as 'doping' used. I think it really needs to be clear that in this particular case, there was no direct finding from the stewards in relation to the source of the contamination, or the source of the drug.

Ms O'CONNOR - It's very hard to prove.

Mr KING - So, in that instance, we have to base any penalty around a level of culpability. Because we have no direct evidence where this has come from, the level of culpability is lower than if we can prove someone has deliberately introduced something to the diet of a dog, with a view to breaching the rules and/or making it go faster.

We have a few penalty options available to us, and the minister just mentioned the distinction between disqualification and suspension.

Suspension allows someone to still be in contact with the industry, essentially. Suspension prevents a trainer from nominating a dog, but it's not as strong as a disqualification, where you can be nowhere near participants, you can be nowhere near a racetrack, and you have to transfer all the dogs out of your name, and you can't have any sort of financial income. There is a really distinct difference.

I think it is important to note that we do assess each case on that culpability level, and we also, as noted by the minister, have to look at someone's prior convictions under the racing rules. Obviously, if they've had other incidents, they may get a stronger penalty. We take all those things into consideration when electing to suspend or disqualify.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Mr King. Just a final question on this line of questioning.

I want to state again how disappointing it is that Tasmanians find out in an Estimates hearing six days after the former head of GAP resigns that she's gone from the role. Given that it's a publicly funded entity, this is a matter of public interest, and should have been followed up by a public statement. But I will move on from that observation.

Minister, the animal welfare organisation Let Greyhounds Run Free has long called for an independent head of GAP, due to obvious conflicts of interest that arise when people from within the industry being appointed to run that organisation.

As a major Tasmanian trainer, Ms Gittus' impartiality in selecting greyhounds for rehoming was never a given. An independent GAP coordinator with certified animal behaviourist qualifications needs to be appointed as a priority. Given there's now a vacancy at GAP, will you consider improving the integrity of GAP by making sure there is independent management of that - someone who doesn't come from the industry?

Ms HOWLETT - Thank you, Ms O'Connor. Going back to what you stated before, can I just clarify that Tasracing didn't actually put out a statement last Friday on the resignation of Susan Gittus? They may have, and I didn't see it.

Ms O'CONNOR - We didn't see it either. I suspect nothing was said.

Ms HOWLETT - I didn't see it. I will clarify to make sure they didn't.

In relation to having an independent person who is not a greyhound trainer or owner, running Greyhound Adoption Program Tasmania - GAP Tasmania - I fully agree with you on that.

Ms O'CONNOR - How are you going to progress that

Ms HOWLETT - That is a matter for Tasracing, but I will be making it clear to Tasracing that I would like someone who is not registered as a trainer and is not an owner - someone who is independent - to run GAP. I will make it very clear that I want GAP to be run by Tasracing, not the RSPCA, before we venture into that.

Ms O'CONNOR - We think it should be run by Office of Racing Integrity, but there you go.