Australia: 'Someone's been asleep': racing industry in shock at animal cruelty revelations - - PressFrom - Australia
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Australia 'Someone's been asleep': racing industry in shock at animal cruelty revelations

21:55  18 october  2019
21:55  18 october  2019 Source:   smh.com.au

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a man wearing a suit and tie: Not impressed: John Hartigan.© Craig Abraham Not impressed: John Hartigan.

Racehorse owner and former Newscorp boss John Hartigan says the emergence of shocking animal cruelty footage shows that horse racing's regulators have been "asleep" and described justifications from industry officials as "nothing short of embarrassing".

a man wearing a suit and tie: Racing NSW chief executive Peter V'landys.© Getty Images Racing NSW chief executive Peter V'landys.

It comes after the ABC's 7.30 program aired footage of healthy racehorses being brutalised and slaughtered at a Queensland abattoir and obtained records of a further 14 racehorses ending up at NSW knackeries.

The footage drew condemnation from all corners of the racing industry, including breeders, trainers, betting companies and sponsors, and came on the eve of The Everest, the world's richest turf race held at Royal Randwick on Saturday.

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It sparked calls for the federal government to fast track the implementation of a national traceability register, which would give authorities the ability to track all changes in ownership for retired racehorses.

Racing NSW chief executive Peter V'landys played down concerns about the extent of the problem in NSW, pointing out it was the only state that had banned a retired horse from being sent to a knackery or abattoir.

But several high-ranking sources within the industry expressed concerns that regulators, including Racing NSW, had been too slow to act after similar abuse allegations were levelled against greyhounds in 2015.

"I must say, it takes a fair bit to rock me out of my seat, and the program did that very thing," Mr Hartigan told the Herald.

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Mr Hartigan said while Racing NSW was not solely to blame it was “surprising” they were unaware of the issue. “Someone’s been asleep and they need to be woken up,” he said.

“The fact that it’s been going on for two years, that it’s taken someone to find it all and put it together, and that there hasn’t been any suggestion of knowledge by the regulators.”

On 7.30, Mr V'landys questioned what the people "attacking thoroughbred racing" were doing about the thousands of domestic cats and dogs abandoned and euthanised each year.

Mr Hartigan spurned the comment, described it as "nothing short of just embarrassing."

Racing Australia chief executive Barry O'Farrell said he was "appalled" and "shocked" and prosecutions "should, and I suspect will occur".

No person has ever been prosecuted for breaching Racing NSW's policies against the slaughter of retired racehorses, which carries disqualifications and fines of up to $100,000.

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However Mr O'Farrell, a former Liberal premier of NSW, defended the actions of regulators who were doing "everything they can" to ensure equine welfare.

Mr O'Farrell also questioned the actions of activists in the investigation, asking why they didn't blow "the whistle earlier".

Racing NSW established an equine welfare fund in the wake of the greyhound racing revelations, purchasing three properties - in the Hawkesbury, at Capertee, north of Lithgow, and on the Mid North Coast.

Mr V'landys defended $1.5 million left unspent in the fund in 2018 according to the organisation's annual report, saying "Racing NSW will be purchasing more properties for rehoming purposes".

The fund is bankrolled by taking one per cent of all prize money generated, although only half a per cent will be taken from the $14 million Everest race. This was because only half the prize money was provided by Racing NSW, Mr V'landys explained.

Mr V'landys said the organisation has a "detailed strategy and has been implementing that strategy".

But secretary of the NSW Trainers Association Glenn Burge warned the actions of regulators were "clearly not enough".

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"The public I can understand has lost confidence", he said. "They need to be doing more".

Mr Burge and the chief executive of the Thoroughbred Breeders Association, Tom Reilly, both said a traceability mechanism was urgently needed, amid concerns horses were rehomed multiple times before they wind up in a slaughterhouse.

"The view of all directors was that we need a taskforce to deal with questions of welfare and sustainability," Mr Reilly said.

"We also believe that it is important there is an independent welfare expert on that taskforce and all of its findings are transparent. We need to accept that as an industry we need to do better ... every aspect of the industry."

Thoroughbred auction house Inglis said the welfare programs were a "step in the right direction" but needed to be "better supported and enforced by all industry participants and the general public who take possession of retired racehorses".

Multiple agencies across Queensland spent Friday shifting the blame after Meramist, an abattoir north of Brisbane, was found to be slaughtering an estimated 4000 race horses a year.

Racing Australia had previously estimated only one per cent, or 34 race horses, were sent to an abattoir annually.

Biosecurity Queensland officers, who do not have the authority to enter premises without permission, were speaking to the management of Meramist on Friday afternoon.

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The Luddenham Pet Meat, a NSW knackery named as receiving racehorses on 7.30, labelled it "defamatory".

"We've never tortured a horse," owner Rebecca Pace said.

"They've tarred us with the same brush as Meramist ... [even though] we pride ourselves on treating animals with respect.

"We are a family business going on 40 years and we've had death threats going to have the place burned down."

Six-time Melbourne Cup winner Lloyd Williams said he found the ABC footage appalling.

"I look out my window here and see my old horses enjoying their life," he said on Friday.

"I am old. I have had racehorses for almost 60 years. So you can imagine how appalling the scenes were to me. There is not adequate words for how disgraceful the scenes were."

Major sponsors and partners of Australia's largest racing carnivals put pressure on racing bodies to take action, with global beverages company Lion calling the revelations "alarming and horrific".

The company distributes and brews Heineken in Australia, a major sponsor of The Everest, and craft beer brand Furphy, which is partnered with the Melbourne Cup.

Tabcorp Australia, who sponsor The Everest say they "obviously abhor animal violence" but support a "well-regulated and sustainable racing industry".

Insurance provider AAMI, a Melbourne Cup partner, said it was similarly "appalled", putting the onus on the racing industry to develop a solution.

Animal Justice Party MP Andy Meddick called for a royal commission into Australian racing, saying the industry had "betrayed the public and betrayed its horses.

Melbourne Cup-winning Weir fronts court .
Melbourne Cup-winning trainer Darren Weir has faced the court charged with animal cruelty offences. Suspended Melbourne Cup-winning trainer Darren Weir has faced court charged with torturing, abusing, overworking and terrifying horses.Fellow trainer Jarrod McLean and stable hand Tyson Kermond appeared alongside him in the Melbourne Magistrates Court on Wednesday, also on animal cruelty charges, and stable hand William Hernan appeared on corrupt conduct charges.

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