New South Wales Premier Mike Baird says he ditched a ban on greyhounds because he “got it wrong” and believes the majority of the community wants the industry to have a second chance.
NSW Cabinet ministers on Tuesday morning officially signed off on a plan to reverse the greyhound racing ban.
The ministers took a new policy to the party room that will mean fewer races, fewer tracks and a suite of tougher animal welfare measures.
Mr Baird said while the community was rightly horrified by the findings, they also wanted the industry to be given one more chance.
He brushed off suggestions that polls had shown a majority of people in New South Wales supported the ban and he was actually listening to a vocal minority.
“So it’s clear in hindsight as we reflect on this we got it wrong – I got it wrong, the Cabinet got it wrong, the government got it wrong,” he said.
Facing the cameras to explain the backdown, Mr Baird denied the move had shredded his credibility and his reputation as a conviction politician.
But he acknowledged that he would cop criticism.
“People will call me all types of names, they really will,” Mr Baird said.
“They will criticise me for getting it wrong, that’s human. I mean, I’m human.
“Surely no one is infallible, no governments are infallible.”
‘The mother of all backflips’
NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley, who has been lobbying for the ban to be reversed, said Mr Baird’s credibility was in tatters.
“Let’s be honest, Mr Baird has preached at us all for three months, he’s a lay preacher who told us that greyhound racing was morally evil activity that he’d rub out,” Mr Foley said.
“And today the mother of all backflips. We know he doesn’t believe in saving greyhound racing.”
Mr Baird and Deputy Premier Troy Grant said after 15 months a Special Commission of Inquiry conducted by Justice McHugh had convinced them in July that the industry could not reform.
But they said that since then, Dr John Keniry had consulted with the industry and the convinced them that the industry had “a real appetite for reform.”
Mr Baird and Mr Grant were then forced to admit that they still did not have Dr Keniry’s report in hand and had made the decision based on a “personal briefing” from him.
The chief executive of the Greyhound Breeders, Owners and Trainers Association, Brenton Scott, said the industry was committed to reform, including “zero tolerance” of animal cruelty.
“We need to put our greyhounds first,” he said.
“And we need to understand what happens to our greyhounds will be reflected upon by the community.
“There is no evidence that suggests that wrongdoing is part of systemic culture or part of the activities of the vast majority of decent, hard-working participants within this industry.
“It would be wrong to penalise on a collective punishment basis the majority, for the sins of a few.”
Grant avoids threat to Nationals leadership
The change in policy means Nationals leader and Deputy Premier Troy Grant avoided a threatened leadership spill in Monday night’s party room meeting.
Mr Grant said as a result of feedback he now accepted the industry could reform.
“I’ve spoken to the industry, in Brenton Scott [CEO of the Greyhound Breeders, Owners and Trainers Association] and he has given us assurances,” he said.
Nationals Bathurst MP Paul Toole said Mr Grant would continue to lead the party.
“Troy Grant is out leader and … has been doing a great job,” he said.
“What we are seeing today is a very strong and united party that is ensuring that we get on and represent people living in the bush.”
He said the transitional taskforce, which was gathered from the industry, had helped drive the government’s decision.
“What he’s actually come back and said is … there is a desperate need from these people to actually want to make the necessary changes to ensure that the industry can continue.”
Tough penalties with emphasis on animal welfare: government
The government proposal will put in place tough penalties with a greater emphasis on animal welfare and dealing with cruelty through more funding for RSPCA and other groups, and increased funding for rehoming capabilities in NSW.
No new tax dollars will be given for track upgrades but the industry will fund this through the sale of some tracks.
An oversight body will be tasked over the next few months to draw up a new governance, regulatory structure and all the finer details.
That body will include representatives from RSPCA and the Greyhound Breeders, Owners and Trainers Association and other eminent individuals.
Ministers have told the ABC the new deal will have conditions attached and some of the key changes will be the same as those proposed by the greyhound industry, including:
- Capping breeding to 2,000
- Reducing the number of tracks
- Reducing the number of race events
- Whole-of-life dog cycle management
- $1,500 bond for every dog bred
Former NSW premier Morris Iemma will be appointed chair of the oversight body that will draw up a new regulatory and governance framework for the industry.