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TasRacing – 2016 Inquiry Recommendations

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Tags: TasRacing, Office of Racing Integrity, Greyhound Adoption Program, Greyhound Racing

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, it is key to Tasracing's operation that you have a functional racing integrity body. We know that 21 staff have left the Office of Racing Integrity since 2018, including three racing directors and the regulatory vet. Morale has been reported to us as being at rock bottom. Recommendation 13 of the parliamentary inquiry is that the Office of Racing Integrity be appropriately resourced in order to increase inspections of properties and strengthen its capacity to undertake effective routine swabbing. As we saw earlier this year, the amount of swabbing being done by ORI has fallen.

What exactly will you do to make this office functional? I hear Mr Eriksson advise you that this is not a question for Tasracing. We argue very much that this is a question for you as minister because Tasracing cannot function without ORI and, at the moment, ORI is in disarray. You've got two stewards, as we understand, it for all three codes. Can you confirm that?

Ms HOWLETT - I thank Ms O'Connor for the question. This is a matter for the Office of Racing Integrity -

Ms O'CONNOR - It's a matter for you as minister because the stewards undertake the integrity inspections of Tasracing's races.

Ms HOWLETT - Yes -

CHAIR - I understand. We go -

Ms HOWLETT - as well as -

CHAIR - Can I, minister -

Ms HOWLETT - as well as inspecting properties -

CHAIR - Minister. Minister -

Ms HOWLETT - and kennels -

CHAIR - Minister.

Ms HOWLETT - Sorry.

CHAIR - Can I just make the point that we go through this every year about the distinction between Budget Estimates for ORI and the GBE Estimates for Tasracing. I'll allow the minister to answer the question but it is a question for the Office of Racing Integrity, not for the Tasracing scrutiny hearing.

Ms O'CONNOR - It's a question for the minister.

CHAIR - Regardless of whether it's a question for the minister, it is a question of whether it is the right scrutiny hearing for it to be asked, Ms O'Connor, as you well know.

Ms HOWLETT - Today's scrutiny is not the right forum for that to be asked but I can assure you that there are some vacancies in the Office of Racing Integrity and we -

Ms O'CONNOR - That's not very reassuring.

Ms HOWLETT - Well, no, we're currently recruiting. We have three chairmen of stewards, five stewards and two cadet stewards with a further steward and cadet steward in the final stages of recruitment. The appointment process for the cadet steward is expected to be determined by the end of November and interviews for the additional steward will be completed by the end of the month. Being a multi code and skilled organisation, all these stewards undertake inspections and investigations.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, minister, for being helpful there and setting a precedent so that at Tasracing GBE hearings in the future we may ask again about ORI.

Ms HOWLETT - That's not the case.

CHAIR - That is not setting a precedent. The minister took the question. Please don't put words in her mouth or take advantage of the situation, Ms O'Connor.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, recommendation 17 of the parliamentary inquiry was that government investigate including - acknowledging the mental suffering of animals in the Animal Welfare Act. In fact, this was a recommendation of the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (AWAC) in 2010 13. A dog that was dragged out of a vet with a broken leg and thrown in the back of a car at face value experienced mental suffering, particularly as it spent the night in pain. Has there been any progress on implementing this recommendation of the parliamentary inquiry?

Ms HOWLETT - I am not going to comment on the case that you are referring to that you have brought up numerous times today. I will not be drawn into commenting on that. Paul, would you like to talk about the document that Tasracing had.

Mr ERIKSSON - Yes. As you flagged, recommendation 17, we do have a comprehensive document detailing the management and care for each stage in the life cycle of a greyhound. That document does cover distress and mental suffering. That is a document that, when ORI does a kennel inspection, they look at the surrounds of the kennels, compare it to the guidelines that are in place there. Also, it is covered by cruelty in the Animal Welfare Act and -

Ms O'CONNOR - Not sufficiently, according to the parliamentary inquiry and AWAC.

Mr ERIKSSON - Ms O'Connor, we've got a document which details management and care. It has also a portion of cover in the Animal Welfare Act and we have new rule GAR 21.2, which will be implemented in January 2022. This is a national rule, Greyhound Australia national rule, stating:

A person must exercise the care and supervision to prevent unnecessary pain or suffering.

That is a judgment call which the stewards will be able to act on.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you. At the parliamentary inquiry Mr Bullock made the statement that only 30 per cent of his dogs went to the Greyhound Adoption Program (GAP) and, so, we can only form the view that at that point in 2016, 70 per cent were killed. At some level, I gather, Mr Bullock is giving some of his retired dogs to GAP but we know that GAP has been plagued by problems and there's insufficient staff to enable the GAP program to do its job properly.

What improvements are in place given that more dogs need rehoming now? What plans do you have to hire more staff, extend the kennel facilities, and improve the facility?

Ms HOWLETT - We are certainly doing all of that. As you're aware, Ms O'Connor, in January 2020, Tasracing purchased the Mangalore Kennels following an expression of interest process. Owned and operated by Tasracing, the facility is the first dedicated greyhound rehoming facility in Tasmania and is the home of the Greyhound Adoption Program.

