Legislation has been introduced to give the public a clearer picture of the South Australian greyhound racing industry, writes Matilda Duncan.
LAST MARCH, during the distractions of the pandemic, Greyhound Racing South Australia (GRSA) quietly stopped listing racing injuries to dogs at South Australian tracks. A few weeks earlier, I’d started a list of dog injuries occurring at races in the state and posted a few basic write-ups about three dogs that had died at races in the first months of the year.
The timing may have been entirely coincidental, but following my reporting, instead of noting in official race reports when a dog was euthanised or suffered a catastrophic injury at the track, GRSA simply started listing any injured dogs as “suspended” for extended periods of 60, 90, 180 and 365 days. Presumably, this number had been approved by the veterinarians involved. This went on for several months.
Within days of noticing the change, I approached South Australia’s Office of the Racing Minister, who dismissed the clear evidence I sent them. The Minister’s office said the reports contained ‘exactly the same information’ as they had previously, adding that they accepted Greyhound Racing SA's explanations regarding the race report changes.
They added in another statement:
‘The State Government is satisfied that GRSA is adhering to the required reporting standards by law. Any further questions need to be referred to Consumer Business.’
Messing with race reports might not seem to be a big deal in an industry known for the uglier problems of live baiting and doping dogs, but the casual way in which GRSA was able to do so without any concern from the Government is just another indicator of the need for reform of the regulatory body overseeing dog racing in South Australia.
A recent bill introduced by Greens MLC Tammy Franks would begin to force some basic accountability practices on GRSA. One of the few politicians ever brave enough to question the policies behind dog racing in South Australia, Franks’ Dog and Cat Management Act Amendment Bill would make it mandatory for GRSA to report the number of registered and unregistered racing greyhounds euthanised each year and the manner in which they died.
Lately, I’ve been reviewing the euthanasia notification forms distributed by GRSA in the past. Owners were required to submit these forms after the death of a racing dog. One form, which appears to have been the industry standard as late as 2014, asked trainers to circle a reason for having their greyhound put down. ‘Unsuitable for re-housing’, ‘unsuitable for racing’, ‘lack of ability’ and ‘other’ were listed as valid options, as long as the form was co-signed by an “agent” or vet.
Franks’ bill would also make GRSA subject to Freedom of Information legislation if successful. This would help members of the public to build a clearer picture of how the industry has been functioning. How many greyhound properties were inspected regularly by GRSA over the past decade and were any reports kept? What actually happened to the dogs that died in “catching pen incidents” at races over the past few years? How many racing dogs have been imported into South Australia from interstate, where the breeding numbers are much higher and died in South Australia?
So far, GRSA has indicated that it wants no part of Franks’ proposed law changes, telling Adelaide’s InDaily this week that becoming subject to Freedom of Information legislation would “put considerable and punitive expense on the organisation to deal with those types of requests”. GRSA suggested other voluntary reporting processes on dog numbers could be a better idea, in the form of memorandums “with another agency, perhaps the RSPCA”.
But this would do little to increase the transparency of GRSA’s operations, given that the RSPCA SA, a body which is also currently exempt from Freedom of Information legislation, is no more transparent in South Australia than the dog racing regulator itself.
GRSA avoided the intense scrutiny trained on other racing jurisdictions in the wake of the live baiting scandal and has enjoyed a long run of largely uncritical coverage from Murdoch’s Adelaide Advertiser. But taxpayers have been propping up dog racing in South Australia for years now, with no means of learning about its inner mechanics. If greyhound racing in South Australia is as clean as the industry has repeatedly claimed, GRSA will welcome Franks’ bill and every other move towards transparency to come.
Matilda Duncan is a writer from South Australia.
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