Special Commission of inquiry into the Greyhound Racing Industry
In March 2015, the Special Commission of Inquiry into the Greyhound Racing Industry in NSW was established by the Governor of NSW, at the request of the NSW Premier. This followed the airing of a report by ABC's Four Corners which exposed the illegal practice of using live animals to train greyhounds – "live baiting" – by prominent greyhound trainers and industry participants in NSW, Queensland and Victoria. Former High Court Judge, the Honourable Michael McHugh AC QC, was appointed as Commissioner, with the Crown Solicitor assisting and Stephen Rushton SC and David Kell briefed as Counsel Assisting.
Under its Terms of Reference, the Commission is required to identify issues relating to the governance, integrity and animal welfare standards of the greyhound racing industry in NSW and to evaluate whether those issues are able to be appropriately addressed to permit the continuation of a greyhound racing industry in NSW that is sustainable and provides an ongoing economic and social contribution to the State.
The Commission was formally opened on 10 June 2015, with the first round of public hearings commencing on 26 September 2015. The Commissioner's opening remarks and Senior Counsel Assisting's opening address can be read at the Commission's website (www.greyhoundracinginquiry.justice.nsw.gov.au) along with transcripts of the evidence given by greyhound trainers and other industry participants, former employees of the regulatory body, Greyhound Racing NSW ("GRNSW"), former members of the GRNSW Board, and GRNSW's current interim Chief Executive.
The Commission heard evidence from trainers that they had participated in live baiting and that the practice was widespread within the industry. The Commission also heard evidence from GRNSW's interim CEO that, historically, from a welfare and regulatory perspective, the governance of the industry had been deficient; with inadequate or completely immature practices and procedures, an absence of coherent strategy compliance, and no meaningful welfare strategies in place.
Another significant animal welfare issue identified by the Commission is the over-breeding of greyhounds and the killing of many healthy dogs which have been purpose bred to race, but which retire or are otherwise deemed unfit for racing (known in the industry as "wastage"). In October 2015, the Commissioner released an "Issues Paper on Over Breeding and Wastage" by which it invited constructive and considered responses in relation to the elimination or substantial reduction of wastage by the industry.
On 17 November 2015, the Commission commenced a second round of public hearings, again focussing on animal welfare but with an emphasis on the life of a racing greyhound, injuries and veterinary care. Evidence was heard from industry participants together with a number of expert veterinarians, including the Chief Veterinary Officer of GRNSW and from RSPCA – Australia, on the topics of socialisation, adoption and re-homing, injuries, on-track veterinary care and the euthanasia of greyhounds.
In December 2015, the Commissioner issued an "Issues Paper on Governance and Social Contributions" by which it seeks input about two key issues: first, if the industry is to continue, whether its current governance structure is appropriate or an alternative model should be adopted; and second, the social contribution that the greyhound racing industry is said to make to the lives of participants and communities in NSW.
The Commission's deadline for reporting to the Governor is 31 March 2016. While investigations and research continues, the Commission's legal team is busy reviewing and analysing approximately 120,000 pages of documents (and counting) which have been produced in response to Orders to Answer Questions and Produce Documents. In addition, the Commission is engaged in the ongoing process of reviewing the 1900+ submissions that have been received by the Commission and Committees which have previously considered the greyhound racing industry's operations and the relevant legislation.
For more information please call Cheryl Drummy, A/Special Counsel on (02) 9224 5201.