Gulaptis: Greyhound racing ban a 'human tragedy'
UPDATE: Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis woke up devastated this morning with the knowledge an industry and an integral part of his community had been destroyed.
Mr Gulaptis was one of three Nationals MPs who crossed the floor during last night's debate, voting against the sport's ban alongside Kevin Humphries and Katrina Hodgkinson.
It was a long, late-running debate that took the wind out of his sails, and he rose from bed this morning with a heavy heart.
"It's not stressful today, it's just sad - it's a human tragedy to see good people lose their jobs through no fault of their own," Mr Gulaptis said.
"They're losing their jobs, their sport, their dogs they love and some may even lose their houses because of the money they have invested in the industry."
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The member for Clarence said he had received emails of support from people in his electorate and spoken to Grafton Greyhound Racing Club secretary Brad Ellis this morning.
Greyhound racing clubs across New South Wales have been told not to speak to media today, although NSW Greyhound Breeders Owners and Trainers Association chief executive Brenton Scott is due to do interviews this afternoon.
"These are real people, not a line item on a Cabinet agenda. This was not just some piece of legislation being debated," Mr Gulaptis said.
"I will now go home and see the impact on real people, people whose names I know, and quite frankly it is devastating."
Mr Gulaptis doubted the "generous" transition package Premier Mike Baird promised for the industry would come close to covering the true financial costs to regional communities, let alone the social detriments.
"I struggle to see how it can be very far-reaching because it's going to impact everyone, from pet food suppliers to vet services," he said.
"As one bloke said to me, his kids' tennis coach is going to lose work because they won't be getting lessons anymore.
"It's not just the trainers or the owners and breeders; it's going to have a big effect on retailers in communities like Grafton and Casino.
"It's going to take a piece of our community away from us.
"The dishlickers are something we've known for decades. They're part of our community."
Mr Gulaptis said he still supported his party and the Coalition Government despite crossing the floor.
"I can't speak for other members. I just know how it has affected my electorate and me personally," he said.
"That doesn't reflect the leader of my party, Troy Grant, nor Mike Baird.
"They are terrific leaders who have transformed the state and done wonderful things in my electorate.
"This isn't a question for me of failing leadership - it's simply a bad decision for my electorate."
Attempts to contact Lismore MP Thomas George for comment have been unsuccessful. -ARM NEWSDESK
9.30AM: Why three Nationals MPs voted against greyhound ban
GREYHOUND racing will be banned in New South Wales despite Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis and two other Nationals members crossing the floor to vote against their party.
Mr Gulaptis told parliament he could not, in good conscience, support a bill that threatened to devastate so many members of his community - a sentiment Nationals MPs Katrina Hodgkinson and Kevin Humphries echoed.
"The dish lickers are as much a part of Grafton as the Bendy Bridge and the Jacaranda Festival," Mr Gulaptis said.
"Similarly, in Casino they are as integral as the Beef Week festival or Londy's Cafe.
"To be true to all these good people and to myself, I have to oppose the bill.
"As difficult as that is, I will vote against a good government and sit with the Opposition, who are political opportunists."
Mr Gulaptis said his decision did not reflect his respect for Premier Mike Baird, Deputy Leader Troy Grant or the rest of the Coalition's leadership.
He said the ban, due to begin in July 2017, would pull millions of dollars from the Clarence Valley.
"I have two TAB tracks in my electorate, and there are tracks nearby at Lismore, Tweed Heads and, of course, across the border in Queensland," he said.
"As a consequence, Casino and the surrounding area has become a greyhound racing hub, as has Grafton to a sightly lesser extent.
"The Richmond Valley Council has completed an economic and social assessment of the impact of the ban.
"The Casino Greyhound Racing Club has 62 members and there are more than 120 trainers running more than 1,000 greyhounds in the local postcode area.
"The council estimates that the ban will result in a total loss of $10.5 million annually to the local government area, the loss of 49 jobs, and a $2.4 million reduction in wages and salaries.
"There would be similar losses on a slightly smaller scale in Grafton."
Mr Gulaptis questioned why the industry could not be afforded three years to prove it could function without animal cruelty, and that other strict reforms were being adhered to.
He said greyhound racers deserved the same procedural fairness afforded to the racing industry, puppy farming and the chicken industry.
He noted the Casino greyhound facility was upgraded from grass to an all-weather loam track in 2015 to improve safety, at a cost of $850,000.
The club spent $70,000 on new shelters, sheds and concrete areas for machinery maintenance, and $38,000 to upgrade the canteen.
It also made minor corrections to the track and incorporated a safety rail into the lure structure.
"It made this significant investment knowing that this was the eleventh hour," Mr Gulaptis said.
"But before the outcome of these reforms could be tested, animal welfare outcomes could be assessed and the community could measure the success or otherwise of the reforms, it was banned.
"The axe came down and there was no eleventh-hour reprieve.
"That is not giving the industry a fair go."
Barwon Nationals MP Kevin Humphries said his decision to vote against the party line was not a difficult one.
"I did not join this government to ban industries," he said.
"Strong government - and we have been a strong government - helps people.
"We are in a position of strength: We should be supporting people and moving this industry to a better place.
"There are plenty of good people in the industry: We should be supporting them.
"I will not be supporting the bill."
Cootamundra Nationals MP Katrina Hodgkinson said she had only ever shown true loyalty to her party, but could not vote for something so damaging to her electorate.
"The decision to ban the industry is wrong because of the process that took us to it, the precedent it will set and, most importantly, the people it will hurt," she said.
"There are times of terrorism or siege where I accept the primacy of the executive to act deliberately and immediately but a decision on greyhounds does not fall into that category," she said.
"When a process is announced - a proclamation for us to sell - to a bewildered electorate without the proper avenues for my rebuttal on their behalf, then the party approach has been usurped.
"We Nationals have traditionally prided ourselves as the bulwark that tempers those sectors that may not have grown up with the land and animals.
"Indeed, our Federal Nationals colleagues fought against the closure of the live cattle trade.
"Why? Because they believed that the effects on the people it hurt were excessive.
"We have a political role to be the counterbalance to excessive green politics, yet this decision on dogs has us voting with them against our people.
"The Nationals represent the poorest electorates, and greyhound racing is a sport of the battlers.
"I consider the job on our side of the house is to stay out of people's lives as much as possible and to manage problems, not shut down industries." -ARM NEWSDESK