It has been less than a month since Australia saw the brutal vision of racehorses being beaten, abused and cruelly slaughtered. Like most people who saw the footage, I was absolutely sickened and very angry at the evidence of hundreds of racehorses ending up at abattoirs and knackeries, where they were subjected to beatings, torture and electrocution, including of the genitals and anus. Horses were slaughtered in front of each other and bolt guns were used four or five times before horses were finally stunned. What kind of society have we become where such brutality is allowed to go on?
Animal welfare investigators have been telling us for some time that so-called wastage was a huge issue in the racing industry, but they were ignored and ridiculed. What we saw was much worse than what many of us had imagined. Australia was shocked and shattered at the extent and level of animal abuse. The horrific abuse and suffering of horses once they have stopped making a profit show the callousness of the industry that purports to look after them. They should hang their heads in shame. This should have been a catalyst for change, but the racing industry seems intent on shifting blame and simply waiting it out until people forget. The Liberals and the Labor Party seem intent on popping champagne with them rather than holding them to account. All we have seen are empty words and hollow indignation.
A week after the expose, Labor, Liberal and Nationals politicians literally lined up to stand by the horse industry at the Parliamentary Friends of Primary Producers event for Thoroughbred Breeders Australia. Racing and Sports reported that Deputy Prime Minister, Nationals leader and Riverina MP Michael McCormack said at the event in the wake of the ABC expose:
Well done to you breeders, you owners and everyone involved. This government will always back you every step of the way, I know I share bipartisanship when I say that.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said:
We can't afford, for what is overwhelmingly such a positive experience, to be damaged as well. We will do anything we can do to provide assistance …
He also said:
I'm confident that your industry will work your butt off … You'll open yourselves up to scrutiny because you don't want any taint whatsoever.
Open themselves up to scrutiny, working their butts off—what parallel universe are these people living in? This is a national shame.
But people probably would not be surprised that this cruelty against racehorses is enabled by the gambling industry. Betting and gambling profits are built upon the exploitation of chronic gamblers. Mainstream media ignore the problem because of the millions of dollars of advertising the gambling industry put through them, and so the cycle continues. Thank God for the ABC and their fearless independence in taking on these powerful people. It is no wonder that so many in this place are so hell-bent on defunding them.
So how is this allowed to happen? The simple reality is that the silence of politicians is bought through political donations. Tabcorp is at the centre of this. According to AEC 2017-18 reporting, Tabcorp donated $108,860 to the Labor Party, $72,790 to the Liberal Party and $36,350 to the National Party. Is it any surprise then to see politicians being the first to jump to the defence of the racing industry? Labor and Liberal premiers across the country throw tens of millions of dollars of public money at the greyhound and horseracing industries; that is a pretty good return on investment for Tabcorp, while society, the taxpayer and animals bear the costs.
As if to finish the circle, we see politicians jump on a conveyor belt that runs directly from this very building to the powerful lobby groups and back. Just look at the erroneously named Responsible Wagering Australia that represents reprehensible online betting companies, like CrownBet, Ladbrokes and Sportsbet, whose profits are built on the gambling losses of others. The chair of Responsible Wagering Australia is former Liberal senator Nick Minchin. The chief executive officer is former Labor senator Stephen Conroy. The bipartisanship is just touching, isn't it? The gambling industry makes political donations for the same reason the coal lobby does, the same reason the pokies lobby does and the same reason the big banks do: to buy influence and, in this case, to buy their silence.
At the core of what we saw in that footage of horrendous cruelty to horses is the inability and unwillingness of the racing industry to accept full responsibility for each and every horse they breed and to ensure each has a life free from cruelty and abuse for the whole of its natural life. When I directly asked the former Liberal Premier of New South Wales Barry O'Farrell, who headed up Racing Australia until a few days ago, whether or not the racing industry has a responsibility to look after the horses, he said:
I think they have a responsibility up until the time they leave the racing industry. If I sell you my car, Senator, it's no longer my responsibility to maintain it: it's yours.
Well, sorry, Mr O'Farrell, but a horse is not a car. A horse is a living, sentient being. When a billion-dollar industry is predicated on the breeding of thousands of animals purely for the purpose of providing gambling profits to racing, it has a special responsibility to guarantee those animals a good life. They don't get to throw the horse on the abattoir scrap heap when they are done with it, no matter what the route taken.
The industrial-scale slaughter of ex-racehorses that no longer turn a profit has always been an open secret in the industry. The question is: will the industry do anything about it? If those in this industry can't guarantee a dignified life for the equine athletes that they say they love, it's clear that this industry is losing its social licence. The case of the racehorse War Ends shows that no horse, no matter how successful it is at racing, is safe from being tortured and killed once it is no longer turning a profit. A former champion racehorse was tortured and slaughtered at the hands of abattoir workers, as seen in secret hidden-camera footage. War Ends won almost $400,000 in prize money and bonuses.
I've got a word of advice for the racing industry. It is pretty clear that you knew what was going on. You knew that horses that are no longer or were never fast enough are disposed of in abattoirs and knackeries around the country; it is part of the business model. You can sit back and try and ride this out, but you've been put on notice. And we're already seeing this in action. Melbourne Cup attendance was down to a 24-year low. TV ratings were down, dropping by a third in Melbourne itself. Betting turnover was down six per cent. Every racehorse deserves a dignified retirement, not to be trucked thousands of kilometres to be beaten, kicked and cruelly slaughtered.
I want to thank the brave activists who exposed this barbaric cruelty. These are people who are risking their safety, freedom and lives to bring us the truth. These people should be celebrated as heroes. But the stark reality is that, just a few weeks ago, every single person in here except the Greens voted to further criminalise activists bringing animal cruelty to the public eye. Every person involved in coordinating this footage would now be facing a one-year jail sentence. For that, as well, you should hang your heads in shame. Many of you will stand up here and say that you are horrified by what you saw and that you are against animal cruelty, but the reality is that not that long ago you knowingly voted to silence the very people who are exposing it.
Australians are getting pretty sick of Labor and Liberal politicians running a protection racket for animal cruelty. If the industry has nothing to hide, let's have a royal commission to look into it. But we need to fundamentally change the way we treat animals. Let's introduce national laws against animal cruelty, and an independent office for animal welfare. Australia can and must do better for animals, and the Greens intend to keep pushing both the Labor and Liberal parties until they take animal sentience and their right to live a life free from pain, cruelty and suffering seriously.