Greyhound racing industry hounded by claims of abuse

Trainer Garry Edwards with his greyhound Dee. Pictures: SYLVIA LIBER

Trainer Garry Edwards with his greyhound Dee. Pictures: SYLVIA LIBER

The greyhound racing industry has had its share of controversy over accusations of animal cruelty, doping and corruption, and now its future hangs in the balance.

The NSW parliamentary inquiry set up to investigate the financial relationship between the racing and betting industries, and claims of poor governance and animal abuse is due to release its final report this month - and it all comes down to money.

"We have found that the economic viability of racing greyhounds is in decline for the average owner or trainer in NSW," committee chairman Robert Borsak said.

The final report will reveal results of financial modelling designed to reinvigorate the industry.

Greyhound Racing NSW chief executive Brent Hogan said the industry had foregone $154 million since the privatisation of the TAB and was leaking $15 million a year to subsidise the other two codes of racing.

"It is not equitable and arguably, it is not in line with the original intent of Parliament when the TAB was sold," Mr Hogan said.

"If the current arrangements are allowed to persist, it is our view that participants will migrate to other states and it is likely that over the next five to 10 years, up to half of the clubs in this state will close."

But some animal welfare groups are unsympathetic - gunning for the industry's demise.

They claim cruelty and neglect is rife within the industry and the inquiry ignored their concerns.

Evidence of animal cruelty and doping in the industry was presented but the committee's chairman, Shooters and Fishers MP Robert Borsak, said he believed the problems were not widespread.

"We found that the incidence of greyhound cruelty and neglect is minimal, and believe that on the whole, greyhound owners and trainers take great care and pride in their dogs," Mr Borsak said after the first report was released earlier this year.

The inquiry's deputy chairman, Greens MP John Kaye, disagreed.

"The committee glossed over critical evidence on the mistreatment of dogs, loopholes in drug testing and criticisms of the industry's governance," he said.

"Greyhound Racing NSW dodged a bullet. None of the reforms go to the issue of a perverse industry management structure that combines commercial and regulatory functions in one body.

"The recommendations will do very little to bring down the appalling toll of animals killed and mistreated. This is an opportunity lost. The industry will continue to be plagued by a culture of bullying, secrecy and cronyism."

Mr Kaye said the issues of export of greyhounds, live baiting, inadequate animal welfare standards and the absence of lifetime tracking were all put in the "too hard basket".

The committee made a number of recommendations to address operational issues such as consultation with industry stakeholders and the independence of the greyhound racing integrity auditor. It also recommended that licensed kennels be inspected at least once every two years and called for a review of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act to ensure live baiting claims could be properly investigated.

The inquiry said the state government should consider expanding the powers of the Independent Commission Against Corruption to include the industry.

Greyhound Racing NSW has released new policies and plans in the past few years, particularly regarding animal welfare.

In partnership with Greyhound Racing Victoria, it adopted a joint animal welfare strategy this year, aimed at improving in all areas of greyhound welfare including breeding, racing and rehoming as well as participant education.

Last month, it bought a 3.5-acre Wyee property to hold up to 120 dogs.

The $1.45-million facility was a kennel and commercial canine boarding business and "will provide the best facilities for post-racing greyhounds and the greatest opportunity for them to be rehomed", Mr Hogan said.

But to move forward, the committee found drastic changes were needed to the structure of the industry and sources of revenue.

Returns to trainers and owners were not covering costs, which led to the loss of quality dogs to Victoria and made some of the existing clubs and tracks unviable.

Mr Hogan agreed, saying the industry was not viable in the short to medium term and certainly not sustainable in the longer term.

"It's about financial viability, everything flows on from that issue," Mr Hogan said this week. "From the participants, our capacity to invest in venues, to our capacity to invest more in greyhound welfare, it all stems from the financial model in place.

"We are not asking for handouts, all we are looking for is that the industry gets paid according to contributions we make."

The committee recommended the Treasurer provide financial modelling of the economic impact on state revenue and the greyhound industry of a number of "scenarios or combinations" that reflected the best outcomes for the future of the industry.

It will report the financial modelling and make recommendations by the month's end, with the NSW government's reply due on September 29.

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