Mike Baird 'Jumped The Shark' On Greyhound Racing

These are not Happy Days for the NSW Premier.

06/10/2016 8:55 AM AEDT | Updated 06/10/2016 9:58 AM AEDT
Miller-Milkis-Boyett/Fairfax Media/digitally altered
"For NSW Premier Mike Baird, his ‘jumping the shark’ moment may prove to be banning greyhound racing."

Made famous by a waterskiing Fonzie in the '70s sitcom 'Happy Days', "jumping the shark" is now a term used to pinpoint the moment when someone or something starts its decline. For NSW Premier Mike Baird, his 'jumping the shark' moment may prove to be banning greyhound racing.

While an analysis of social and mainstream media shows the growing dissatisfaction with a range of issues and policy decisions such as Westconnex, lock-out laws, rejection of extension of shark nets and others, it is the greyhound racing ban which has been credited with Baird's dramatic drop in recent approval ratings. This is despite the fact that most people have not attended greyhound races and oppose senseless animal cruelty.

There are four reasons that have made the greyhound ban Mike Baird's 'jumped the shark' moment'.

First is the underlying threat of the selloff of the state-owned greyhound tracks to developers. Some of the tracks, such as Wentworth Park, are in prime real estate positions. Harold Park is another example. Once the famous centre of greyhound racing, it is now the site of 1,250 recently built Mirvac units.

This may give the impression that the Baird government is keen to sell everything to developers in order to fund the building of infrastructure projects, such as "roads, schools and hospitals".

There have been sustained public selloffs of some of Sydney's most iconic properties, such as those in Millers Point and the Powerhouse Museum. The selling of public assets to developers has polarised the electorate, as witnessed by the recent response to the proposed sale of Ausgrid.

Wentworth Park has been a centre of Australian sport for almost 150 years, including the home ground of elite rugby union, rugby league and soccer clubs, not to mention the thousands who use it for recreational sport. School sporting teams use it for matches and training. While Mike Baird has publicly ruled out the sale of Wentworth Park, there are media reports of secret sale meetings, or at the very least a perception that it will be sold off.

Second, the diversification of the Australian population due to rapid increases in migration and population growth, especially in the large cities, has for many Australians threatened 'traditional' Australian values.

The Australia of 2016 is not the Australia of 1986. For example, for many the celebrations of Australia Day and Anzac Day are a focus of attention, protests, an attempt to prove their dissatisfaction with changes to Australian society.

Greyhound racing is one of the folkloric Australian pastimes. Australia and New Zealand are one of the remaining countries not to have banned the sport. There is nothing more 'Australian' than going to the greyhounds and making a bet with a 'bookie', getting scolded by a meat pie and sinking a schooner of beer.

Regardless of how many of us have actually done this, the banning of greyhound racing becomes another example of the perceived erosion of traditional Australia culture. This is the argument that shock-jocks propagate to their listeners.

Third, for others, the greyhound ban is about class warfare. For almost a century, the difference between horse and dog racing venues has centered upon the clientele: the former the 'sport of the kings', the latter the 'sport of the common man'.

Banning the greyhounds is therefore perceived in the wider community as those in power, 'the elites', educated at rich schools and well connected within Australian society, exercising control over the lives of the battlers.

It is clear that in country areas the dissatisfaction is at its strongest, and we find this class dichotomy replayed in the divide between country and city. My mother-in-law in Wagga is an animal lover who once got angry with my three kids because they killed a huntsman in her house. Subsequently, she taught them how to use a glass jar to collect and take spiders back to their habitat. Yet she is against the ban because it symbolises a stand against working families in regional Australia.

For a state government that prides itself on job creation, the banning of greyhounds will destroy an industry and cost thousands their jobs.

Fourth, for others the gripe is related to the process of, and rationale for, the ban itself. The 'why' reported on Facebook by Mike Baird was related to the senseless slaughter of slow greyhounds and live baiting deaths. According to Baird, the industry had a number of opportunities to reform itself but never did.

It was the ABC's Four Corners documentary which first highlighted the revelations. Although it was the subsequent McHugh Report that ultimately made him act. However it turns out that parts of that report were incorrect.

There was no transparency in the banning decision and clearly there was minimal consultation. This was symptomatic of many of the rushed policy decisions and Baird's perceived autocratic approach to implement them: a perception of dictatorial edicts replacing consultation processes.

The greyhound ban seemed premeditated -- most Australians have pets and perhaps Mike Baird believed the decision to ban greyhounds would touch the hearts of voters. Perhaps the banning of the greyhounds would put him in a more positive light and distract attention from other controversies, rekindling the positive image from the early part of his premiership.

For Mike Baird, it is a shame he did not note the episode when the Fonz gave up the motorcycle and strapped on the water skis, which ultimately obliterated this sitcom. Perhaps Mike Baird should not have gone anywhere near the greyhounds any more than the producers of 'Happy Days' should have made Arthur Fonzarelly 'jump the shark'.


Steve Georgakis is a Senior Lecturer of Pedagogy and Sports Studies at the University of Sydney.

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