Greyhound Racing Prohibition Bill 2016
I have experienced many moments in my life that have made me proud to be a member of the Australian Labor Party. Tonight I have experienced one of those moments— albeit we have been here for more than a moment. As I sat on the Opposition benches supporting the Leader of the Opposition as he took the time to articulate the Labor Party's extensive objections to the bill before the House, I was in awe of his passionate defence of the many working people in our community who participate in the greyhound industry as owners, trainers, breeders, spectators, suppliers, vets and the many others involved in the industry. He did so in the face of significant misinformation and distortion of the facts.
Members will be pleased to hear that I will not go into detail about social licence. The interjections of the member for Ku-ring-gai about the definition of "natural justice" were interesting, and he then spoke about social licence. I was shocked when the Baird Government first made its announcement about the closure of the greyhound racing industry. How could a responsible government announce that it intends to implement half of one recommendation contained in a report that has been corrected 10 times? Contrary to the report's recommendation that the issue be debated in Parliament, the Premier announced on social media that the Government would destroy the lives and employment of tens of thousands of people in this State. How valuable are the 78 other recommendations if this is the only recommendation being implemented? What is the value of the evidence given to the inquiry? Some compelling arguments have been put about the industry not being given a fair hearing and not being able to rebut evidence that has since been discredited.
My office has been inundated with calls, messages and emails from people involved in the greyhound racing industry in Maitland. They are gutted at their Premier's Facebook post stating what he intended to do to them. I slowly began to receive abusive and angry posts on my Facebook page, but they were primarily from outside my electorate and, in fact, from outside New South Wales. I was subjected to a campaign launched by the animal justice lobby that definitely did not involve people in regional communities who work in the greyhound racing industry.
Unlike the Premier, I do not run my shadow portfolio or my electorate through social media. Of course, I do post comments on social media, but I also go out and about to engage with everybody in my community. I took the opportunity to visit Maitland Greyhounds a couple of weeks ago with the member for Cessnock, Clayton Barr. While there a journalist asked me for my thoughts on the Premier's latest 12 tweets about the issue that day. I responded, "Is this where we are going in New South Wales? Is this how we now do business in New South Wales?" It would appear that this House means nothing; politics is all about social media. It is not about a debate in the Chamber.
As the Leader of the Opposition so eloquently articulated, it is not about considering the impact of the powers that we exercise on people such as the members of the greyhound industry who I acknowledge in the public gallery tonight.
The action of the Premier in leading this debate on social media without referring to the opinion of The Nationals in his party room, as the member for Cootamundra articulated in her contribution, is a disgrace. We understand that there are emergency situations in which Executive power needs to be exercised, but this is not one of those situations. This action of governing by social media brings into disrepute this very institution. The Leader of the Opposition brought this Parliament back into some sort of regard tonight. His two hour and 10 minute speech, which was considered and respectful of the thousands of people who will be impacted by this disgraceful decision of the Liberal-Nationals, is the only chance that the greyhound industry will have to be heard in this debate. It is a disgrace that this Government would do this.
The member for Barwon has grown in my respect tonight, having crossed the floor to vote with us on an Opposition amendment that would have taken this matter to the Supreme Court for due process. That is what has been missing in this rushed debate to basically kill an industry at midnight or whatever time we will be here until tonight. That is what we are talking about. There are too many people in our State who feel totally disengaged, disempowered and betrayed by politicians who say one thing in private, another thing in public and yet another thing when they vote. The Premier said tonight that leadership is not about saying one thing behind closed doors and another when you vote. It is interesting that he mentioned that tonight after revelations in question time regarding planning regulations and other issues.
He also made spurious claims about an attempt to take a bipartisan approach to this matter. It is a disgrace. There has been no bipartisanship. I do not remember hearing that Mike Baird went to the Leader of the Opposition and said he was going to put this up. It just went straight to Facebook. I was astonished that the Premier would say that. The decision to close an industry should be made with great care and great regard for the people who will be impacted. They should be given real consideration, not a number for Lifeline or Beyond Blue. But as shadow Minister for Small Business I have to say this is a story I am hearing all around the traps. Hairdressers, commercial fishers, greyhound industry participants and workers in any industry anyone wants to talk about are at the whim of this Government.
