NSW premier Mike Baird has apologised for his plan to ban the greyhound racing industry from July 2017, saying “we got it wrong”.
“I got it wrong. Cabinet got it wrong. The government got it wrong,” he said, announcing the shutdown will be overturned to give the industry another chance.
“We believed that the only response was to shut down the industry,” he said. “We also thought the community would also see that.”
Baird said the feedback was that while people were “horrified” by the findings of the government’s Special Commission of Inquiry, which found extensive and systematic animal abuse, they also said “why did you not give the industry one last chance?”.
“I’m sorry. That is something we should have done,” he said.
The premier said his personal conviction has not changed, but “the first path we chose was wrong”.
Baird said he and his MPs had listened to the community and “they think we got this wrong”.
That said, he added “I know a lot of people will be disappointed with this decision”.
The government will establish a special panel, led by former ALP premier Morris Iemma, to oversee improved industry governance and regulation. The RSPCA, industry and government representatives have been invited to join the five-member panel
Proposed changes for the industry include a reduction in the number of race tracks and races, breeding capped at 2000 dogs annually and a $1500 bond on every dog.
“We are not returning to the status quo. The barbaric practices we have seen have to end,” Baird said, adding that the industry had an “appetite” and willingness to change.
Baird said there will be mandatory life bans and increased jail terms for live baiting and increased resources for enforcement and prosecution, as well as animal welfare.
Responding to media questions that he’d abandoned his principles for political expediency, Baird said: “I’m human. I haven’t done something in a perfect way.”
However, NSW upper house member Robert Borsak, from the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, has claimed that the decision was “solely aimed at softening the blow of the Orange by-election and two flagged leadership spills, while ensuring the industry dies a slow death by over-regulation”.
“Closing some tracks, capping greyhound breeding to 2000, and forcing bonds for greyhounds bred will slowly kill the greyhound racing industry – especially if funding fairness is not restored.”
“Over $35 million is robbed from greyhound racing annually to fund other racing codes, so any attempt at ensuring profitability and financial viability has a hole in its heart from the outset.”
The premier, who just 12 months ago was Australia’s most popular politician and voted the second most powerful person in Australia, has faced a massive fall in the polls since he was elected 18 months ago, and now sits evenly poised with Labor. In August, voters said opposition leader Luke Foley, who campaigned against the ban, would make a better leader than Baird, 51.3%/48.7%.
His deputy, Nationals leader Troy Grant, has also been under pressure from his party colleagues over the greyhound issue, and threatened with a leadership spill.
“Regional communities value the greyhound industry and we’ve heard loud and clear that they believe it deserves another chance,” he said.
During Tuesday’s media conference, Grant admitted the government had only received a “verbal” version of the highly-anticipated Greyhound Transition Taskforce co-ordinator-general John Keniry’s report into compensation for the industry.
Speculation emerged last week that Dr Keniry tried to send a resignation letter to Baird last month because he did not support the ban, but was convinced to stay on.
Meanwhile, a 27-year-old Sydney greyhound owner and trainer has been denied bail after appearing in court today for allegedly live baiting his dogs using rabbits, just weeks after Baird announced the ban.
Chad Achurch of Cabramatta was arrested on Monday and charged with two counts of animal torture causing death, aggravated cruelty, and using an animal for training.
Police allegedly found videos on the man’s phone of a live rabbit being used as bait, as well as photos of a dead rabbit, when they seized it during investigations on an unrelated matter.
Achurch denies the allegations.