Horse racing: the year that was

Horse racing: the year that was

Since the early days of becoming an animal activist, as I moved into politics and now as a Victorian Member of Parliament for the Animal Justice Party, I have been a fierce advocate for racehorses and of highlighting the cruelty and greed of the racing industry. An industry that believes it is above the law. An industry that treats horses as products to be used for entertainment and profit and to be discarded and turned into dog meat as soon as they stop making money. An industry of nothing less than endemic cruelty.

But things are changing. This year we’ve shone a public spotlight on this cruelty and greed like never before. This is the year that was:

On the morning of 30 January two stables of racehorse trainer Darren Weir were raided as part of an ongoing investigation into engaging in conduct that corrupts a betting outcome, obtaining financial advantage by deception, and animal cruelty. The raids also uncovered tasers known as “jiggers” in the racing industry, an unlicensed firearm and cocaine. It comes as no surprise that electric shock ‘jiggers’ were found and seized, and the mere fact that the racing industry has its own name for tasers just highlights the endemic culture of cruelty. Trainers who refused to be named were quoted in the media saying “the jigger’s power was like a tickle and was used as a reminder.” One trainer even suggested that every trainer would have a jigger in their stable. But the question had to be asked: If being tasered is the same as being tickled would the industry be so determined to keep it behind a wall of secrecy and denial? Would these trainers feel compelled to hide their names? Just like the whip, receiving an electric shock terrifies the horse into doing anything to stop the pain. Often pushing themselves beyond their physical capabilities resulting in them breaking down and injured.

At the time CEO of Racing Victoria Giles Thompson said his primary objective was to enforce the rules and look after the health and welfare of horses. However, it is these rules that allow thousands of racehorses to be sent to slaughter each year, hundreds of jumps horses to be killed on track, and hundreds more horses breaking down and injured from being pushed beyond their physical capabilities.

As an Animal Justice Party Member of Parliament, I take every opportunity to achieve positive change for animals and I called on the government to lead an immediate Independent Inquiry into the Victorian racing industry. I believed that after decades of thriving and profiting from corruption and animal cruelty, it was time the industry was held to account. The government did not support the inquiry.

Thanks once again to brave whistle blowers, on 17 October ABC 7.30 aired an explosive story which showed racehorses being slaughtered for human consumption, as well as serious breaches of retirement form declarations and traceability rules. The investigation showed deception and lies from industry figures and participants, and also revealed that the number of racehorses the industry says is slaughtered in one year is actually the number killed in one week at one abattoir. It was made clear that the abuse of power and the lawlessness that is rife within the racing industry shows no bounds. Countless horses seen at slaughterhouses being killed for human consumption were declared by the industry as retired or still active. This is an industry that has betrayed the public and betrayed its horses. It was made clear that they cannot be trusted to regulate themselves. The racing industry say they love their horses, but what they really mean is they love them while they are racing. The sport of kings is in reality, the sport of cruelty and corruption.

Given that it’s an industry that can only exist with the cooperation and financial support of the Federal Government I called for a Royal Commission into the Australian racing industry. If the Federal Government was serious about redeeming back any credibility for an industry they are ultimately responsible for than this is what they’d do – but clearly this isn’t the case with them choosing to not support a Royal Commission. I pass on my congratulations to my NSW colleagues Emma Hurst and Mark Pearson for their successful motion which called on the NSW government to investigate the outcomes of ex-racehorses.

In response to the horrific footage, the racing industry declared that they would ‘donate’ $25 million to racing welfare initiatives. But how is this going to fix the real problem of overbreeding? The racing industry giving money back to themselves is not a ‘donation’ – it was a public relations exercise to redeem some credibility at their most important period of the racing year. No amount of money in the world can change that too many horses are leaving the industry each year. When the industry churns out up to 15,000 foals in one year alone, there is simply not enough homes when they leave racing. If they were serious, they’d allow the money to be externally managed until the industry fixed their own participant’s throwaway culture of horses.

In October the RSPCA said “You can’t produce this number of horses and ensure that they will all go for rehousing and have a happy life with a loving owner — that simply isn’t going to happen.”

I want the industry to make a commitment to drastically reduce breeding in the industry. But if they won’t put a cap on breeding, then they must be held accountable in other ways. It is already a rule of racing in some codes in some states that racehorses cannot be sent to slaughter. Except, these ‘rules’ are being broken. The industry clearly needs much more than ‘rules’ to change how they operate.

This is why on 29 October I introduced new laws into Parliament to ban racehorse slaughter believing it’s time for racing participants to be held accountable by Victorian law if they slaughter their horses for meat. These proposed laws would make it a crime to slaughter horses for the purpose of pet food in Victoria.

According to the word-salad that is Racing Victoria’s Equine Welfare Strategic Plan, they support ‘a holistic post-racing framework’. Unless the brutal slaughter of young, healthy racehorses for dog food is part of their ‘holistic framework’, they should have told the government to support my proposed laws.

Of course, it would be an oversimplification to believe that ending racehorse slaughter will solve the awful problem we saw on 7.30. But by removing an easy option to sell unsuccessful horses for meat, it would make the racing industry more accountable for the thousands of horses it breeds.

Nonetheless, the government chose to not support these changes.

The 2019 Spring Racing Carnival has been filled with mixed emotions. Such sadness knowing what these majestic animals go through – their suffering while still considered useful – and the suffering that thousands of them face when sent to knackeries and slaughterhouses because they simply aren’t making enough money for their owners to keep them alive. I also have such gratitude and admiration for all those brave activists and organisations relentlessly fighting to expose the cruelty. Thank you to the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses for everything you’ve done, year after year to expose the truth. We are making progress, the truth is coming out, people are seeing what the industry is like behind the cover of glitz and glamour.

On 5 November was the Melbourne Cup – what is considered the main race day as part of the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival. This year I attended the annual Nup to the Cup picnic in the park across the road from Flemington racecourse – a day filled with dressing up and fun showing you don’t need to involve animal cruelty to have a party. But it’s also a day where you know just across the road horses are being whipped and forced beyond their physical capabilities, putting them at huge risk of injury and death. The racing culture has been entrenched in Victoria for many years – but it is changing. Victorians are becoming aware of the horrors of the industry and turning away. The attendance figures released say attendance was significantly down – the lowest it’s been since 1997.

The Spring Racing Carnival might be done for 2019, but the racing, cruelty and greed continues. I promise to continue doing everything I can to hold the industry to account and bring kindness and protection to racehorses.