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Australia: New South Wales Government Announces Greyhound Racing Ban

On July 7, 2016, the New South Wales premier, Mike Baird, announced that a state ban on greyhound racing would come into effect on July 1, 2017, making New South Wales (NSW) the first Australian state to ban the sport.  (Press Release, NSW Government, Greyhound Racing to Be Shut Down in NSW (July 7, 2016), NSW Department of Justice website.)  The announcement coincided with the release of a report by the Special Commission of Inquiry into the Greyhound Racing Industry in NSW, which “found overwhelming evidence of systemic animal cruelty, including mass greyhound killings and live baiting.“  (Id.)  Live baiting “refers to the practice of using live animals for the purpose of training greyhounds.”  (Is the Use of Live Baits and Lures in Greyhound Racing Illegal?, RSPCA [Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals] Australia Knowledgebase website (last visited July 11, 2016).)  It is illegal in all Australian states and territories.  (Id.)

The Special Commission of Inquiry was established in May 2015 to investigate the greyhound racing industry due to reports of widespread animal cruelty.  (Special Commission of Inquiry into the Greyhound Racing Industry in NSW, NSW Department of Justice website (last updated July 7, 2016); Special Commission of Inquiry into the Greyhound Racing Industry in NSW: Fact Sheet, NSW Department of Justice website (last visited July 11, 2016).)

Current  Legislation

The Greyhound Racing Act 2009 (NSW) established an industry governance body, Greyhound Racing New South Wales (GRNSW), with roles that include controlling, supervising, and regulating greyhound racing in the state; registering greyhound racing clubs and tracks, as well as owners, bookmakers, and other persons associated with greyhound racing; and initiating, developing, and implementing policies related to the promotion, strategic development, and welfare of the greyhound racing industry in the state.  (Greyhound Racing Act 2009 (NSW) s 9, NSW legislation website.)  The Act also established an integrity auditor to oversee the functions of the industry body.  (Id. pt 3 div 3.)

Key Findings of the Special Commission of Inquiry

The Commission received 804 general submissions and 59 responses to issues papers that it published on the breeding of greyhounds, the social contribution of greyhound racing, and governance of the industry in New South Wales.  It also “examined 43 witnesses in 11 days of private hearings and 26 witnesses in 10 days of public hearings.”  (Michael McHugh, 1 Special Commission of Inquiry into the Greyhound Racing Industry in New South Wales: Report 2 (June 16, 2016).)

The Commission found that “of the 97,783 greyhounds that were bred in New South Wales in the last 12 years, the evidence suggests that somewhere between 48,891 and 68,448 dogs were killed because they were considered too slow to pay their way or were unsuitable for racing.”  (Id. at 1.)  It also considered that “the body charged with the governance of the industry has not been able in the past, and is unlikely in the future, to ‘appropriately’ address the problem of wastage.”  (Id. at 2.)

With respect to live baiting, the Commission found that

10-20% of trainers engaged in the barbaric practice of live baiting, where a vocal minority of trainers believed live baiting was necessary even after the Four Corners [Australian investigative journalism/current affairs television program, which reported on the industry in February 2015] exposure and where large sections of the industry must have known that live baiting was occurring but did nothing to stop it.  (Id. at 6.)

Related Reports

The issues associated with greyhound racing have been the subject of public and government discussion in New South Wales in recent years.  Earlier reports included two by a parliamentary select committee in 2014 and a statutory review of the Greyhound Racing Act 2009 (NSW), completed in May 2015.  (Select Committee on Greyhound Racing in NSW, Greyhound Racing in New South Wales: First Report (Mar. 2014); Select Committee on Greyhound Racing in NSW, Greyhound Racing in New South Wales: Second Report (Oct. 2014); NSW Government, Five Year Statutory Review of the Greyhound Racing Act 2009: Review Report (May 2015).)

Implementation of the Ban

The New South Wales government will develop and introduce legislation to ban greyhound racing.  Other aspects of the process will include:

  • The transition to shutdown will be 12 months; to allow appropriate management of animal welfare and transitions for industry participants, greyhound racing will be permitted until 1 July 2017.
  • An administrator will be appointed to run Greyhound Racing NSW (GRNSW) during the transition to shutdown, after which GRNSW will be dissolved.
  • Protection of animal welfare, humane treatment and minimisation of animal deaths will be the NSW Government’s priority through this transition and Government has engaged the RSPCA NSW to assist with this.
  • Assistance will be available for those who currently make a living from the industry.
  • The Government’s arrangements with wagering operators will also be addressed in this plan. (Special Commission of Inquiry into the Greyhound Racing Industry in NSW: Fact Sheet, supra, at 1.)

Reaction to the Ban

The government’s announcement of a ban has has been widely reported and discussed by the Australian media.  The decision has been attacked by those involved in the industry and has resulted in considerable political debate.  The national Greyhound Breeders, Owners and Trainers Association says that it it has tens of millions of dollars to fight the ban and has hired a prominent lawyer “to head its legal battle and [the Association] warns the issue could bring down the Baird government.”  (Greyhound Racing Ban: Breeders Say They Have Millions of Dollars to Fight Government, GUARDIAN (July 10, 2016).)  The Australian Workers Union has also raised concerns, stating “[t]housands of people are going to be put out of work and the majority of those will be in regional NSW where the unemployment rate is twice what it is in metropolitan areas.”  (Id.)

The Labor Party, currently the main opposition party in New South Wales, has said that it will repeal the ban should it be elected to government.  The leader of the party in the state, Luke Foley, called the decision “elitist” and said that “the ‘overwhelming majority’ of people in the industry had only done the right thing.”  He would push for the industry to be cleaned up, rather than shut down.  (Labor Vows to Repeal Greyhound Racing Ban as Backlash Mounts, GUARDIAN (July 10, 2016).)  Several members of the governing National Party have spoken out against the ban, and there are suggestions that they could cross the floor to vote against the legislation in the state Parliament once it is introduced.  (Greyhound Racing Ban: Grafton Carnival Continues Amid Political Stoushes, ABC NEWS (July 11, 2016).)

Meanwhile, the head of the RSPCA in New South Wales, Steven Coleman, called the decision to ban greyhound racing “monumental” and said that he hopes it “reverberates around the country, because the only way to stop live-baiting is to end greyhound racing.”  (Gemma Najem & Sarah McPhee, Greyhound Racing Ban ‘Monumental’: RSPCA, NEWS.COM.AU (July 7, 2016).)  Other animal welfare and adoption groups also welcomed the ban.  (Id.)

Following the announcement, the Australian Capital Territory Chief Minister, Andrew Barr, stated that his government would consider the findings of the Commission’s report before announcing a process to ban greyhound racing in the territory.  (Henry Belot, ACT Government Says it Can No Longer Support Greyhound Racing After NSW Decision, CANBERRA TIMES (July 8, 2016).)  However, the governments of Victoria, South Australia, and Queensland have said that greyhound racing would not be banned in their states.  (Melissa Davey, New South Wales to Ban Greyhound Racing from Next Year After Live-Baiting Scandal, GUARDIAN (July 6, 2016).)

Greyhound Racing in Other Countries

The Commission noted in its report that it is aware of only eight countries that currently host a commercial greyhound racing industry:

  • Australia;
  • Ireland;
  • Macau (Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China);
  • Mexico;
  • New Zealand;
  • United Kingdom (England, Scotland and Wales);
  • United States (limited to five states); and
  • Vietnam.  (McHugh, supra, at 17.)

However, it also noted that greyhound racing takes place in several other countries, although not on a professional or commercial basis.  (Id. at 18.)