Speculation is mounting that NSW Premier Mike Baird will back down on his controversial greyhound racing ban in the face of mounting internal pressure and a public backlash.
Mr Baird is widely tipped to announce the backflip following a cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
The move is expected to offset a backlash from numerous Nationals MPs, who are reportedly considering unseating party leader and deputy premier Troy Grant if there isn’t a policy reversal.
The Nationals were due to hold a party meeting on Monday night.
The speculation comes as the latest Roy Morgan figures show the Baird Government has dropped behind Labor fir the first time in NSW.
The Baird Coalition government lost the two-party preferred lead 48.5 per cent to 51.5 per cent, which has increased its support by 2 percent since August.
Mr Baird still holds a narrow lead as Better Premier at 52.5 per cent, but his support has dropped 3.5 per cent. Opposition leader Luke Foley increased his support by the same margin to sit at 47.5 per cent.
Mr Baird returned from a week’s leave on Monday, but in his absence internal unrest and the relentless industry and tabloid media campaign against the ban has continued to ramp up.
Reversal as early as Tuesday
News Corp is reporting the Premier could announce a reversal of the ban as early as Tuesday, giving the industry another chance to reform itself.
The reports say the new policy would include beefed-up penalties for animal cruelty and a cap on the number of greyhounds the industry could breed.
Among the conditions of reversing the ban would be: a total life cycle management for all greyhounds born into the industry; a controlled breeding program limiting the number of greyhounds bred for racing in NSW to 2000 annually; a “zero tolerance” attitude towards animal cruelty with lifetime bans for live baiting; and strict standards to prevent injury to dogs.
Until now Mr Baird has stood firm on the ban, saying it was the right thing to do and the shutdown date of July 1, 2017 was “locked in”.
The government has been bracing for a beating at the ballot box in the upcoming by-election in the seat of Orange, where the ban has been hugely unpopular.
Mr Foley, who has been campaigning against the ban, said he supported a reversal but suggested people may be cynical about Mr Baird’s motives.
“The Premier has argued repeatedly for three months this is the matter of the greatest principle for him and he is not for turning.
“Well we’ll see. Is it to be simply a stay of execution to get Mr Baird and Mr Grant and the Nationals through a very difficult by-election on November 12?
“Perhaps the principles of saving his own skin and those of his National party allies in the Orange by-election is the most important principle to him.”
Mr Foley said he was awaiting more detail, before passing judgement on any change in policy.
But Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi said any backdown would do irreversible political damage to the Premier.
“If he does he will lose all credibility,” she said.
“True, strong leaders have to make decisions that are right – this was the right one to make.”
She said polls showed the majority of people were in favour of the ban.
It was announced after a damning Special Commission of Inquiry report found up to 68,000 greyhounds had been killed in the past 12 years because they were too slow or unable to race.
The report outlined shocking details of animal cruelty, including the widespread use of live-baiting.
Dog breeders ‘kicked in the guts’ long enough
Greyhound breeders said they had no knowledge of any possible reversal of the policy.
Geoff Rose from the Greyhound Breeders and Trainers Association said Mr Baird had not given any hint to the organisation of a backdown.
“No government representative [have] been in contact with us whatsoever, we haven’t heard anything,” he said.
“The two people running the show, Baird and Grant, did not want to listen to us.
“But on the news today I’m hearing they’re willing to negotiate and we’re quite willing to do that, we’ve been talking about that for a long time.”
Mr Rose said a backdown would be the right decision.
“I don’t see it as a backflip, I just see it as a common sense thing that should never have been done in the first place,” he said.
“But it’s common sense now that they have started to listen to the public.
“You can only kick the public in the guts so many times before they stand up and fight.”
– with ABC, AAP