A Special Commission of Inquiry into the New South Wales greyhound racing industry got under way today and counsel assisting, Stephen Rushton, SC, didn’t hold back, saying he will likely recommend that the industry by shut down.
The inquiry comes in the wake of a 4 Corners report in February that exposed the wide use of illegal “live baiting” – the use of small animals such as possums, rabbits and piglets – to train the dogs.
In his opening address, counsel assisting said Australia was just one of eight countries where the sport is still allowed and a permanent ban may be necessary.
Rushton said Greyhound Racing NSW had placed commercial concerns ahead of animal welfare and attempted to keep secret both the culling of dogs that “did not cut the mustard” and widespread use of live baiting.
Rushton said up to 17,000 dogs are killed annually and just 4% of the total population survive beyond 42 months.
“These figures are a terrible indictment of greyhound racing in Australia,” Rushton said, adding that the industry’s “cavalier” attitude raised questions about whether it should even exist.
He doubted it was possible for the industry to adopt measures to maintain animal welfare standards.
“If it is not then, in my submission Commissioner, you would in due course recommend to government that it close the industry down.”
Former High Court judge Michael McHugh, QC, is overseeing the inquiry and described the numbers as “appalling”.
Rushton said over-breeding was the single biggest issue facing the sport.
A confidential document from governing body Greyhound Australasia, obtained by the inquiry and read out by Rushton, revealed that between 13,000 and 17,000 healthy greyhounds are killed annually and the board conceded the figure is “indefensible” and would shut down the sport if it became public.
The inquiry also heard that live baiting was used in up to 90% of training, but just “the tip of the iceberg” of animal welfare concerns.
Rushton lambasted Greyhound Racing NSW for treating animal welfare as a “hygiene issue”.
The inquiry is due to hand down its findings in March 2016.