Transcript of media conference with Andrew Wilkie, independent MHR for Clark, and Fran Chambers, advocate for Let The Greys Run Free, St David’s Park, Hobart, 28 September 2021.

Andrew Wilkie

The state government has announced an inquiry of sorts into Tas Racing and the Office of Racing Integrity. But it’s not going to be an effective and independent inquiry, and it’s not going to be forward looking enough. What we need is a really robust inquiry to get to the bottom of what is rotten in Tas Racing and the ORI, and to look at historic allegations. For example, to work out why some 20 staff have left the Office of Racing Integrity in just the last three years, to look into the allegation of fines being quietly dropped, to work out why so many greyhounds are dying tragically, on the track or being injured. In fact, just this calendar year, there’s already been eight greyhounds die on the track, including four here in Hobart; there is clearly something deeply rotten within Tas Racing and within the Office of Racing Integrity in particular.

Now, the Minister Jane Howlett says all is well, she’s going to get someone in to have a look at it. But she’s also said it’s going to be forward looking, you know, looking to the future, well, that’s not good enough. We need an inquiry with teeth that looks backwards and looks at those issues like the number of dogs that are tragically dying, and the hundreds that have been injured, to look at why 20 staff have left the Racing Integrity unit in just three years to look at the allegation of fines being quietly dropped for a mate. There’s a lot of really toxic and worrying stuff going on within these organisations And the state government so far has not shown a preparedness to get to the bottom of it.

Journalist – unidentified

Why do you think that is?

Andrew Wilkie

Oh, look, I think it’s obvious. You know, the state government is in bed with the gambling industry and particularly the gambling industry involving animals. And too much of the of the gambling industry involving animals is self regulating. You don’t mix money and gambling and animal welfare and let the industry look after itself. You just don’t do that. Because money and profit will always trump animal welfare. You know, we need effective external independent regulators to keep an eye on on these so-called sports. The government, you know, whether it’s throwing millions of dollars at track upgrades, or sweetheart deals to the poker machine industry, or turning a blind eye to the number of greyhounds dying on the track, at every turn, this government will look after its mates. You know, in the thoroughbred horse racing industry, the trots, the dogs, all the other forms of gambling, it will always look after its mates first, and doesn’t actually give a toss about animal welfare.

And it’s another case where the state government is completely out of step with the community. Because there is widespread deep concern in the community about animal welfare, and politicians just don’t get it. Well they need to start representing their community, they need to start worrying about animal welfare, they need to start losing some sleep over the fact that eight greyhounds have died on the track in Tasmania, just this year, four of them here in Hobart, they need to start worrying about that stuff. And not the mates in the gambling industry.

Journalist – Shannon

Even if we have an independent review, and whatever those findings may be, what would you like to see happen in the industry or to the industry?

Andrew Wilkie

I would like this, well, the community is calling for the state government to put animal welfare at the top of its priority list, and to do everything in its power to ensure that animal welfare is achieved and maintained. And that will only occur with the most effective independent regulator when it comes to animal welfare. That’s why we need a really good inquiry into into the Office of Racing Integrity, because at the moment the community has no confidence that they’re actually worrying about animal welfare. The community is quite sure they’re just worried about looking after their mates in the racing industry.

Journalist – Shannon

Is there any way of operating this industry safely, (for) both the staff and the animals?

Andrew Wilkie

Ultimately, Tasmania and indeed Australia needs to follow the lead of many other developed countries and ban greyhound racing in particular; there is simply no way to run greyhound racing and achieve appropriate animal welfare standards. It’s impossible. And that’s why in many developed countries overseas greyhound racing has been banned. And the only reason it hasn’t been banned in Australia and in Tasmania, is because too many politicians are in the back pocket of the racing industry and the gambling industry, more worried about looking after their mates than looking after beautiful creatures like this greyhound by my side.

Journalist – unidentified

The government is undertaking millions of track upgrades as well. So is there any real possibility that it’s actually going to ban greyhound racing?

