I speak in debate on the Greyhound Racing Prohibition Bill 2016. This bill prohibits the keeping of greyhounds for the purposes of racing in New South Wales as of 1 July next year and makes it an offence to race greyhounds anywhere within the State. It also makes it an offence to conduct a meeting for the purposes of greyhound racing or to bet on greyhound racing or to operate a greyhound trial track in New South Wales.
Like most members in this place, I have received countless emails, phone calls and visits to my office over the past few weeks including from some four-legged constituents about the Government's proposed ban on greyhound racing in New South Wales.
I begin by sincerely thanking each and every one of those residents who took the time to reach out and share their views. Many of them told me it was the first time they had contacted their local member of Parliament but that they were moved to do so because they felt deeply about this issue. This is a highly emotive and complex issue, with proponents and opponents of the ban both passionately putting their case.
What is clear is that, whether Parliament chooses to ban greyhound racing or reform the industry, we can no longer turn a blind eye to the cruelty revealed in the media and in the McHugh report.
We must put an end to the appalling practice of live-baiting, where animals are tied to mechanical lures to train and blood dogs; we must end the termination of tens of thousands of underperforming dogs in what is callously referred to as "wastage"; and we must put an end to the culture of cruelty that persists in the industry despite attempts to clean it up.
What is also clear is that if Parliament chooses to ban the industry we must act now to assist the communities and families impacted, to properly resource greyhound rescue organisations and the RSPCA, and to keep racetracks like Wentworth Park in public hands.
Animal welfare is at the heart of this debate. It is something that has motivated and moved me throughout my career.
I strongly believe that treating animals ethically and with dignity is vital to our wellbeing as a civilised society.
We must always strive to do our best when it comes to the way we treat animals—to care for the animals we share our homes with, to be respectful of the native wildlife all around us and above all else to be good custodians of our planet. Gandhi once said that you can judge a country by the way it treats its animals. I am the first to admit that this is not a simple issue.
We cannot fall into the trap of saying that on one hand there are people who care about animal welfare and on the other hand there are people who support greyhound racing—it is not that simple.
I accept that animal welfare is just as important to a farmer who raises animals as it is to a family living with a dog in Summer Hill. Similarly, I accept that animal welfare is important to many of the owners and trainers of racing greyhounds even though I disagree with the industry.
I do not doubt that many animals within the industry are respected, loved and cared for. It is unfair to tar all trainers, greyhound owners and opponents of the ban with the same brush, but it is also unfair to dismiss those supporting the ban as elitists or radicals. This is a complex debate requiring complex consideration and the simple truth is that there are no simple answers. The fact remains that the McHugh report details significant abuses that must be heeded. What is clear is that both sides of this place categorically condemn animal cruelty.
Over the course of the past few weeks I have been visited by many owners of rescued greyhounds undoing the damage caused by the industry. I have listened to haunting stories about the trauma inflicted on these dogs and I have had the chance to meet some of them.
Natalie and her greyhound, Rosie, dropped by my office to visit a few weeks ago. Rosie is a beautiful, little, black greyhound, gentle and open-hearted. She has an unusual past for a greyhound. She was the runt of her litter and was bottle-fed as a puppy. She only ran five races and ran dead last or close to last every single time. She was handed over to the Greyhound Adoption Program and experienced two failed adoptions before spending some time as a support dog at the John Morony Correctional Centre in Windsor. After a period spent as part of a cell-dog program with female inmates, she found Natalie and Natalie gave her the second chance we know many dogs do not get.
I have listened to stories about dogs who seemed calm and perfectly fine until they were triggered by something that reminded of them of their time in the industry—dogs who are fearful and anxious and require months and years of patient retraining and compassion; the happy, self-assured dog who would cower and yelp when someone lit a cigarette because the trainer who had beaten it had smoked; or the dogs left permanently injured and affected after racing accidents, including lacerations, amputations, skull and bone fractures and muscle injuries.
My constituents have also raised with me the media reports of mass graves and the destruction of "wastage" in the industry.
This kind of abuse cannot be tolerated. It is clear that things cannot continue as they have.
I have seen something like this before. I worked for former Prime Minister Julia Gillard when she suspended the live export industry following similarly ghastly revelations of animal cruelty on Four Corners. The program exposed systemic cruelty, with three-quarters of Indonesian abattoirs processing Australian cattle failing to meet international standards. In response, former Prime Minister Gillard and the then Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Joe Ludwig, took the decision to suspend live exports until safeguards could be put in place to ensure the humane treatment of those animals. This was the correct response—one that I note was steadfastly opposed by the Coalition at the time.
