Animal welfare groups fear their concerns could be overlooked in a review of Tasmania’s racing industry.
- A promised review of Tasmania’s racing industry is overdue but will be delivered in the first quarter of 2022, the government says
- Animal welfare advocates say animal welfare must play a prominent role in any review
- Tasmania’s Labor opposition called the review a ‘circuit breaker’ for the ‘deteriorating relationship between industry players’
Last September, the Tasmanian government announced a review of the Racing Regulations Act and the two organizations that operate under it, the Office of Racing Integrity (ORI) and Tasracing.
It follows reports of dysfunction and low morale within the state’s racing watchdog, the ORI.
The chief executive of RSPCA Tasmania said she was concerned the scope of the review was too narrow to take into account animal welfare concerns.
“[Animal welfare] is buried there in the terms of reference and hopefully because that’s one of the areas that’s particularly lacking, hopefully we’ll see a focus on animal welfare that we haven’t seen in any of the racing codes to date,” said Jan Davis.
Ms Davis said the organization wanted to see greater transparency around animal welfare issues in the industry at the forefront of the review.
“As it stands, we’re told there’s a lot of animal welfare work going on, but we don’t have any independent evidence of that.
“[Tasracing] only publicly reports its consolidated numbers in its annual report in arrears, not in real time, that’s not good enough,” Ms. Davis said.
COVID pushes back the calendar
For nearly two decades, the law governing the racing industry has not been significantly revised.
When completed, the review is expected to present Racing Minister Jane Howlett with a recommended model for separating powers and integrity functions between the Integrity Body – currently the Director of Racing at ORI, and Tasracing.
The review also addresses additional powers needed to protect animal welfare.
The consultation schedule for the review has exploded, with the final report no longer due by the end of February.
The deadline for written submissions has been extended by two weeks and the report pushed back, due to “the pandemic” and “requests from stakeholders”, a government spokesperson said.
Animal welfare groups, vets should be included, critics say
The RSPCA is one of 15 organizations that have so far provided a written submission. He also took part in a face-to-face consultation on the exam.
The Tasmanian Coalition for the Protection of Greyhounds also filed a submission and is meeting with the examiner this week, but expressed concern that animal welfare improvements were not being made.
Director Natasha Langridge said any new framework aimed at improving industry integrity should include a committee made up of members from outside racing, to ensure that welfare groups and vets have a say in the policies and industry standards.
Animal welfare groups said they hoped the final report would lead to a clear separation between Tasracing’s management of racing activities and ORI’s oversight of animal welfare.
“There is no real clarity or public accountability on these processes,” Ms Davis said.
One of the changes being considered is to replace the head of ORI, the Director of Racing, with a new position – the Tasmanian Racing Integrity Commissioner (TasRIC).
Natasha Langridge said it would be vital for the new position to be completely independent.
“If it’s just a name change, it won’t be enough,” she said.
The review is being undertaken by Harness Racing Victoria Chairman of the Board, Dale Monteith.
The Tasmanian Coalition for the Protection of Greyhounds said the review of the law should have been undertaken by someone independent of industry.
“We believe this is a material conflict of interest, that someone who has an interest in the corporate side of the race is put at the helm of an investigation which should focus on the well- be,” Ms Langridge said.
In a statement, a government spokesperson said Mr Monteith was a ‘highly valued expert’ who had previously undertaken independent reviews in other Australian jurisdictions and Tasmania, including at the Elwick race track .
Review a “political solution”, says the Labor Party
Labor Party spokesman Dean Winter said the industry had lost confidence in the ORI, particularly over the past year.
“The government has disguised this as a review of the law, but what it really is is a review of all the issues that have plagued the industry,” he said.
He described the relationship between industry participants and Tasracing and the ORI as very poor.
“If the minister was serious about these issues, she would include them in the terms of reference, but they were deliberately left out of the terms of reference so that we couldn’t get to the bottom of it,” Mr Winter said.
In her memoir, Greens leader Cassy O’Connor said it was clear the working paper was largely informed by racing industry participants.
“It’s just a continuation of the industry’s insular culture and the absence of any independent oversight,” she wrote.
“It is therefore of concern that a model proposal has been drawn up before any consultation.
She said the process did not involve real consultation.
“This process appears designed to quickly bury any criticism of the industry, and of ORI in particular, and to establish a new framework that the industry is comfortable with – rather than establishing a framework that meets expectations. from the community.”
Written submissions now close on February 4, and another 23 consultations are scheduled for this week.