Greyhound backflip could finish Baird’s political run

New South Wales Premier Mike Baird took to his Facebook page, as he often does, to write a long post last week about his reasons for doubling back on his decision to save the lives of thousands of dogs. For a man who is usually well loved on social media, the response has been ferocious.

Not only is Baird's backflip on NSW’s greyhound racing ban a death sentence for thousands of dogs, it will probably kill his political career.

Baird's capitulation is not a result of consultation with his constituents, as most of them have no interest in setting foot on a dog track. He said: “Thousands of people have written to my office – the majority in support of the ban”. A recent survey found around two-thirds of NSW voters supported his decision to end greyhound racing.

Unfortunately, Baird fell into the trap of believing that whatever those shouting the loudest say must be true and somersaulted into the laps of a few podium-privileged bullies. Alan Jones and Ray Hadley have devoted much of their time on radio persuading listeners that the Premier's concern for animals made him a political leper.

Unleashed: The response on social media to NSW Premier, Mike Baird's backflip on greyhound racing has been ferocious.

Unleashed: The response on social media to NSW Premier, Mike Baird's backflip on greyhound racing has been ferocious.

Cruelty, including the mass slaughter of healthy dogs, is a business model for success in the greyhound racing industry. After reviewing 151,000 pages of evidence, 115 hours of videos, and 804 wide-ranging submissions, as well as examining 69 witnesses over 21 days of public and private hearings, the Greyhound Special Commission of Inquiry concluded that the industry is incapable of reform.

Recent industry figures confirm this: more than 200 dogs have been injured in race meets since the ban was announced in July, despite the industry's promise since last February to address animal-welfare issues. Those injured dogs are now probably dead.

It is also likely that injuries are under-reported as a result of the industry's well-established cover-up culture. In an e-mail to Greyhound Racing NSW (GRNSW) stewards in 2013, Clint Bentley – the organisation's chief steward and effectively the state's chief integrity officer for the sport – wrote, “[W]e have copped some pretty bad publicity recently with regard to injuries suffered by greyhounds at race meetings. It has been discussed in a recent management meeting and decided that it is in the best interests of all that we desist from providing too detailed information in our reports with regard to injuries sustained by greyhounds”.

Baird said on Facebook, “Live baiting must end. Cruel wastage must end”, or the industry “will close”. He is right on one point: the industry will close. It's just a matter of when and how.

Even if the industry manages to comply with the new regulations, greyhound racing is folding the world over, and Australia is no exception. In the past few months, the last greyhound racing track in London has closed, and in 40 American states commercial dog racing is now illegal. About 19 tracks were slated for closure by GRNSW long before the Premier mentioned a ban. Now that no new tax dollars will be allocated for track upgrades, the industry will have to rely on punters to keep afloat – and those numbers are dwindling, too. In 2009 and 2010, only 1.6 per cent of the Australian population went to a dog race.

Baird has let down the majority of the public, not to mention dogs, with his lack of conviction. But the battle against the abuse of animals for entertainment and financial gain has only just begun.

Ashley Fruno is PETA Australia Associate Director of Campaigns