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SA’s greyhound racing transparency is worthy of bipartisan support

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SA Premier Peter Malinauskas nees to back up his concern for animal welfare with more transparency from the greyhound racing industry (Image by Dan Jensen)

The SA State Government has the opportunity to pass legislation demanding transparency within the state's greyhound racing industry, writes Matilda Duncan.

SOUTH AUSTRALIA’S newly-elected politicians face a defining choice in the coming weeks.

For the state’s Labor members, the choice will be between living up to the Party’s pre-election promises to prioritise animal welfare or capitulating yet again to the racing industry.

They’ll do this through their vote on Greens MLC Tammy Franks’ bill to amend state animal welfare legislation.

Part of the bill addresses the greyhound racing industry. It won’t mean the end of greyhound racing in SA — nothing so brave.

All the new laws would do is see Greyhound Racing SA (GRSA) become subject to mandatory reporting and freedom of information (FOI) law.

As in WA and Victoria, SA’s State Government has allowed oversight of animal welfare to remain with the commercial dog racing body. It’s the same body that also has responsibility for the promotion of racing — two conflicting objectives.

But unlike these two jurisdictions, GRSA is the only racing body in Australia that remains exempt from FOI, aside from the Northern Territory. This allows it to operate in secrecy.

Seeing GRSA subjected to some transparency would merely bring it in line with every other racing body in the country, after years of delay.

By no means would this bring GRSA up to the highest national standards. In Queensland, NSW and Tasmania, independent greyhound welfare and integrity commissions have been in place for years. These are separate from the commercial dog racing bodies.

GRSA argued in the SA Parliament in April 2021 that it should not be subject to FOI laws. Why?

It’s “a not-for-profit company that has the role to both regulate and facilitate greyhound racing”. It’s “not supported by a separate regulatory body that’s funded to deal with resources such as a freedom of information issues”.

Yet GRSA found tens of thousands in funding to create a new full-time marketing role last year, as advertised on Seek. They spent up big on a long television advertising campaign over the summer just gone. Money that easily could have gone into responding to a few FOI applications.

Their summer TV ads painted greyhound races as “family friendly” and told audiences they could pat the dogs if they went along.

Attend a race and there’s also a fair chance you’ll hear a dog scream and yelp as it tears a muscle or breaks its leg or neck at high speed.

If that injured dog is not killed by the on-track vet, the SA public has no way to find out what happens to it once it leaves the track. Without FOI, it’s allowed to disappear from public view, yet GRSA gets taxpayers’ dollars via the SA Government.

GRSA has plenty of funds. Its own annual report put the balance of its net assets last year at $15.17 million. It would also be able to charge individuals for any FOI applications it makes, as per usual government policy. Most importantly, taxpayers have a right to GRSA’s data.

What excuses can GRSA have left for avoiding transparency?

The Liberal Party has publicly taken the flimsy position through its Vice-President, Nicola Centofanti, that GRSA shouldn’t be subjected to mandatory reporting because it has voluntarily improved its transparency.

Centofanti told Adelaide’s InDaily in January:

“Recently they have been very transparent in their reporting and, provided they continue to report honestly and openly, mandating may not be necessary.”

GRSA has never reported honestly and openly. Without mandatory requirements, how can the public be expected to trust figures released by GRSA?

SA politicians are stuck in the same arguments from six years ago, dumbly repeated. They’re wasting time. They’re letting the hundreds of dogs stuck within the state’s gambling industry lose out. Data available in other states shows many injured greyhounds are removed from tracks and then euthanised, but in SA, who knows?

In 2016, GRSA promised to eliminate unnecessary euthanasia within two years after they killed 500 dogs in a year. It’s still killing dogs for behavioural reasons and for broken legs on the track.

In 2016, GRSA promised that “None of the [live baiting] issues that plagued New South Wales... exist in SA”. A year earlier, a SA industry whistleblower had approached Animals Australia about widespread live baiting and mass graves in SA — it’s difficult to believe that GRSA wouldn’t have known this.

In 2016, GRSA refused to release euthanasia data for the preceding five years. It still hasn’t released it.

This year, GRSA has already been up to the same old tricks and failed to keep its promises to be voluntarily accountable to taxpayers.

When giving evidence last year at the Joint Committee on the Statutes Amendment (Animal Welfare Reforms) Bill 2020, GRSA undertook to report at the end of 2021 on racing injuries, breeding, track deaths and other dog deaths.

GRSA only released the data on its website last month, four months late, without any public notice being given. It only did so after the Coalition for the Protection of Greyhounds (CPG) chased it for four months.

The data itself is still incomplete. It hasn’t sorted injuries into the usual categories of catastrophic, major and minor as it promised to do. It’s counted greyhounds being exported and used for breeding as examples of ‘successful rehoming’.

GRSA says that every property was inspected at least once per year but we can’t see how many breeders and trainers failed those inspections. We can’t see how many dogs were imported from interstate or how many retired greyhounds there are currently. We can’t see how many greyhounds were killed before they made it to the adoption program.

Contacted for comment, Ms Annie Hendley, a CPG director, said:

“GRSA has received more millions in taxpayer dollars over the last two years through stimulus packages and consumption tax funding. The public has the right to know what happens to SA’s racers, especially after their time on the track ends. This is when – as the RSPCA rightly says – they are most vulnerable to ‘disappearing’.”

A spokesperson for Animal Liberation SA, Ms Janine Clipstone, said:

“We’ve watched GRSA fight against releasing data for years now while promising they’ll be accountable to the public. The decision needs to be taken out of their hands, they need to be subject to greater transparency by the State Government.”

SA Premier Peter Malinauskas has promised for years to ban puppy farms in SA. Yet he’s been silent on one of the state’s biggest puppy factories, the SA greyhound racing industry, which encourages local breeders with cash incentives.

In SA over the past nine months, 579 greyhounds were born if GRSA’s data is to be trusted.

What will their lives be like? Where will they end up?

To the SA Government, does it really matter?

 Matilda Duncan is a writer from South Australia.

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