"This is an issue that we got wrong. Part of government is ensuring that at all times you get every decision right, but there will be times when you don't."
With these words, NSW Premier Mike Baird explained why on Tuesday he backflipped on his plan to ban greyhound racing in NSW. Baird initially announced the ban after a Four Corners investigation revealed animal cruelty and live baiting, which led to the discovery of greyhound mass graves. That was followed up by a Special Commission of Inquiry which further revealed the extent of abuses.
Political manoeuvering aside, was the backflip really warranted? Here's what Mike Baird tweeted back in July. Has the right decision been "unmade", so to speak?
I feel deep empathy for innocent participants & we will work to support them. But the report is clear and the right decision has been made.— Mike Baird (@mikebairdMP) 14 de julho de 2016
The image at the top of this story might help you decide. It's a recent snapshot of a post-race presentation ceremony at the Shoalhaven Greyhound Racing Club in Nowra, NSW, two hours south of Sydney.
The Shoalhaven club, better known as "the Nowra dogs", is a humble country club. The image of the aftermath of the "spring puppy classic" final is as charming as it is colourful. Kids, parents, trophies, adorable coloured hats, a greyhound in an extremely fetching gold jacket... it's a scene which speaks of our better nature, not the sort of despicable behaviour revealed by Four Corners and the Greyhound Industry Special Commission of Inquiry.
In short, it speaks of community -- a community united by its love of animals and racing.
"For people here it's about the lifestyle. It's your sport, your leisure time, your community time," Glenn Midson, secretary and racing manager of the Shoalhaven Greyhound Racing Club, told The Huffington Post Australia.
"The greyhound people within our club have a bond and friendship. There's a lot of volunteer work that goes on. It gives some a general purpose the same as any other sport whether it be soccer or rugby league. We have a sporting family here."
Midson said there was "a morbid attitude" and "everyone was a bit down" when the ban was announced.
"It's definitely more upbeat now, and a lot of people are looking forward to moving forward. A lot of people would have lost their whole livelihood and their properties. Now we can work towards a better-regulated industry."
Midson said there are 50 or 60 trainers within the Shoalhaven area, some with one dog, some with 20. Some are hobby trainers, others semi-professional and there are also five or six who train dogs for a living -- chasing prize money in the vicinity of $1,000 to $1,500 per win.
"No one does it to get rich," he said.
Countless atrocities have been committed in this industry. But the other side of the story deserves to be told too. For every rogue, there are dozens and dozens of good people like Glenn Midson, who grew up in western Sydney in the days when suburban blocks were big enough to give a kennel full of greyhounds room to exercise at home.
One day, Midson, who is now 55, saw an act of animal cruelty which sickened him. Fifty years on, he won't talk about specifics. He'll just say it's the sort of thing that made him say to himself "I don't want to be a part of this".
Today, Midson says everybody who belongs to his club feels the same. "I've been involved with this club and it's not something happening in this area," he said.
Midson said he and his fellow club members are glad that reforms are coming as part of the conditions of the industry's survival.
"In any sport there is a bad minority. If we get rid of them it will be better for everybody."
The NSW government will likely introduce numerous measures, including, but probably not limited to:
- Capping breeding at 2,000
- Reducing the number of tracks
- Reducing the number of race events
- Whole-of-life dog cycle management, and;
- $1,500 bond for every dog bred
Midson said clubs like his have already taken humane steps.
"Our club was the first club to appoint a voluntary welfare officer who is not involved with greyhounds. We have also started our own rehoming program, which helps relieve greyhound adoption programs."
Meanwhile, Mike Baird said that speaking to people in regional New South Wales was a big part of the reason he changed his mind. That tells you there are plenty more people like Glenn Midson out there.
"The positivity is back," Midson said. "We're looking froward to working towards a better regulated industry."
Meanwhile NSW opposition leader Luke Foley -- who has been opposed to the ban since day one, had this to say on Baird's backdown.
"He's made the right decision for the wrong reasons," Foley said, alluding to certain members of the Baird Liberal government who were under severe pressure.
"He shouldn't have put thousands of law abiding people in greyhound racing through the mental torture he's put them through."