DEFIANT Hunter greyhound breeders and trainers have vowed to put their differences behind them and unite to defeat legislation that is set to shut them down.
At an emotion-charged meeting of more than 400 industry players on Sunday, pundits tongue-lashed Premier Mike Baird for signing the industry’s death warrant on the basis of “impulse”.
The Warners Bay meeting invoked themes of class warfare, city versus country and an act that was “fundamentally un-Australian”.
Participants overwhelmingly endorsed Warners Bay breeder Kevin Gordon to carry the Hunter’s voice in a newly-formed committee, led by the Greyhound Breeders, Owners and Trainers Association (GBOTA). The committee’s sole task is to lobby MPs to cross the floor and oppose the legislation.
The meeting took an unexpected turn when skepticism of the GBOTA and bruises of the past re-emerged.
But the industry body’s chief executive Brenton Scott warned Hunter trainers the only way they could hope to defeat the government’s legislation was to stay united.
“We are facing a government juggernaut and we need to combat that with as much unification as possible,” he said.
Mr Scott conceded the greyhound industry may still be dealing with animal welfare problems.
“But it is totally fair to say the majority of those issues … occurred before the lives of greyhounds were not tracked as well as they should have. We had good data on how they were bred, but poor data about the rest of their lives,” he said.
State Labor MPs Jodie Harrison (Charlestown) and Sonia Hornery (Wallsend) committed to locking in behind the industry.
The support came as Opposition Leader Luke Foley hit the hustings in western Sydney to drum up opposition to the legislation.
Mr Foley framed greyhound racing as a battler’s sport being torn down by “the big end of town Premier”.
Ms Hornery said her electorate – where the Birmingham Gardens greyhound track is based – could ill-afford to lose the jobs.
“We need to make sure we remind all political parties that we don’t live in the cities,” she said.
“Baird is listening to the people in the inner city now – he needs to listen to you.”
Ms Harrison said the “vast, vast majority” of greyhound breeders and trainers were “good people”.
“To say that the greyhound industry is not good is to say that you should shut down the churches because there’s a few bad eggs,” she said.
Warners Bay breeder Kevin Gordon, who represents Hunter greyhound trainers on the new steering committee, said Mr Baird had put reform of the industry in the “too hard basket”.
“It shows no regard for thousands of livelihoods here in Australia,” he said.
Mr Gordon challenged the Special Commission of Inquiry’s findings that between 50,000 and 70,000 greyhounds were killed in NSW over the past 12 years because they were too slow to race.
He said the finding was “fictitious” because tracking records were only implemented 15 months ago; death by natural causes were not recorded; greyhounds sold interstate or overseas were not recorded and “thousands” of greyhounds kept as pets were not included.
However, Premier Mike Baird on Saturday wrote on Facebook it was “very clear” animal abuse within the industry was systemic.
“Unfortunately, the report of the Special Commission is very clear that these practices were systemic – for too long, too many people who knew what was going on didn’t do enough to reform greyhound racing,” he said.
“It is also very clear that the industry has had many chances to reform but has failed to do so. In fact, intentional deception and illegal activity was rife.”
Leading Hunter greyhound trainer Jason Mackay said the entire industry was being punished for the actions of a few.
“Mr Baird has said the innocent are now guilty,” he said.
“Ninety-nine per cent of people in this industry have done nothing wrong, and we will fight him as one.”
Greta trainer Bob Sabotic said change had already swept through the industry.
“People are looking at things differently and we’re doing things differently,” he said.