I have met with people in the greyhound industry both in my office and at the local meeting I attended some weeks ago. People from the industry have told me about issues in governance, poor decision-making and government incentives that increased overbreeding. They have been concerned about the safety of their dogs on tracks that the Government left open or invested in as opposed to tracks that were closed. These people have felt let down by the ministerial appointees who have not listened to them. They are committed to change. As someone who is interested in the change process I note that Justice McHugh's report talks about a situation that started last year. Since that time the industry has made enormous attempts to reform itself and make changes.
We all know that change is a very difficult beast to tame. We all know that there are people involved in change who are resentful, who are angry, who do not want the cost attributed to them and, as the Leader of the Opposition said in his speech, who are trying to justify disgusting practices that they themselves have undertaken. So it is not unheard-of that these people would be the ones at the front and centre of a reform process. For the Government to only take that evidence into account is selling out an entire industry. More than that, it is actually taking away the industry's right to natural justice. [Extension of time]
Many of the people involved in the industry live in my community and have shared their concerns with me. They are trainers and owners who love their dogs and follow safe and healthy practices. They are as appalled as the rest of us about the vile actions of a rogue minority. When a member of the greyhound industry told me about how he had to tuck one of his dogs into bed each night before it would go to sleep, I knew that this person cared about the animals. While I respect the views of all members of my community, some of the comments that this debate has brought out have concerned me and have crystallised for me what is totally wrong about this move by the Government. One person in my community—one of the very few who actually wanted to interact with me to say that they agreed with the proposed ban—told me very clearly that 98 per cent of the industry was involved in and had perpetrated acts of cruelty against animals. This figure is absolutely wrong and it is not the conclusion of the McHugh report. What is more, comments like that are what is wrong with the Government's whole approach to this issue.
My husband and his family were involved in the greyhound industry. I watched his pensioner grandparents in their later years, before they passed away, as they went without new clothing or really good food in order to ensure that their dogs had the best. It was a fight to get them to take anything for themselves because everything went on those dogs. Their dogs were the lights of their lives. I take personal umbrage at the insinuation of this Government that my father-in-law and his parents are criminals by association. This is not a value that is entrenched in our legal system. We do not do collective punishment. We do not do collective justice. We do not say, "Because you are a member of a particular group, you are guilty." That is not the Australian way.
Mike Baird has not done anything in this bill to save animals or protect animal welfare. If he had wanted to do that he would have undertaken to enact the Opposition's policy that was taken to the election in March 2015 by the Leader of the Opposition to have a complete animal welfare package. I am concerned that the New South Wales Minister for Small Business cannot see that every other animal practice industry is on the chopping block if this legislation goes through. It is a point that has been made on this side of the House. It is a point that was made by the member for Cootamundra. It would be naive to think that this does not create a precedent for other industries. With this legislation the Premier has done what he does best, and that is divide our community. When I go to a greyhound track I do not see Mercedes-Benz and BMWs in the car park. I see Fords, Toyotas and Holdens, and I do not usually see any from the late 2010s.
This is class warfare at its worst—that is what this Government is engaging in. It is ignoring the range of complex opinions on this issue. There would not be one person in my electorate of Maitland, or in New South Wales, who does not feel for animals that have been mistreated. But, by the same token, there is not one person in this country who would say that it is the Australian way to judge an entire group of people by the actions of a few. Before I conclude, I will speak briefly about Maitland and its showground, which is the dog track. It is a community-owned resource. It is not Crown land; it is a very small parcel. What will happen to that site if half its revenue—the revenue that comes in through dog racing—goes? The State Government has just put in a quarter of a million dollars to upgrade the grandstand. What is going to happen to that? As in other parts of the State, there are concerns about the potential for a land grab.
In closing, I state that I am vitally concerned, as the shadow Minister for Small Business, about small businesses in our State—not just in the agricultural sector but in every single sector. Those businesses should be very scared about what is being done here to the greyhound racing industry, because the Baird Government will be after them next.