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Whistleblowers silenced: SA’s greyhound racing Inquiry a farce

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An Inquiry has been launched by the SA Government into cruelty and abuse of greyhounds (Image via farmtransparency.org)

In a jaw-dropping twist, the South Australian Government has bypassed whistleblower protections in its Inquiry into the greyhound racing industry, writes Elle Trahair.

PROMPTED BY grave animal welfare concerns, South Australia launched an Inquiry on 14 August 2023 into the murky world of the state’s greyhound racing industry. The Inquiry seeks to uncover the industry’s operations, culture, governance and practices.

Ordinarily, politicians table inquiry reports, protecting any whistleblowers through parliamentary privilege. This allows individuals to provide evidence without the fear of legal consequences.

For reasons unknown, but could only be malfeasance or stupidity, the SA Government revealed the Inquiry will send its report directly to the Minister for Recreation, Sport and Racing. This unprecedented move bypasses tabling and its whistleblower safeguards.

The shocking decision by the SA Government has set alarm bells ringing, not only about the investigation’s credibility but also about the safety of informants who find themselves in an absurd and precarious situation.

It is no small thing. Bypassing whistleblower protections raises questions about the very essence of our democracy. To venture down this path threatens the public’s right to know and leaves those sharing critical information exposed to defamation and retribution. 

Flimsy assurances of anonymity for whistleblowers who can show they’re in danger of recrimination fall short of the mark. Inquiry documents may still contain identifying information about anonymous informants, exposing them to risks.

One way that this can happen is by the racing industry getting inquiry documents through legal discovery procedures. Also, if anyone providing evidence to the Inquiry becomes tangled in a defamation lawsuit, no parliamentary privilege often means no legal protection.

Regardless, the SA Government is ploughing ahead with the Inquiry, likely scaring away witnesses and disregarding the safety of those willing to pay the price for animal welfare. The decision is as tragic as it is bewildering.

The tragedy becomes more apparent with revelations from the Coalition for the Protection of Greyhounds (CPG) in its 2023 regulatory report on the SA racing industry. It explored the secret corridors of Greyhound Racing South Australia (GRSA) — a self-regulating body impervious to Freedom of Information requests.

What CPG unearthed were doping control measures so avoidable that race days look more like a drug bazaar than a sporting event. It also caught GRSA being ‘snuggly soft’ on offenders, with most dog dopers merely forfeiting their prize money rather than being suspended or fined.

Sensing trouble in March 2023, GRSA made bold proclamations about stricter penalties. However, this is often meaningless as it also allows rule-breakers to avoid fines if they can't afford to pay them. It’s a situation that makes a mockery of any penalty announcement.

Meanwhile, the absence of parliamentary privilege reflects a troubling trend — like a string of bad sequels, Australia continues to grapple with whistleblower protection challenges. Each story unmasks the terrible repercussions faced by those who expose wrongdoing.

The chasm in whistleblower protections within the SA Inquiry not only threatens the safety of informants but also sabotages any meaningful transformation in the greyhound racing world. This does not bode well for greyhounds suffering under South Australia's doping dilemma, nor for the punters who expect a clean and fair industry.

Delving deeper into this tale, it becomes even more sinister. Lurking in hidden corners are agents sourcing greyhounds for illegal racing rings and inhumane breeding in countries with woeful animal welfare standards. The underground supply chains operate by exploiting loopholes in Australian regulations.

Not all racing industry injustices happen in the shadows. In plain view, we witnessed the horrific death of Weblec Gem this year during a South Australia heatwave. Her demise – due to organ rupture after racing in the sweltering heat – is a grim testament to the dire consequences of lax regulation.

Sadly, there have been over a hundred on-track deaths in Australia so far this year. Most involved twisted limbs and bone-cracking violence caused by collisions and falls. Imagine the impact on children, who the racing industry encourages to attend this “family fun entertainment”.

As the circus continues, it’s critical to shield those who dare to speak out. Whistleblower protection is essential to ensure the racing industry gets its act together and greyhounds get the care they deserve.

Animal welfare, whistleblower safety and the integrity of the racing industry are all at risk. The SA Government must reverse its reckless decision and table the Inquiry’s report when it is finalised later this month.

Elle Trahair works as a project manager within the public sector of South Australia. She has tertiary education in psychological science, public policy and project management.

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Whistleblowers silenced: SA’s greyhound racing Inquiry a farce

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