10 August 2016

2nd Reading Speech

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE ( 16:39 ): I speak in opposition to the Greyhound Racing Prohibition Bill 2016. At the outset I note that in respect of divisions during this debate the Labor Party has made an informal arrangement to grant a pair to The Greens at their request on account of the absence from this Chamber of the late Dr John Kaye, MLC, and the fact that the party has not nominated a replacement. Pairing is an arrangement reached between the major parties—the Government and the Opposition. For example, in the Australian Senate such an arrangement does not extend to the crossbench, as I understand it, or anyone else. However, the Government has decided previously to grant a pair to The Greens for Dr Kaye. This debate has a slightly different constellation of those supporting and those opposing this Government measure. Given the unusual circumstances surrounding this debate, and this bill only, the Opposition has entered into that arrangement informally with The Greens.

In response to some contributions made earlier in the debate, if elected to government the Opposition has committed itself to implementing the State’s first ever animal welfare plan. The plan would dramatically strengthen the welfare of domestic, agricultural and native animals across the State, including by banning puppy factories and the sale of puppies in pet shops. The Opposition does not and would never condone animal cruelty, and I think that is a common view across this Chamber. We can all agree that the revelations of what has occurred in sections of the greyhound racing industry fall well below the standards acceptable to a civilised society. They must be improved upon, and the people involved in those activities should be hit with life bans from the sport and, of course, time in prison. The Opposition would support those approaches, but it does not support a total ban on the industry as proposed by the Government. 

We understand those who come to this debate motivated primarily by concerns about animal welfare. However, we think a more appropriate approach to the issue would be to put the sport on notice and to demand an action plan to implement the road map of 79 recommendations made in the special commission of inquiry conducted the esteemed former High Court justice, the Hon. Michael McHugh, QC, rather than to take the blunt approach of wiping out the entire industry.

The Opposition is concerned about the welfare of the animals likely to be destroyed as a result of the ban. This is not to downplay the documented abuse of animals by the industry. We know that animal welfare organisations, the RSPCA and animal shelters are struggling, and in fact are currently unable to rehome the animals that need rehoming—not only greyhounds but including greyhounds. Given that the industry involves up to 12,000 greyhounds, and that if this legislation is passed it will close in less than one year, I do not see how, even with the greatest of goodwill, all 12,000, or even a reasonable proportion of them, can be rehomed. Therefore, this measure is likely to lead to the mass destruction of otherwise healthy animals, and the Opposition does not support that approach.

That is a symptom of this Government’s headlong rush down this path. The Opposition could understand the Government introducing legislation designed to implement the McHugh road map and to be a sword of Damocles, as it were, containing provisions allowing for the closure of the industry if it did not measure up to the exacting standards rightly expected of it in a reasonable time frame. Such an approach would no doubt have met with much broader support in this Parliament than the current measures. This hurtling rush by the Government will lead to consequences that will be detrimental to animal welfare in the way that I have identified.

The Opposition is also concerned about the thousands of people whose working life and livelihoods are dependent upon or substantially connected to the greyhound racing industry in New South Wales. I am referring to people in every town and region across the State, but predominantly in rural and regional areas and often in disadvantaged areas where displacement jobs are harder to come by than in Sydney. The Government has not made any provision for the impact on people whose livelihoods will be lost as a result of this legislation. This stands in stark contrast to the approach of other State governments and, indeed, Federal governments. When the Hawke and Keating governments of the 1980s and 1990s reduced tariffs and implemented significant changes to the manufacturing industry, they spent tens of millions of dollars on retraining and relocating those affected adversely by these winds of change. When the Carr Government engaged in restructuring in and phasing out of the timber industry in this State in the 1990s, it made a similar level of commitment to restructuring and transitioning of affected workforces and businesses.

I note the contribution of Dr Mehreen Faruqi earlier in the debate in which she touched on the fact that government assistance could help people transition, but there is nothing in this legislation addresses that issue. In fact, the only mention of money is in proposed section 29, which provides that compensation, broadly defined, is not payable by or on behalf of the State because of the enactment or operation of the Act or any statement or conduct relating to the enactment. However, it goes further. The legislation is retrospective because proposed section 29 (2) extends the blanket extinguishment of any compensation potentially payable to statements, conduct and other matters occurring before the commencement of the section.

The Government is obviously concerned about some legacy issues it is creating given the way in which it has handled this issue. Apart from engaging in some lip-service at the outset of this exercise of shutting down the industry, the Government has made no real commitment to providing the hard dollars and cents required to assist those who will lose their livelihoods. I acknowledge the Hon. Mark Pearson’s view of people engaged in the industry, and he is entitled to that view. However, it is one thing if industries contract or become extinct because of economic forces, but it is another if governments make deliberate decisions and thereby shut down or adversely impact whole industries. It is incumbent upon governments and parliaments to be cognisant of the human cost of the enactment of legislation, and to address the impact squarely rather than as an afterthought.

The special commission of inquiry’s website has a question and answer document that includes a question asking, “What support is the Government providing for owners and trainers impacted by these changes?” The answer states, “The Government will soon announce a detailed support package to ensure animal welfare and assist the industry in the immediate future.”

But there is nothing in this bill to hold the Government to that course of action. There has been no statement by the Government putting dollars and cents, or any scheme or arrangement, on the table. For the thousands of people across this State who depend on this industry, either in whole or in part—whose livelihoods are dependent on it and who will be financially impacted, perhaps standing to lose everything they have—this Government remains mute on that issue. It is a scandal that there is not one word in the bill dealing with it.

