Budget 2020: Animal rights group 'appalled' at $72m support for racing industry

An animal rights group is "appalled" at the Government's $72.5 million COVID-19 emergency support package for the racing industry in Budget 2020, citing concerns over treatment of horses and greyhounds. 

National has also slammed it as a "damning indictment of the Government's priorities" that the racing industry is getting more additional funding in the Budget than Pharmac. 

"On Sunday the Government gave Pharmac an extra $10 million for the next financial year, today we learnt that Winston Peters is giving racing multiple times that," said National MP Michael Woodhouse. 

Racing Minister Winston Peters said the funding is needed because the racing industry has been "hit by the perfect storm" of COVID-19 while in a "weak financial state in the midst of a reform programme".  

But Aaron Cross, spokesperson for the Greyhounds Protection League of New Zealand, said if taxes are to be used to "fund a degenerate vice" then the industry "needs to come fully clean on its treatment of animals". 

"We're appalled that New Zealanders' taxes are to be used to prop up a dying, cruel industry," Cross said. "There is no public information on the killing and injuries of horses in racing and what the greyhound racing inquiries revealed was utterly appalling."

He highlighted the 2017 independent review of animal welfare in the greyhound racing industry by Rodney Hanson QC that found 1447 dogs had been euthanised between the 2013/14 and 2016/17 seasons, while 1271 were unaccounted for.

Peters said at the time the findings were "disturbing" and "deeply disappointing".  

Cross described the industry as one that "relies on mistreatment of animals to operate" and said New Zealanders "should not stand for their taxes being frittered away like this", because it's "only a matter of time before racing comes begging again". 

The Green Party told Newshub in 2019 it wanted greyhound racing banned. 

"We've seen numerous scandals, including a dog a day being killed in this industry last year alone," Animal Welfare spokesperson Gareth Hughes said at the time. 

"We don't think it has a place in New Zealand, and we should be a country that espouses strong animal welfare - and sadly that's not represented in the greyhound industry at the moment."

Horse racing has also faced criticism, with animal rights activists targeting the Ellerslie Boxing Day races in December 2019, highlighting what they saw as cruelty

Peters said racing is "seriously underestimated for its economic contribution", and for that reason, the Government is considering "recapitalising" the industry, or basically improving its financial stability.  

"Past studies indicate racing contributes $1.6 billion to the economy each year. There are 15,000 full time racing industry jobs and nearly 60,000 jobs which participate in the industry in some shape - from vets to equipment suppliers, and owners."

He said the Government has a respond, recover, and rebuild strategy for COVID-19, and this announcement is the "first step towards a long term restoration of racing". 

Cross said it is "unacceptable" that "legitimate, honest, ethical New Zealanders' businesses are going under as a result of the virus and yet here we are bailing out dog killers and horse beaters". 

He said it is "not a win for New Zealand" but rather a "win for animal cruelty and those who would put animals in harms way for money".

The Government has approved up to $20 million from the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) to construct two new synthetic race tracks intended to be located in Manawatu and Christchurch.

A track in Cambridge is already underway after receiving $6.5 million in PGF funding. 

Peters' office has been contacted for a response to Cross.