Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, last week celebrated animal welfare champion, Emma Haswell, posted a disturbing account to her 80 000 Facebook followers and she said:
Last night I had a message from someone I know. She was sitting in a waiting room at the vet when a trainer came in with a greyhound who'd broken his or her leg on the trial track. The broken bone was protruding through the skin and the leg was bleeding. When the trainer, one of Tasmania's largest, was told he'd have to pay an out-of-hours fee for a consultation and euthanasia, he angrily grabbed the dog by the collar and dragged him or her out to the trailer, front feet in the air, the dog crying and whimpering in pain. He threw the dog into the trailer and left.
Minister, we understand the trainer, Anthony Bullock, took the injured and distressed dog home, left it in extreme pain overnight and returned to the vet the next day to have it killed. Emma Haswell spent 24 hours trying to save the dog's life. She tracked down the trainer, contacted Tasracing and offered to take the dog, care for it and re-home it, to no avail.
Minister, these gentle dogs are clearly still being treated as waste products, despite your Government's greyhound recovery rebate scheme and Tasracing's no-kill policy. What details of the incident can you share with the committee?
Ms HOWLETT - Thank you, Ms O'Connor. I am aware of the incident at the Launceston Greyhound Racing Club trials on 23 November 2021. I've been advised that a greyhound was injured during a trial session. The greyhound was examined by a vet and euthanised on 24 November 2021. This matter is currently under investigation. As you know it's inappropriate for me to provide any further comment on this matter.
Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, we understand ORI is investigating, as is the RSPCA. Why hasn't Mr Bullock been suspended during the investigation? Is it because Mr Bullock is one of Tasmania's' largest trainers, who often runs three, 10, or 20 dogs on a night in a race?
Ms HOWLETT - Ms O'Connor, as you're aware this is scrutiny of Tasracing, not the Office of Racing Integrity -
Ms O'CONNOR - I do not think you need to remind me of that because it is within Tasracing's orbit. It happened after a Tasracing meet.
Ms HOWLETT - I am well aware of what occurred and this matter is under investigation and I cannot comment any further on that. Paul, I am not sure if you would like to add to it?
Ms O'CONNOR - It would be good to understand why Mr Bullock has not been suspended while the investigation is underway. Also, we would like to know what the dog's name is.
Mr ERIKSSON - Ms O'Connor, I cannot recall the dog's name. I will apologise for that.
Ms HOWLETT - Ta Bernard.
Mr ERIKSSON - Ta Bernard, thank you, minister. In relation to Mr Bullock's suspension, there is no scope in the rules for that suspension whilst there is an investigation and, secondly, there is an animal welfare matter. If the individual was suspended then he would need to reassign his dogs which would create a significant problem.
Ms O'CONNOR - We would argue that there's potentially a problem for those dogs now. Mr Bullock had 20 dogs running in Launceston last night and has a further 29 running this weekend in Devonport and Hobart. This is the same Mr Bullock who in 2017 was fined for giving his dog arsenic. Do you think these dogs are safe, minister?
Ms HOWLETT - That is not a question that I am going to answer.
Ms O'CONNOR - Why not?
Ms HOWLETT - A lot of trainers in all three codes look after their animals incredibly well.
Ms O'CONNOR - That is not the point.
Ms HOWLETT - I am not going to comment on Mr Bullock's case that is before the Office of Racing Integrity.
Ms O'CONNOR - This is a trainer who took a squealing, agonised dog home for the night because he did not want to pay an out of hours fee.
Ms HOWLETT - The matter is under investigation. I am not going to provide any comments on that matter. A report will be issued once the investigation concludes.
Ms O'CONNOR - When?
Ms HOWLETT - I cannot give you a date on when the investigation will conclude, but as soon as it concludes we will have a report and we will share that report.
Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, I want to take you back to the Mowbray vet incident. The witness to that, as reported by The Examiner, was Rachel Spillane, who runs the Border Collie Rescue, Rehome and Sanctuary Tasmania. She told The Examiner she was, shocked when told by the owner that the greyhound had a broken leg and was to be euthanased. She said it was a compound fracture, the bone protruding through the skin and some blood was on the floor at the man's feet. 'I was horrified.' She tells the story of the man marching the dog outside and she says:
He was walking as fast as he possibly could, with the dog scrambling, walking really fast behind him. He walked straight over to the fence, between the vet and the shopping centre car park, dropped down underneath the fence and dragged the dog with him. I couldn't see where he was going. The next moment I heard this God-awful scream, cry, squeal from the dog and I just started to head out the door when the vet staff reappeared and said that he'd thrown the dog into the back of the trailer.
Minister, under the Animal Welfare Act 1993, cruelty is:
A person must not do any act, or admit to do any duty which causes, or is likely to cause unreasonable and unjustifiable pain, or suffering to an animal.
That includes driving, conveying, carrying, or packing an animal in a manner, or position, or in circumstances that subjects, or subjected to unreasonable and unjustifiable pain, or suffering.
Minister, can we have your assurance at this table that the investigation being undertaken by the Office of Racing Integrity, in conjunction with the RSPCA, as I understand it, will be rigorous, hands-off, independent and that the investigators won't be afraid to charge Mr Bullock, if necessary, even though he basically props up the greyhound racing industry because of the number of dogs he runs?
Ms HOWLETT - I thank Ms O'Connor for her question. Tasracing considers the welfare of racing animals to be of paramount importance and has in place rules, policies and other strategies to enhance animal welfare outcomes. Greyhound industry participants are animal lovers -
Ms O'CONNOR - Beg your pardon, you have just - you cannot say that in a blanket manner.
CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, please, you've asked the question.