Andrew Wilkie

Mark my words: one day, greyhound racing will be banned in Tasmania. One day greyhound racing will be banned in Australia. I’m absolutely confident about that. It’s just a matter of when; when will state and national governments come along, who actually care about animal welfare, and care less about their mates in the animal racing and gambling industry?

Journalist – Shannon

You’ve said that Tas Racing and ORI are incapable of properly regulating the industry, What makes you say that?

Andrew Wilkie

Well, you just got to look at the track record, so to speak. The fact that 20 staff have left the Office of Racing Integrity in just three years, the fact that you’ve got newspaper reports airing allegations of fines being quietly dropped. The fact that we’ve had eight dogs die on the track that’s on the track, not to mention all the other dogs that die in other, you know, in training, at their homes, wherever, hundreds, at least hundreds injured. I mean, that’s all the proof you need. If greyhound racing was being done, ethically, if animal welfare was paramount, those deaths would not be occurring.

Journalist – unidentified

So Howlett’s inquiry has no strength at all to look at the past or anything like that?

Andrew Wilkie

Well, the state government has referred to it as a forward looking inquiry, you know, looking to the future. And now I think well, that is obviously thinly disguised code for it doesn’t want to troll through the history of recent years that they don’t want to upset their mates in the greyhound racing industry, the thoroughbred horse racing industry. They don’t want to offend their mates, they think they’re here to represent their mates. They’re more interested in their mates and the money they’re making out of, you know, prize money, the gambling that’s associated with it. They don’t care about animal welfare. And you know, quote me on it, because it is it is self evident. If they cared about animal welfare, they would have cracked down years ago and would not be allowing the terrible tragedies to occur that are occurring just about every race meet all around all around the state.

Journalist – Shannon

(inaudible) the government says a lot of that revenue goes towards the health sector back into the community. If that’s their argument here, what do you say to that?

Andrew Wilkie

I say to the Tasmanian government, pull out your own studies that have been done over the years into the prevalence and impact of poker machine addiction and gambling in this state. I can think of one particular social and economic impact study from several years ago, which calculated that the cost to the community of gambling addiction from poker machines is two to three times the value of the revenue from those machines. It’s as simple as that. But the government doesn’t seem to care about that, they don’t seem to get it. The fact that the gambling regulator sits within Treasury gives the game away that for the Tasmanian government, gambling is a revenue raiser unrelated to the community, to health. The government doesn’t seem to care that you know, someone suicides in Australia from gambling addiction every week, you know, more than 400 a year that are known about. The government doesn’t seem to care that it’s our mums and dads and brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, workmates, you know, who are losing their jobs or self harming and not able to afford school uniforms for their kids. Instead, the government’s worried about the paltry amount of tax it collects from the pokies. And that’s not good enough. And remember, racing greyhounds is first and foremost, for gambling. Racing horses is first and foremost, for gambling. That’s the only reason we race them, so people can gamble. So state governments can collect a gambling revenue. And their mates in the industry can do okay as well.

Tasmanian Times

We’ve had issues with seals in the aquaculture industry, I think last year we had some issue of manipulation of the figures so that a duck shooting season could go ahead. Do you think there’s an animal welfare problem or problem across the board with this state government?

