greyhounds racing at night
(Getty Images)

The BulletinJune 6, 2024

Time ticking for decision on greyhound racing ban

greyhounds racing at night
(Getty Images)

As Stewart Sowman-Lund writes in this extract from The Bulletin, the final call rests with Winston Peters.

An impending decision

Two weeks ago, Newshub’s tireless investigations reporter Michael Morrah obtained a government briefing paper suggesting a call would soon be made on the future of greyhound racing in New Zealand. It was reported that racing minister Winston Peters would decide the future of the industry “within weeks”. While that decision hasn’t yet been made – at least publicly – it must certainly be due soon. And with renewed calls in recent days to outlaw racing, following more deaths on the racetrack, this morning we’re going to look at how we got here, and where we might end up.

On ‘thin ice’

In his May 19 report, Morrah said it was “no secret that greyhound racing is on thin ice”. He’s right, though the debate over the industry is nothing new. In 2017, a major report uncovered the high number of dogs being injured or killed on race tracks. It showed more than 2,000 dogs had been injured, and 165 put down, directly due to racing over the previous three seasons. In the same year, another Newshub report revealed a top greyhound trainer was being investigated for allegedly using live baits – as in, live animals – to train his racing dogs, something that’s illegal. By 2021, the former government had launched a review into greyhound racing, the third in a decade. “It is the responsibility of the industry to hold itself accountable and ensure the best possible standards of welfare for greyhounds,” said the former racing minister Grant Robertson. The report from that review found three issues that needed to be addressed, one of which was “animal welfare generally”. The industry was put on notice and given until the end of 2022 to up its game. But while a subsequent report by the Racing Integrity Board was critical of the greyhound racing industry in its current form, the last government never made any decisions before the election.

The arguments for a ban

It’s perhaps unnecessary to even canvas these given the stories referenced above. Nevertheless, animal activists have been vocal about the need to protect greyhounds from the harms of the industry. “Injuries and deaths keep piling up, no matter the track,” said a spokesperson for charity Safe in late March after a spate of deaths and injuries prompted a five-week race suspension at Manukau Stadium. “The government must recognise the urgency of this issue and intervene decisively.” This week, the charity told Newshub’s AM there had been “over 2,500 injuries, including 272 broken bones and now 26 deaths” in the years since the industry was put on notice. In May, the SPCA published an open letter urging government action and cited a poll commissioned by the charity that showed 74% of New Zealanders favoured a ban.

The industry has, in response, defended its social license to operate. Greyhound Racing NZ said in a statement last month there were no grounds for a ban. “The sport has made significant progress in recent years, especially in the animal welfare space. GRNZ is committed to ongoing improvement, and will continue to put significant time and resources into ensuring that animal welfare is at the heart of everything the industry does.”

What might happen

It’s hard to say for sure. While failing to do anything in government, Labour has since joined the Greens in calling for a complete ban. On the campaign trail, Christopher Luxon promised to ban greyhound racing, reported The Press, spooking industry reps that may have been banking that a change of government would stop any crackdown. The prime minister has since reaffirmed that position, as The Post’s Thomas Manch reported in March. But the decision doesn’t squarely lie with him, as Manch’s report noted, because the current racing minister is Winston Peters. Back in 2019, during his last stint as racing minister, Peters pledged to “clean the industry up” after the live baiting scandal. Jump forward to now, and as we wait for his final call, Peters has remained coy on whether he will endorse the view of the prime minister. “Well, [Luxon’s] got a minister now who knows more about it than he does, and I’m on the case, alright?“ Peters told reporters in March.

Keep going!