Our social licence: greyhound racing and fishing in similar boats

This 625.5kg tiger shark was caught in NSW earlier this year and sparked a huge wave of online abuse towards the anglers.

GREYHOUND racing in NSW and the ACT was almost a thing of the past until the NSW Baird Government backflipped on its controversial decision earlier this week.

How did we get so close to the end of greyhound racing in Australia’s most populous state? Well, to paraphrase the government decision makers and racing opponents, greyhound racing had lost its “social licence” to operate. Bad behaviour by a significant minority in the industry had meant that all participants will be out of the business. The report suggests that the size of that minority is about 20 per cent of the total number involved, but that their behaviour is so bad that society (in the form of elected government) should consider withdrawing all members’ licences to operate.

How bad was bad? Pretty bad. Using small native and domestic animals to “blood” dogs in the belief that it would make them run faster. Hiding the rate and severity of injuries amongst racing dogs. Killing off dogs not considered to be fast enough in really big numbers – 68,000 over 12 years – and not always humanely. Exporting unwanted dogs to Macau where treatment is even worse. And, really significantly, failing to clean up their acts once they were exposed in the media and through investigation.

Having said that, many industry participants loved their dogs and treated them well. Probably a majority. But the actions of the minority were deemed to be so bad that the total social licence to operate was revoked.

Anti-live export proponents and anti-super trawler activists use similar social licence arguments to support their respective causes. Bad behaviour at a number of overseas abattoirs is publicised widely and could eventually close down the trade. By-catch of non-target species by that cursed Geelong Star is used to argue against the continued operation of very large trawlers in our waters (without going into a definition of “super” here). Exporters of live cattle and bulk harvesters of small fish could go the same way as greyhound racers; as have whalers, koala shooters and platypus trappers in earlier times.

So what’s all that got to do with rec fishing? Every time there’s a bad story about gross breaches of fishing regulations, or a picture of a big dead fish hanging on a gantry in a local daily paper, or a shot of a fish being gaffed, or of a bag of blue groper illegally speared, or a live bait on a hook, or fish not being well handled at a competition weigh in, those who would withdraw our social licence to fish are given more ammunition. There’s plenty of them around. Think about that when doing your social media posts or posing for your next hero shot. Don’t take our social licence for granted.

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