Prior to purchasing Mangalore Kennels, the GAP program was run from the previous GAP manager's private residence. Following minor renovations, the greyhounds were transferred to the new facility in March 2020. The new GAP facility was officially opened in May 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic meant that the facility could not open to the public as expected. Instead, the program operated by appointment, under social distancing measures and enhanced hygiene protocols. Following an easing of COVID-19 restrictions, the GAP facility opened to the public in October 2020.

The facility is open Wednesday to Saturday, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. and other days by appointment. The facility has 27 permanent greyhound kennels and an additional five overflow kennels, which house the program's socialisation and assessment dogs. There is also an ability to provide short-term emergency accommodation for greyhounds. It was initially reported that the facility had the capacity for 54 greyhounds, two per kennel. However, Tasracing elects to house the greyhounds individually for health and safety reasons.

The acquisition of the new facility has allowed public direct access to greyhounds. Previously, adoptions were facilitated through meet and greet days at various locations throughout the state. It has enhanced GAP's ability to prepare the greyhound for pet life. A lounge room has been established for the greyhounds to spend time in. There is a station wagon onsite so that the greyhound can be trained to enter and exit the vehicle. The new facility enables GAP to welcome community groups to the facility. Groups such as the Parkside Foundation visit GAP weekly and socialise with the greyhounds and assist the GAP staff in walking and grooming the dogs.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, there was a specific set of questions there. I know the background to GAP and many members of this committee will -

Ms HOWLETT - We're very proud of the GAP facility and what it's doing -

Ms O'CONNOR - The question was, you can see from the annual report that 259 dogs were rehomed in the last financial year. A proportion of them would have been through GAP and a proportion would have been through the wonderful Brightside and the work of Emma Haswell. The question was, you have 27 kennels, more dogs needing rehoming because of changes, which is a good thing, short of closing this nasty industry down completely. But what improvements -

Ms HOWLETT - Well that won't occur, Ms O'Connor, I can assure you. It will not occur.

Ms O'CONNOR - Be that on your head, because -

Ms HOWLETT - It will be on my head, because I will not close down this industry.

Ms O'CONNOR - That they've banned it in most places in this world.

Ms HOWLETT - Well I won't be doing it.

Ms O'CONNOR - Even in the United States - well, shame on you. What plans do you have to hire more staff, extend the kennel facilities and improve the facility? That was the question.

Ms HOWLETT - As I was stating before, Ms O'Connor -

Ms O'CONNOR - No, you're just reading from your brief. I want the answer.

Ms HOWLETT - I'll give you the exact answer if you would care to listen.

Ms O'CONNOR - I've listened patiently for a long time.

Ms HOWLETT - The transition to the new facility has seen an increase in staffing from 2.5 FTEs to 6.6 FTEs. Tasracing has allocated funding to expand the GAP facility. Improvements will include the addition of a new kennel block, an administration block, a new car park, as well as new signage. Design of the new kennel block is yet to be finalised, however, it is expected to house approximately 20 greyhounds. The new kennel block will include rehab kennels for dogs recovering from medical procedures as well. Paul, would you like to add to that?

Mr ERIKSSON - Yes minister, thank you. I can advise, Ms O'Connor, that our assets and facilities manager and the animal welfare manager and the GAP manager are actually out this morning with the engineers at GAP, doing the final approval of the design for those new facilities. In relation to your questions about staffing, we have been going through a fairly significant period of transformation in GAP. Moving it from a facility which was a licensed person to a non-licensed person.

As you would be aware, we appointed a new GAP manager, who was an independent, unlicensed person in Ms Lianne Salerno, in April 2021. Ms Salerno came from Greyhound Racing Victoria where she was an investigative steward welfare inspector. She has a strong background in animal health and welfare and also in leadership and business management, which is what we need as the manager of GAP.

In April 2021, we commenced a review of the GAP structure, which is what we needed to do. We looked at the requirements and it resulted in a number of changes and that was to put on a GAP office manager, a dedicated person to look after the administrative requirements of the animal and to implement kennel management software. We also wanted to put on a behaviour and assessment trainer.

Our challenge is that we have not been able to source a behaviour and assessment trainer. In the meantime, we are using the services of an expert behaviourist from Western Australia, who video conferences to assess the dogs and provide direction on their behaviour modification plans.

At the moment we have 12 greyhounds in the 27-odd that are currently undergoing behaviour training and modification. Two of those dogs have been in GAP greater than 12 months. If you look at our annual report you will see that we have changed substantially the way we have processed. While we have worked through the welfare rules we have also held those welfare rules regarding euthanasia accountable to GAP. The failed assessment on behaviour modifications has reduced substantially, especially in the last three years, where we've gone from, and I quote, '2014-15 33, 2018 - 18, 6, 3, 1' . GAP needs to set the standard.

One challenge is moving dogs through and dealing with the behaviour modification. We are the only facility in Australia which doesn't prequalify dogs and which accepts dogs back. So if a dog doesn't fit the owner for any reason - lifestyle change, birth of a child and it doesn't get on with the dog - whatever it is, GAP will accept that back. That holds GAP to a higher standard.