BAIRD STUBBORN AS PARTY GOES TO DOGS OVER KNEE-JERK LEGISLATION

In Business & Trade by Clyde Mooney

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Premier Baird is standing firm one of his decisions, to ban the greyhound industry in NSW, despite mounting party pressure and the loss of thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions.

In July Premier Mike Baird and state National leader Troy Grant announced plans to shut down the greyhound industry, based on a report by former High Court judge Michael McHugh.

The McHugh enquiry reported finding evidence of systemic animal cruelty, including mass killing of greyhound pups not deemed viable for racing and live baiting, and made 79 recommendations to government.

The findings were heavily contested by the greyhound racing industry, which formed an alliance and filed a legal challenge in the Supreme Court.

News emerged Baird’s government spent nearly $1 million in advertising to spruik support for its plan to ban the industry, prior to tabling the Bill in the early hours of the morning of a late-night sitting of state parliament in late August.

Opposition leader Luke Foley was strongly against the severity of the move and loss of jobs, and drew support from a number of National and Liberal MPs, who crossed the floor to vote against the Bill.

But government had the numbers, blocking Labor’s attempt to delay debate on the Bill long enough to allow the greyhound industry’s Supreme Court challenge, and succeeded in fast-tracking the legislation.

The Greyhound Racing Prohibition bill provides a one-year jail sentence and maximum $11,000 fine for anyone caught organising a race after the ban, which takes effect 1 July, 2017. Greyhound owners are also prohibited from selling or exporting dogs interstate without written consent by Greyhound Racing NSW.

The determination has drawn a lot of criticism – including from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who was quoted describing it as an “over-reaction” at a dinner in Perth in August.

MPs in attendance reported the PM suggesting that closing down an industry in response to animal welfare concerns – particularly rabbits, which are shot and poisoned as pests – was not a proportionate response.

An alternative plan put forward by the greyhound industry would ensure its survival, while scaling back the number of races, tracks and dogs, and closely monitoring breeders. The proposal offers to penalise those that “waste” dogs or engage in live baiting with hefty fines, life bans and jail time.

NSW will soon hold a bi-election in the seat of Orange, following the 2016 Federal election, when National MP Andrew Gee representing Orange won the Federal seat of Calare. Orange is traditionally a strong-hold of the Liberal-National coalition, with a 21.6% majority.

National MP Andrew Fraser, hoping to win the upcoming bi-election on 12 November, wrote to Baird and Grant saying the seat “at this stage appears unwinnable” in an email that was subsequently leaked.

“I believe that the greyhound legislation has been the catalyst which put us in this position,” said Fraser, who has urged cabinet to instead adopt the reform plan being offered by the industry.

But Liberal leader Baird is standing by his righteous captain’s call. A spokesperson told The Guardian the Premier remains “100% behind the ban”.

Last week Newscorp reported a compensation package was being considered for greyhound owners of up to $1,500 per dog.

The plan to indemnify an industry that delivers $335 million annually to the state government would reportedly cost government around $30 million.

This tenacity in the face of consequences by the openly puritanical Baird reflects the objections of those tired of government’s application of decisions based on politics and personal agendas over evidence-based policy.