Greyhound racing is set to be banned in NSW, with the state Liberal Party fast-tracking legislation to shut down the industry. Under the new laws, anyone caught organising a greyhound race after July next year will be given a maximum $11,000 fine or face up to a year in prison.
Interestingly, the state Liberals have been forced into a coalition with the Greens in order to pass the legislation. Multiple MPs from within the Baird government are against the decision. Labor is also standing against the bill, with Opposition leader Luke Foley even promising to reverse the ban if he is elected in 2019.
The decision has led to uproar from regional communities connected to the sport, and from thousands working in the industry. Three men have even been charged for threats to kill NSW deputy premier Troy Grant and his family in relation to the ban.
The ban itself comes following a government inquiry into the industry, which highlighted massive systemic animal cruelty. Mass killings of dogs not deemed fast enough have been uncovered, one grave in the Hunter Valley showed around 100 dogs had been brutally killed over four years.
The commission into the industry found that at least 50% of dogs bred for racing were killed because they were not competitive enough. That figure comes to as many as 68,000 dogs put down in the past 12 years. Live baiting has also been cited as a reason for the ban, with live piglets, possums and rabbits being used to train dogs over mechanical lures.
The Liberal Party has attempted to us the ban to make political capital off what many now see as a cruel industry. Tellingly, however, the ban will free up prime land for development around NSW, a state where the heads of property development have always held big political sway. Racing tracks on Crown Land will not be handed over to developers, but other tracks will be fair game.
Wentworth Park in the heart of Sydney sits on Crown Land. The government has stated it won’t be sold off for residential and high rise development. Nearby Harold Park Raceway, however, was sold off in 2010 and gives an idea of what to expect.
It was sold to Mirvac developers for $187 million, and has now become a $1 billion residential hub with 1250 homes selling. Prices range from $499,000 for a studio to up to $1.6 million for a terrace.
The truth is that greyhound racing is not the only cruel industry in NSW. Michael McHugh, who led the inquiry into the sport, said it had lost its “social licence” to operate. So too have many other industries in the NSW economy.
Horse racing has obvious parallels, but is a prize sport for the big end of town. Coal mining and the casino industry are causing massive social harm, but while greyhound racing brought in $48 million in revenue to the state, mining and casinos give billions to the NSW economy.
There is no way to sugar-coat the brutality of the greyhound industry. Its closure is welcome to anyone who cares for basic animal welfare.
But if the tracks are simply handed over to developers, NSW will only end up with more overpriced houses. Currently the waiting list for public housing in the state is sitting at 60,000. The Baird government has promised to build only 9,000 units of public housing over the next 25 years. Instead, a massive expansion of quality public housing is needed, under the control of public housing tenants, to begin to address this crisis.
If the greyhound industry is set to close, we have a chance to allow those formerly in the industry to retrain and work in areas of real social need. Instead of letting the former racing tracks get snatched up by developers, the state government should use the opportunity to massively expand public housing, offering work and training to those displaced by the shutting down of greyhound racing in NSW.
By Corey Snoek