Andrew Wilkie

There is indeed, there’s an animal welfare crisis nationally, including within Tasmania, The fact that horse racing, greyhound racing, the fact that the industrial production of food is still done in such a cruel way. And battery hens are still allowed. The way pigs are raised for pork, puppy farms, kitten farms, the live animal export industry still going on. And the federal government celebrates that. It’s way beyond time, that at the federal level – and it needs to be at the federal level, because the state governments can’t be trusted when it comes to animal welfare – it’s way beyond time that at the federal level, there be an independent Office of Animal Welfare established that has oversight of animal welfare throughout the country. And I’ve tried, I’ve tried repeatedly to push that idea in Canberra, and it gets batted away by the political parties, in particular the Liberal and National parties, because they just want a free for all. They want to chase money ahead of everything else. We see that in Tasmania, the fact that the EPA in Tasmania recognises the business interests of the salmon industry as one of the things they need to be aware of and be considerate of. You know, that gives the game away. The EPA in Tasmania should not have to give two hoots about whether or not a salmon producer is profitable or not. The EPA shouldn’t be worried only about the effect of salmon farming on the environment. The fact that they are quite open about them also being considerate of the need for the salmon companies to be profitable. … I mean, what are they? Are they a business lobby or are they the EPA? Sometimes you’ve got to wonder.

Fran Chambers

I will be repeating a lot of what Andrew said. Yes, the the the forward looking review doesn’t have clear terms of reference. And there was a question earlier about that. We really need to have it in writing that it will be a fully independent, proper inquiry that does look back backwards, that analyses, addresses and redresses the problems of the past. Because otherwise we can’t go forward. And I’ll repeat the fact that they’ve been more than 20 staff have left the Office of Racing Integrity. That includes a Director and an Acting Director and General Manager plus the vet. And they’re left with one or two investigative stewards. And that means, as Andrew was pointing out, you cannot ensure welfare, they don’t have enough staff to go to the kennels at any regular intervals. And so it’s just the whole thing is not working. Also, the Office of Racing Integrity, the government lauds it as independent of Tas Racing, and that’s really seriously problematical. ORI is obviously understaffed, stressed. The staff themselves have said it’s dysfunctional and that morale is at rock bottom. It’s in a small office in Launceston. It doesn’t have the resources to be fully independent.

Journalist – Shannon

Yeah, we asked this question before, but from your point of view, do you think there’s any way the industry can continue –

Fran Chambers

No, no, the simple answer is no. They’re determined to keep it going. And millions of dollars has been spent on a new track. For example, if they’re even a tiny bit serious about welfare, then that has to be a straight track. These oval tracks, you can imagine the dogs screaming around at 60 miles an hour. They crash into each other, they fall over, they get trodden on. Meanwhile, these young bones and muscles are being tortioned and twisted. And so these oval tracks, that’s the reason for the eight deaths and 258 injuries that have occurred in Tasmania, many of those major, and about 12 of those have been life threatening. So no. Here’s a challenge, make it a straight track, show us that you are saying, prove to us that we’re wrong?

Journalist – unidentified

We’ve seen all sorts of like horrific revelations from Queensland in their greyhound industry. Do you suspect that similar sort of scale of greyhound death occurs in Tasmania?

Fran Chambers

Yes. And the number of the the number of deaths is commensurate with population across this country. And the number of injuries, many of those horrific, are commensurate with populations around this country

Journalist – unidentified

On properties, like of trainers and breeders, mass killing of greyhounds does that occur here?

Fran Chambers

That has been historically happening. The Office of Racing Integrity has said that they’ve stopped this because they have put out they have instigated instituted reforms, whereby they’re not allowed to do that. But if they’ve got no stewards on the ground, how can they find out what’s actually happening?

Journalist – Shannon

When it comes to how the enquiry Jane Howlett has announced, what are your main concerns?

Fran Chambers

A major concern is that it does not have clear terms of reference, those terms of reference need to be wide ranging, and fully incorporate all aspects procedural and operational of Tas Racing and the Office of Racing Integrity, and it must look backwards. Look at the failures of the past, address them clean in the eye and make amends.

Journalist – Shannon

Do you have any confidence in that?

Fran Chambers

No, I’m sorry. I don’t. I’d love to say yes, but I’m sorry, I don’t

Tasmanian Times

How well is the Greyhound Adoption Program working?

