Today, I want to talk about something we rarely hear about in this place: animals and their wellbeing. Australians love animals, yet so many of our animal welfare laws lag behind those of other similar nations. So many people have related to me stories of how their companion animals have been their saviours during the isolation of COVID-19 lockdowns. My ex-racing rescue greyhound, Cosmo, has been a loving companion to me and my husband during the pandemic as we have been separated from our children. Yet incredible brutality is inflicted on these dogs as they are raced to death for a so-called sport.
Throughout the COVID pandemic, so much has been forced to shut down. Schools are closed for classroom learning and so are universities. Businesses and workplaces across the country have either gone online or are barely staying afloat without daily trade. Gyms, libraries and even religious venues are shut. But one thing that has continued on is greyhound racing. So many in our community have been alarmed over the last 18 months by the persistent and ongoing operation of the greyhound racing industry, and the power and influence of the gambling lobby over politicians of both stripes has been clearly and shamefully on display. Over 200 precious dogs were killed at race tracks last year, in the middle of a pandemic. So far this year, at least 111 deaths have occurred at race tracks. Racing continues—though, thankfully, it has been suspended in some of the worst-affected hotspot areas.
Five years ago, in my home state of New South Wales, where I'm speaking from today, the government decided to make an important decision: it would shut down greyhound racing. Following the 2016 Special Commission of Inquiry into the Greyhound Racing Industry in New South Wales, then Premier Baird made a strong decision on the basis of animal welfare. In his report, Justice McHugh found overwhelming evidence of systemic animal cruelty, including mass greyhound killings and live baiting. The report said that the industry had fundamental animal welfare issues and integrity and governance failings and could not be remedied. It was horrific reading, but it did lead the government to take the position that it took. For those of us who had worked so hard for so long to expose the inherent cruelty of the racing industry, it was an enormous vindication. But the craven political opportunism of the Labor Party and the enormous lobbying and money of the gambling-fuelled racing industry eventually pushed a cowardly government to do a humiliating backflip. The greyhound racing ban was incredibly short-lived. I've said it before, but the day the ban was reversed was one of the worst days of my time in parliament.
So what has happened in five years? Let's start with the good news. The ACT government shut down greyhound racing more than three years ago. They should be proud of this. Scores of dogs have been inevitably saved from cruelty, drugging, death and injury. But, everywhere else, dogs continue to die or be critically injured at tracks in their thousands.
The New South Wales government is back to its old habits of propping up this cruel industry, and, in some ways, has never given it more full-throated support. It publicly funded $500,000 of prize money for the Million Dollar Chase, in one such brazen example. Earlier this year, the New South Wales government announced what it called a new funding model for the industry. Despite the McHugh report recommending that the industry fund its own oversight body, this will now be funded by taxpayers. Regional grants continue to be piled on, and the public is now paying millions of dollars to boost this horrendous racing and gambling. What an absolute joke—and such a very cruel one, at that. While, sadly, the racing continues, we have exposed this industry for what it is: dirty, toxic and abusive. And we will not stop till it is shut down.
Enormous concern continues over the plight of greyhounds being exported from Australia for racing overseas. Between January 2016 and 31 July this year, at least 1,313 greyhounds were exported from Australia. Over the years, there have been horrific stories, photos and videos emerging from destinations overseas where dogs are malnourished, kept in small spaces, mistreated and gotten rid of when they are no longer turning a profit.
Today, I will introduce a bill to shut down greyhound exports once and for all. The bill will amend customs laws to prohibit the export and import of greyhounds for breeding, racing or any other commercial purpose. It includes a ban on the export or import of greyhound reproductive material. There are exemptions for domestic pet greyhounds.
The export of Australian greyhounds was the subject of a dedicated chapter in the scathing McHugh inquiry which found significant animal welfare concerns arising in connection with the export of greyhounds. An ABC 7.30 investigation with Animals Australia shed horrific light on the abuse and neglect of greyhounds from Australia in Macau, Vietnam and across mainland China. It led Qantas to decide not to export any racing greyhounds to Asia—but the practice goes on.
At the moment, peak body Greyhounds Australasia operates a greyhound passport scheme for export of greyhounds and will not grant passports to greyhounds travelling to countries of concern, including China and Vietnam, where greyhound racing has flourished on the back of exports from Australia. However, there are various significant loopholes. The passport scheme has no statutory authority and greyhounds can be exported without the so-called passport, with the only punishment for exporters resulting from contraventions of greyhound industry rules. In addition, greyhounds may be and have been exported to approved countries before being rerouted to countries of concern.
Recent reports show greyhounds are being exported without Greyhounds Australasia's approval, making a mockery of this so-called enforcement system. So far this year, 87 dogs have been exported, including four dogs to China. Commercial exports to China have been banned for some years, but loopholes still allow dogs to end up in terrible conditions at racetracks across the world. Greyhound Racing Victoria and other state authorities are reportedly currently investigating greyhounds being flown into the UK before being rerouted to China. In previous years, investigations took place into greyhound exports to the United States ending up in China. Greyhound Racing Victoria has reportedly requested the Australian government's assistance to put in place biosecurity requirements or national legislation that can prevent greyhound exports against the national rules, including via third countries.
But this will not stop the export of greyhounds for racing purposes. Once greyhounds have left Australia there is very little the Australian government can do to protect their welfare. Only a full commercial ban will work. Some of you here might know that I have been passionate about this issue for many years. In 2017, when I was a state MP in the New South Wales parliament, I started a campaign of writing to major airlines to ask them to rule out transporting racing greyhounds internationally. Many airlines responded to the Don't Fly With Me campaign and were very happy to get on board. It is time this parliament took the same approach. Banning commercial greyhound export is supported by all key animal welfare groups, and I want to thank them and the thousands of people who oppose the cruelty of greyhound racing and greyhound exports.
The closure of the racetrack in Macau, which was called a death camp for dogs, has had a big impact in slowing the number of greyhounds exported, but this practice hasn't stopped. With the ongoing investigations into continuing exports, we have to do the right thing and draw a line in the sand. No matter what the industry says, neither the welfare of the dogs nor where they end up can be guaranteed after they are exported. The only sensible and appropriate measure is to shut down the trade altogether.
Greyhound exports might make a buck for the industry in Australia, but it is unacceptable to sacrifice the welfare of the dogs at the altar of profitability and gambling revenues. More and more people in Australia see greyhound racing for what it is: gambling-fuelled animal cruelty. These beautiful dogs should be running for fun, not for their lives. My loving and trusting ex-racing greyhound, Cosmo, whom you might see in the background, is a reminder to me every single day of the plight of the hundreds of dogs that endure the cruelty of racing. I know I have no choice but to keep pushing to end this cruelty. I am proud to be a voice for animals in this place. I really hope that more of you can join me.