The New South Wales Parliament passed legislation banning greyhound racing in August 2016, only for the State Cabinet to reverse the ban fewer than seven weeks later. As other states and territories consider bans, the issue continues to divide the community.
ANU College of Law PhD candidate Alexandra McEwan had conducted preliminary research on the greyhound racing industry as part of her LLB honours thesis. She was surprised by the lack of information available on reporting and transparency within the industry and decided to delve more deeply into the treatment of animals used for greyhound racing as part of her doctoral research, which focused on animal protection law reform.
“I started looking into the killing of greyhounds in the Australian racing industry and was astounded by the lack of information,” McEwan said. While information on the treatment of animals was scarce, the industry had previously come under scrutiny for integrity issues. In 2000, a NSW ICAC investigation made findings of corrupt conduct against the then Chief Steward and five other people.
“I started to imagine that matters of integrity and animal cruelty in the greyhound industry were really two sides of the same coin,” McEwan says.
“Rather than see animal cruelty in the greyhound racing industry as being separate to matters of corruption affecting punters, I thought of these matters as entwined and symptoms of the one issue – structural violence.”
She gathered all the information available in the public domain at that time relating to the mistreatment of greyhounds by the racing industry in Australia. She says an important step was the finding by a Victorian judge in 2008 that of the 7,500 greyhounds born to race in that state each year, only around 1,000 lived a full life span.
“That acknowledgment really confirmed this as an issue in need of further investigation and regulatory reform,” McEwan says.
Her research was published in the Australian Animal Protection Law Journal in 2011. The article, co-authored with Krishna Skandakumar, The welfare of greyhounds in Australian racing: has the industry run its course?, became a timely resource.
In 2013, Greens Member of the NSW Legislative Council Dr John Kaye referred to the article when calling for the establishment of a Select Committee inquiry into the state’s greyhound racing industry.
“I was surprised to see that our article became a resource for others wanting to advocate for law reform,” McEwan says.
“Many of the submissions that advocated for improvements to greyhound welfare referenced it”.
Following the 2013 inquiry, interest in the welfare of greyhounds in the racing industry began to gain momentum.
“It gained media attention and investigative journalists took an interest,” she says.
“When I started my research I could not locate any hard data on the number of injuries greyhounds sustained on the track or the rates of euthanasia.
“By consolidating the available information, providing an analytical framework and identifying the key regulatory and animal welfare issues, our article provided a baseline summary of evidence that people could draw on.”
In February 2015 the issue was aired on the ABC’s Four Corners which exposed the practice of live-baiting. As a result, former High Court judge Michael McHugh was appointed to conduct a Special Commission of Inquiry into the industry in NSW. He found overwhelming evidence of systemic animal cruelty, prompting the state government’s initial decision to shut down greyhound racing from July 2017.
While reluctant to take any credit, McEwan hopes her work can be an example to other students on how research can play a part in bringing about positive change.
This article by Aaron Walker originally appeared in ANU Reporter.