Fran Chambers

The Greyhound Adoption Program has been struggling as well. Because of the the things we’ve been talking about earlier. They advertised for example, for an animal behaviourist, and they can’t fill that position. Nobody wants to come to Tasmania, they know what it’s like down here. They know what the industry is like. The new manager, I believe, is doing the best job she possibly can, but under severely straitened circumstances, and it’s jolly hard. So I feel sorry for them.

Journalist – unidentified

There’s been a huge increase in the number of greyhounds adopted in the last few years, is that becoming an issue as well?

Fran Chambers

That’s really interesting point, there has to be a threshold doesn’t there? And we are seeing a lot more greyhounds, you know, in loving homes, which my heart soars with happiness when I see that. And yet, how many greyhounds can can the small state of Tasmania accommodate? So it’s a it’s a real issue, and the breeding continues at pace, the training, the racing, they all continue at pace and so they are churning these dogs out and say, ‘Oh, we don’t kill them anymore. And we’re finding homes for them all.’ Well everybody’s going to have to at least have five greyhounds.

Journalist – Shannon

I guess what are your thoughts about yesterday?

Andrew Wilkie

Oh, it’s very alarming that Tasmania is set to lose three quarters of a billion dollars in GST over the coming years. But there was always the risk of this. So it always beggars belief why all of the political parties supported the changes in 2018. Back then, when it went through the House of Representatives, Hansard shows that I was the only dissenting voice. Every other member of the House of Representatives was supportive of this. And when the legislation went up to the Senate, certainly the major political parties supported there, which just goes to show the 2018 GST changes were a political fix. It’s as simple as that. Because all of the political parties were worried about the by-elections that were on at the time, including here in Tasmania, in Braddon. All the political parties were worried about their numbers in Western Australia. Because remember, in late 2018, we were not much more than six months away from the 2019 federal election. So all of the parties were falling over each other, to try and put in place a sharing of riches for Western Australia, for the crass raw political purposes. And now it’s come back to haunt us, with Tasmania about to lose the no worse off guarantee, and facing the very real prospect of being out of pocket, sudden three quarters of a billion dollars, that’s three quarters of a billion dollars that won’t be available for hospitals, schools, roads, and any number of other ways in which that money would be spent.

Journalist – Shannon

How badly could this deal hurt Tasmania?

Andrew Wilkie

The changes to the GST in 2018, not only are they bad for Tasmania, they’re worse for us than any other state. I mean, we rely on the GST to the tune of about 40% of our state budget. Because of the way the GST is designed, we’ve always been a significant beneficiary of it, because we’re an older, poorer, sicker population generally. So the way the fiscal equalisation works is we’re sure that we were getting more than other states to try and lift lift us up to the same standard as other states to improve our health outcomes, to improve our schools. So that’s a long-winded way of saying these changes to the GST will hurt a number of states, but they will hurt Tasmania the most, because we rely on GST the most to turn around our poor health and other outcomes.

Journalist – Shannon

Is there any way out of this for Tasmania?

Andrew Wilkie

Tasmania can’t single-handedly turn this around. I mean, it needs to be a decision of the Federal Parliament. I mean, it was the Federal Parliament in late 2018 that made the changes to GST, which are about to hurt us so badly. So it’s up to the Federal Parliament, the federal government, particularly whoever that might be after the next federal election, to reverse this, to be prepared to stand up to WA and say, ‘Hey, you know, you’re one of the very few governments in the world in surplus at the moment.’ You’ve got rivers of gold, literally coming in from the goldfields, huge amounts of revenue from iron ore, you know, they’re swimming in cash, absolutely swimming in cash over there. Well, we need a federal government to come along and to stop worrying about its political fortunes, the number of seats it holds and why and to stand up to WA and say, ‘Hey, you know, we are a Commonwealth of states and territories, we all should be equal.’ We all should have the comparable health outcomes, comparable education outcomes. That’s why we had the GST. That’s why different states get different amounts. Well, you know, Scott Morrison isn’t prepared to stand up for who he needs to be. And if there’s a change in government, the new Labor Prime Minister needs to stand up to WA.