Estimates vary about the economic significance of the greyhound racing industry. Some estimates put forward by the Greyhound Racing Industry Alliance suggest that the industry makes a $350 million gross contribution and a $135 million net contribution to the State economy, and that it employs up to 10,000 persons. By any measure, even if that is only half right, that is a very significant financial component of the economy, and that is a very significant number of people whose livelihoods will be lost. Their livelihoods will not merely be impacted; they will be lost because this industry is not being reduced or curtailed; it is being abolished. This Government has said nothing of any meaning to address the fears and uncertainty those families and those communities are facing, and that is a scandal. 

Estimates of how many people will be directly affected by this measure vary. A 2014 Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing report entitled Size and scope of the NSW racing industry states that the greyhound racing industry contributes more than 2,700 full-time equivalent jobs to the New South Wales economy and that up to 64 per cent of those jobs are in regional areas. The report notes that many more people economically participate in the industry as trainers, breeders and owners, and there are also those who work in a volunteer capacity. There are those who work at tracks in various capacities. That includes people who work on bars or in providing hospitality; that is, people involved in that cluster of support services that attend the industry. The report puts the number of people participating in the greyhound racing industry at more than 15,000, of whom more than 13,000 are involved in producing racing dogs. 

The report from the NSW Greyhound Racing Industry Alliance tabled by Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile and dated 21 July 2016 puts the number of economic participants in the industry at 10,000-plus. Again, whichever number one chooses, this legislation, if enacted, will directly adversely impact the lives of those individuals and families—costing many of them, if not most, everything they have financially. To take that step while making absolutely no provision for their economic future, for any potential safety net, for any retraining opportunities through TAFE or other service providers—to take that step to economically deprive these families, regions and people of what they have without providing any alternative for them—is a scandal in human terms. 

It is a matter of record, which those opposite will no doubt be cognisant of, that nearly three-quarters of participants in the industry reside in regional locations, mostly in the areas currently represented by The Nationals—or, should I say, “The Notionals”, the party that notionally represents rural and regional New South Wales. Their constituents are crying out for help. The Government, with the support of The Nationals, is taking this step to shut down their industry while providing them with no safety net. I note that some Government members intended to participate in this debate. I hope they will prove me wrong and speak up about this, but it is notable that to this point we have heard only from the Leader of the Government, who is burdened with the carriage of this decision of the Premier and Deputy Premier in this place because they do not want to square up to it in the other place, at least not initially. It is the constituents of The Nationals members who will be most detrimentally affected. 

The Hon. Duncan Gay: That is very bitter.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: It is not bitter.

The Hon. Duncan Gay: None of what you are saying is true.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Where is it stated in the bill that the Government is making financial provision for these people? It is not in the bill. This failure to make provision against the human cost of what the Government is doing is scandalous. I am looking forward to the Minister, in his reply—

The Hon. Duncan Gay: You should have listened to my second reading speech.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: I did. I listened very closely and it contained no reference to Government’s financial commitment to the thousands of people who will lose their livelihoods. It needs to be in the legislation for the community to have confidence that this Government will follow through on the statements it has made. 

The statements the Government has made hitherto have been thin. The Government has said it will assist the industry in the immediate future. Which parts of the industry? How much? What will be the criteria for gaining this assistance? Will it be available to everybody who loses out economically? Will it be available to those people who lose everything they have? How much do they stand to gain from the Government’s assistance package? Will there in fact be a government assistance package? When will this be announced? These are matters that should have been thought of, that should be in the public domain, and that should at least be touched upon in the legislation now before the House.

The Opposition has not only opposes the measures in the bill for the reasons I have outlined but also taken the step of introducing, in the other place, its own bill to address a number of the concerns raised by the McHugh report. The Opposition will be moving the second reading of that bill in the other place tomorrow. We urge the Government to put some flesh on the bare bones of its commitment to those who will lose out economically. We also note that there is community concern about the potential for a greedy land grab of the tracks that will be left unoccupied as a result of the shutdown of the industry. I note that the Premier has said that these lands will remain in public ownership and use.

The Hon. Niall Blair: I said it too; I said it yesterday.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: I note that the Minister for Primary Industries has also said that. But, again, that commitment is not in the bill. Why is it not in the bill? Why would the Premier not include it? 

The Hon. Duncan Gay: Because he is a man of his word and he gave that commitment.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: I am afraid that is not necessarily good enough for the Parliament. These are two very significant omissions that would be very easy to address—and perhaps we should address them if we get to the Committee stage on this bill. The Opposition urges all members in this place to think seriously about the human cost of the action being taken. We urge them not to go down this path but to take the more considered path recommended by Justice McHugh. But if the Government intends to take this path, it must make explicit and up-front provision for the human and economic costs of its actions. It is not good enough to do that by simply saying, “We made a promise and we will get to that after the fact.” For all the reasons and concerns I have outlined, I move:

That the question be amended by omitting all words after “That” and inserting instead “this House declines to give a second reading to this bill because:

(a)the legislation is not in the wider public interest because it is a disproportionate reaction to the findings of the Special Commission of Inquiry report into the greyhound racing industry in New South Wales and does not implement the recommendations of that inquiry; 

(b)members of this House have not had sufficient time to read the bill, and to consider its terms and possible amendments;

(c)the wider community, including those directly impacted by the bill, have not had sufficient time to become familiar with the terms of the legislation and to make their views on the detail of the legislation known to Government and other members; and

(d)there is no provision for those persons and communities detrimentally financially impacted by the closure of the greyhound racing industry.”

I urge all members to support the amendment to the motion now before the House.