Mike Baird's greyhound backdown shows it's business as usual in NSW


Plenty of people will care little about the decision made by Premier Mike Baird this week to cave in on his pledge to end greyhound racing in NSW.

For most of the state the dogs are a curiosity at best; the sport is hardly at the centre of the state or national psyche.

But even the disinterested should be paying close attention to what's going on.

Something significant occurred this week that may influence the short-term future of NSW.

Premier Mike Baird (right) and Opposition Leader Luke Foley put political pragmatism before principles in the racing saga. Photo: James Brickwood

Premier Mike Baird (right) and Opposition Leader Luke Foley put political pragmatism before principles in the racing saga. Photo: James Brickwood

He was seen as something of an antidote to sleaze after coming to power following Barry O'Farrell's resignation over giving false evidence to the state's corruption body concerning the gift of a $3000 bottle of wine from a lobbyist.

Baird's charm, clean-cut nature and private sector background all helped to reinforce the suggestion that he was the antithesis of the usual, self-interested politician.

So too for Foley, who was elevated to Labor leader after the downfall of his predecessor John Robertson over penning a letter of a recommendation for a constituent, Man Haron Monis, later responsible for the Lindt cafe seige.

A member of the party's minority Left faction, Foley was presented as an antidote to the worst of the Labor Right faction culture that had spawned the likes of Eddie Obeid and Joe Tripodi.

He demonstrated his independence when he stared down unions over the issue of electricity prices and declared he had an open mind on privatisation of state assets.

At one point during last year's state election campaign it seemed that NSW had two leaders of genuine principle and conviction battling it out over the affairs of state.

It was tempting to see it as a period of renewal and hope after one marked by sleaze, corruption and scandal.

But if the greyhounds saga has achieved anything, it's shown that was a false dawn. Sadly, we appear to be back to business as usual in NSW.

Baird's craven backdown in the face of a media and industry campaign full of lies and distortion has exposed him in most people's minds as just another politician.

No leader is bigger than the fortunes of their own government, but Baird promised to be different. We have learnt he is unable to remain above the fray.

Foley's decision to oppose the greyhound racing ban smacked of rank political opportunism.

There was hard evidence of this, according to the Australian director of the respected animal welfare organisation Humane Society International, Verna Simpson.

As Simpson told Fairfax Media in July, Foley leant across the table during a meeting after the 2015 election and said: "I would love to end greyhound racing but it is Labor heartland."

Foley says he can't recall saying this. As an Opposition Leader desperately seeking traction, he can hardly be blamed for pouncing on an issue that allows him to go in to bat for "battlers" associated with the industry.

But on Simpson's account he, like Baird, has this time betrayed his personal beliefs for political advantage.

Foley has cited in his defence Labor's pledge that its members should seek to regulate industry "to the extent necessary to eliminate exploitation and other antisocial features in these fields". 

Yet he took to the 2015 election a policy to ban large-scale puppy farms and the sale of puppies from pet stores.

Five and a half years after a decaying Labor government was thrown out of office with the promise of a fresh approach, the electors of NSW are left thinking it's back to politics as usual.

Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised. It's NSW after all. But we have every reason to be deeply disappointed.