The public has got it wrong about racing

Nathan Absalom Roar Guru

By , Nathan Absalom is a Roar Guru


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    Where to next for greyhound racing in NSW? (Rainer Hungershausen / Flickr)

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    Every year around Melbourne Cup time there are seems to be a series of articles heavily critical of horse racing, most are easily dismissed as transparent virtue signalling rather than a serious discussion of animal welfare.

    This year, however, The Conversation published an article calling for horse racing to be subjected to a “social license”. In it, the authors are pushing the concept that having a social license will lead to better welfare outcomes for the horses.

    Articles such as these need a response, because they come with the implied authority that the publication brings through their reliance on being authored by academics. But I feel that this article does not come with the solid foundation of evidence that it ought to be based.

    The reason for this is that we have a case study to test their assertions. After the Special Commission into Greyhound Racing in NSW we are able to compare a jurisdiction that tried to impose the idea of a “social license” to Victoria, one that spent their money on animal welfare initiatives instead.

    This means we have a nice, clean ‘natural experiment’ where for the last two years we had two jurisdictions pursuing very different ideologies in Australia with respect to greyhound racing in response to the live-baiting scandal.

    In NSW the Government set up a Special Commission for Greyhound Racing in an attempt to determine if greyhound racing had a social license.

    In Victoria, however, they opted to invest heavily on animal welfare instead, increasing their education and regulatory functions and expanding their already formidable greyhound adoption program.

    How did the two approaches fare? By taking the data from current and previous annual reports, we can compare two animal welfare outcomes that were given as critical by critics of greyhound racing; the number of greyhounds bred and the number of greyhounds adopted into the community after they finished racing.

    Below is a graph of the number of greyhound litters bred in NSW (red) and Victoria (black) over the past four financial years. Both jurisdictions saw a massive reduction in the numbers of litters and while NSW had a bigger reduction, one has to remember there was a period of three months where people literally weren’t allowed to breed greyhounds in NSW.

    So, on the breeding side there wasn’t so much difference, a marginally bigger difference in NSW but no more. What about rehoming greyhounds, an activity that is surely far more important to the welfare of greyhounds than simply not breeding them?

    Here’s the graph of greyhounds adopted out by the governing authority over the last four financial years.

    Here there is an undisputed winner, with the money spent on Victoria’s greyhound adoption program reaping huge rewards and an improving NSW still playing catch-up. When the retired greyhounds of owners and trainers are included, more greyhounds were placed into homes after racing than were born last year in Victoria.

    Victoria’s greyhound adoption program has now become so successful that it can’t keep expanding, simply because there aren’t going to be an increasing number of greyhounds needing homes.

    So, why the difference? Well, the annual reports make it clear. In Victoria they have completed the majority of their reform program and are dealing with the details, moving to a “business as usual” approach as the CEO announced last month.

    In contrast, NSW were hamstrung by the costs imposed by the Government through the Special Commission of Inquiry. Legal fees had skyrocketed and the Government quarantined money for no apparent reason.


    The end result being that the welfare of greyhounds did not improve in NSW in the same way as Victoria, directly as a result of the attempts to quantify a “social license”. Instead millions of dollars, yes millions, that should have gone to the greyhounds themselves was pocketed by the lawyers whose claims have been completely contradicted in a very short time frame.

    But then, what of horse racing? Well the thoroughbreds, both in NSW and Victoria, have moved to a model where a slice of prizemoney is put into a pot of money directly for horse welfare, not much different to the basic model that GRV have so successfully implemented.

    Sure, mount an argument they’re not spending enough money or that the money is not being spent well enough if you wish, but the evidence is clear that the basic model that the thoroughbreds are pursuing is the right one.

    But the idea that putting money into the hands of lawyers to argue about the concept of “social licence” rather than spending the money directly on animal welfare instead simply isn’t supported by real-world experience.

    Instead, these experiences support the actions of thoroughbred authorities over the abstract concepts being pushed by the elites.