Ms HOWLETT - The Government, Tasracing and the Office of Racing Integrity and industry participants are continually working to improve greyhound welfare in Tasmania. Fewer greyhound litters are being bred. Fewer dogs are being euthanased, and more dogs are being rehomed than ever before. The Government is spending a record amount of money into animal welfare.
Ms O'CONNOR - Do you want to answer the question?
Ms HOWLETT - Euthanasia rates have been steadily decreasing over recent years. In 2015-16, 678 greyhounds were euthanased, but with measures put in place by the industry this had decreased to 40 in 2020-21.
Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, you didn't answer the question which was in relation to the rigour and independence of ORI and the RSPCA's investigation. I challenge you on that statement which you've made at the Estimates table, that greyhound racing participants are animal lovers. Of course, many are, but you can't say that as a blanket statement when I've given you evidence of Mr Bullock mistreating an injured dog and showing no love for that dog.
Can you go back to the question I asked? We need an assurance that the investigation by ORI and the RSPCA will be rigorous and independent and not cowed by the fact that Mr Bullock basically props up the greyhound racing industry in this state?
Ms HOWLETT - Ms O'Connor, I have full confidence that that process will take place, but I am not going to comment any further on the case. As you've said, the Office of Racing Integrity and the RSPCA are investigating the case and I'm not going to comment any more.
Ms O'CONNOR - Can I just take you back to your statement then, that greyhound racing participants are animal lovers? Do you accept that there are some people in the greyhound industry who are not there because they love animals? They are there to make money?
Ms HOWLETT - The majority of people that I know who are participants in all three codes actually are animal lovers and treat their animals exceptionally well.
Ms O'CONNOR - Not Mr Bullock, hey?
Ms HOWLETT - I am not talking about Mr Bullock. I am not commenting on Mr Bullock. As I said, the case is under investigation.
Ms O'CONNOR - There is a witness to how that dog was treated.
Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, back to the Mowbray incident. There is CCTV footage of the incident. We didn't have an assurance from you before, even though I asked twice for you to confirm that the ORI and RSPCA investigation would be thoroughly independent and rigorous. Can you confirm that the investigation will obtain the CCTV footage which allegedly shows Mr Bullock in the vet? Mr Eriksson's looking keen to answer the question.
Mr ERIKSSON - No, Ms O'Connor, I'm not looking keen but I'm quite happy to do so at the minister's direction.
Ms O'CONNOR - I misrepresented you. Sorry.
Mr ERIKSSON - My understanding is that that CCTV footage has been secured and other CCTV footage is being looked at. Again, I am not being made aware of the details of the investigation. As the minister said, I have full confidence that ORI in conjunction with the RSPCA will appropriately investigate this matter.
Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Mr Eriksson. Minister, we asked about the dead dog's name earlier and I didn't quite catch it. Did you say Ta Bernard? We can't find any record of the dog although we are aware Mr Bullock owns eight dogs from that litter?
Ms HOWLETT - That was the information that I had, the name of the greyhound. Yes, that's our understanding.
Ms O'CONNOR - Mr Eriksson said that under the rules of racing there's no capacity to suspend a trainer during an investigation. This is a question for the minister. Given that there's a whole lot of codes, whether it be sport, in business, sometimes in government, if a person is under investigation they're suspended. Are you prepared to have a look at the rules of racing to give ORI or Tasracing greater capacity to suspend a person who has done potentially the wrong thing during an investigation? This relates specifically to a most serious accusation of cruelty towards animals.
Ms HOWLETT - Thank you, Ms O'Connor. We always work under the national rules in each code, whether it be greyhound, thoroughbred, or harness. We're guided by the national rules and we will continue to do so.
Ms O'CONNOR - You're not going to have a look at the rules of racing?
Ms HOWLETT - Mr Monteith has started his investigation into the Office of Racing Integrity. He will be looking at a broad range of items, including making sure that we are following the national rules.
Mr ERIKSSON - If I may. Ms O'Connor, the rules of racing have two levels: the national rules, which we support fully, and local rules, of which we have a reasonable number in greyhounds and are, in fact, stricter than most mainland states.
Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you for that but there's no capacity to suspend.
Mr ERIKSSON - Not directly. The Director of Racing is able to put a suspension in place but will evaluate that on the basis, as I said before, of animal welfare, capacity to manage the dogs and the nature of the incident. I'm not aware of the details of the investigation that is being undertaken by ORI, just that it is being undertaken. They have been talking to a wide range of people. My understanding is that they have also exhumed the animal to do -
Ms O'CONNOR - Ta Bernard.
Ms HOWLETT - Pardon?
Ms O'CONNOR - Ta Bernard.
Mr ERIKSSON - As I said, I'm not aware of the name of the dog and I apologise for that. I just don't know.
Ms O'CONNOR - It had a name.
Mr ERIKSSON - It did have a name but I did not know its name. I'm quite happy to acknowledge that and that's a failure. In relation to the original question, the director does have some discretion, but in this instance I think he has looked at the initial part of the investigation and deemed that at this point it's not appropriate to suspend Mr Bullock. I'm putting, to some extent, words in the director's mouth. That's all that I really need to say.
There are a number of matters that are taken into account - animal welfare, natural justice, and how the investigation is proceeding - and I can't comment on behalf of the director apart from that.
Ms O'CONNOR - Can I ask a final question on this line because I have only asked three questions, Mr Ellis. Does the director of racing write a statement of reasons for taking the decision not to suspend an industry participant? Is there a record that justifies the decision not to suspend a person who was witnessed dragging a broken dog out of the vet's and throwing it into the back of the car?
Mr ERIKSSON - That would be at the director's discretion. My understanding is that the director will be drafting a full report in line with the investigation and in respect to the RSPCA's investigation. I have confidence that this investigation will be carried out appropriately.