We must remember there had been precedent—former Prime Minister John Howard suspended live exports to Egypt in 2006—but still the Government weathered criticism from the live export industry. I recall hundreds of emails to Prime Minister Gillard's office, ferocious media attacks and accusations. Then, as now, there was intense feeling on both sides. Former Prime Minister Gillard and former Prime Minister Howard were keenly attuned to the fact that animal welfare must be balanced against the livelihoods of people, particularly those in regional areas. They acted to ensure that there were substantial industry packages to assist farmers and to protect livelihoods.
The Gillard Labor Government provided a $5 million welfare contingency fund for cattle stranded in export holding yards, the $30 million Live Exports Assistance Package for primary producers and related businesses, a subsidised interest rate on new loans for affected businesses, grants for obtaining financial advice, and a Northern Territory Government freeze on pastoral lease rents.
The Government must take a page from that book and deliver a strong, fair and clear industry package to help those impacted by any ban. I share my colleagues' concerns that the Government's commitments in this respect have been vague and minimal at best.
Whether or not you support the ban, we must not underestimate the devastation for families told that their business and way of life is to be taken away in less than a year and with no clear sense of what transitional support is going to be provided.
There is confusion about what support might be offered, and this Government has weakened many of the other supports for people whose careers are in transition—including ripping $1.7 billion out of TAFE, sacking 4,600 TAFE teachers and flagging 27 TAFE campuses for closure.
Again, whether or not you support the ban, it is hard to overstate the rank irresponsibility of this Government's decision to leave working families and regional communities in limbo.
My constituents have also called for greyhound rescue organisations to be funded properly, especially the RSPCA but including the Greyhound Adoption Project, Greyhound Rescue and others. This is the only way to ensure that those dogs who can be adopted are given a second chance, just like Rosie was.
I note that the Victorian Labor Government announced recently that it would ban the sale of puppies and kittens in pet shops. At the same time it has committed $5 million in funding to the RSPCA to assist with investigations and rehoming of animals. The Baird Government must act similarly to protect as many dogs left behind by a potential industry closure as is possible.
Organisations like the RSPCA do amazing work on the smell of an oily rag. While I am sure they welcome the news of a ban, they need proper financial support to meet the challenges ahead. When the news of the ban was announced, many of my constituents were understandably sceptical of the Premier's newfound passion for animal rights.
After all, this Premier has refused to join his Victorian counterpart in banning puppy farms and restricting the sale of puppies and kittens in pet shops, he has not acted on the insidious practice of testing cosmetics on animals, his Government walked away from better regulation of free range eggs to improve the quality of life for chickens, and, perhaps most importantly, this Premier is responsible for proposed land-clearing laws that would have a catastrophic impact on biodiversity and native fauna.
Many inner west residents think instead that the Premier has his eye on Wentworth Park and other racetracks across the State. That is fair enough, because this Premier has form when it comes to selling off public assets and public land to developers—mass rezonings along the Sydenham to Bankstown corridor, the Bays Precinct and the Parramatta Road strategy, for example.
Premier Baird is turning the inner west into a developer's paradise, no matter what the impacts are on the community or the environment.
If further prove was needed, as the Hon. Mick Veitch noted in the other place, just weeks before the announcement that the greyhound industry would be shut down, the community trust board of Wentworth Park was disbanded and a handpicked administrator installed, only for Wentworth Park to appear on UrbanGrowth's plans for the Bays Precinct shortly thereafter.
Labor moved an amendment in the other place to ensure that the racetracks would remain in public hands, and disappointingly The Greens and the Coalition voted together to block it—an interesting alliance given The Greens' regular campaign rhetoric about retaining public assets. The Greens voted against the protections afforded by Labor's amendment despite claiming to protect public lands. A quick Google search has revealed that The Greens' public lands policy is "under review". It would have to be under review given that The Greens have entrusted the Premier with Wentworth Park on nothing more than a wink and a nod—Premier Baird has never seen public land that he would not like to sell.
Last week the Premier chose to make hay of my response to constituents in this place but he was selective in what he quoted. It is true that I am a passionate advocate of animal welfare and that the evidence in the McHugh report is clear. I do not support greyhound racing and I fear for the welfare of the thousands of dogs caught up in the industry. But I also said that we need a transition package that is fair, clear and immediate if we are to ensure that the communities and families affected by this ban are supported through what will be a very difficult time.
This Government has failed to deliver that. We must act to resource properly the organisations that are managing the adoption of greyhounds and preserve these racetracks as public land.
I have listened to my constituents. I will continue to make the case strongly for animal welfare both in this Parliament and in my party room, of which I am a proud member.