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Barry Lane
29 May, 2009  
Corporate equine manslaughter

Racing Victoria says its primary responsibility is to its “stakeholders” ... and a dead horse is not a stakeholder … Deputy Premier Rob F* Hulls may have an ace up his sleeve … A uniform OH&S regime … Barry Lane investigates

imageDeputy Premier, Attorney General and Minister for Racing, Rob Hulls, might be feeling a little battered and bruised after being caught in the stoush between the jumps racing fraternity and the animal rights brigade over the continuation of jumps racing in Victoria.

Already this season five horses have either died or been put down as a result of injuries after falls in jumps races.

After three horses died in two days at the Warrnambool May Racing Carnival earlier this month, jumps racing was suspended pending a review by Racing Victoria, the industry’s management body.

One of RV’s key objectives is to “value our people, our community and the welfare of the horse”.

Last season the death toll was 12 … horses that is.

In calling for an immediate cessation of jumps racing, Lawrence Pope from Victorian Advocates for Animals said that recent polls indicated that 80 percent of Victorians wanted to see an end to the “sport”.

On the other side, Warrnambool jumps trainer and former champion jumps jockey David Londregan made a valuable contribution to the debate by threatening to shoot all his horses and send their heads to Hullsie’s office if the suspension became permanent.

Londregan is currently seeking legal advice in relation to a bluey he received from Racing Victoria charging him with “conduct prejudicial to the image of racing”.

imageHullsie’s strategy has been to play for time by requiring immediate changes to safety procedures and an end-of-season review, hoping against hope that there will be no more equine deaths before the season finishes in September.

No doubt the minister’s blood pressure went up a point or five when it was revealed that Mrs Hulls, barrister Carolyn Burnside (seen here with the other Hulls), is a member of the Barristers Animal Welfare Panel.

So what? you might say.

For what it’s worth, I think that jumps racing should be banned forthwith but I appreciate that, like fox hunting in the UK, a lot of people earn a quid from it particularly in rural and regional Victoria.

imageA lot of other people seem to get excited by seeing horses fall over hurdles just like they get turned on by watching blokes with funny hats stick swords into bulls and dogs and roosters tearing each other apart (although I have yet to see a rooster tear a dog apart).

When announcing that the suspension of the “sport” would be lifted, Racing Victoria’s chairman and former Attorney General in the Hawke and Keating governments, Michael “Danny Boy” Duffy, ONZ MBE (pic), helpfully warned:

“I’m not going to sit here today and pretend that there won’t be further falls and as a result of some of those falls, there may be some fatalities.”

He also acknowledged that animal activists had their views but said, as any good trade unionist should, that the primary focus of Racing Victoria was the interests of its members.

Duffy diplomatically conceded:

“The board recognised that this issue divides some sections of the community and all these views are valid and respected.”

imageIn the end though, “the board is mindful of its primary obligation to the racing community and to its stakeholders”.

Except for the hapless gee gees.

Following Duffy’s announcement, Hullsie said that he fully supported Racing Victoria’s decision. Deftly utilizing a flick pass, he added:

“The RVL board is best placed to take into account the views from all sides of the debate and has made a decision that will allow jumps racing to continue but in a way that will best protect the welfare of both horses and jockeys.”

In playing for time though, I wonder whether the racing mnister might just have an ace up his sleeve in the form of an item on the agenda of the Workplace Relations Ministers’ Council.

The item to which I refer is the harmonisation of the country’s various OH&S regimes.

imageUnder the guidance of the mercurial Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Julia Gillard (snap), the WRMC has set a cracking pace since all jurisdictions agreed to the project 18 months ago.

After its most recent meeting on May 18 the council was able to announce that it has provided detailed instructions to Safe Work Australia to enable it to begin drafting a model OH&S Bill.

An outline of recommendations by an expert panel established by the council to review existing Commonwealth, State and Territory legislation is set out HERE.

The panel recommended that the overarching policy direction of the harmonised laws should be …

“that the primary duty of care should be owed by any person conducting a business or undertaking. The objective of this recommendation is to move away from the traditional emphasis on the employment relationship as the determiner of the primary duty, to provide greater health and safety protection for all persons involved in, or affected by, work activity.”

In focusing on a business or undertaking the policy of the new legislation marks a seismic shift away from the present limited regimes linked to the master-servant relationship.

Although penalties for breach of the model law have yet to be decided it is envisioned that the most serious breach would be one where a person is recklessly exposed to the risk of death or serious injury.

As New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory have industrial manslaughter laws in operation at the moment they are likely to be seeking offences and penalties that do not materially reduce the effect of their regimes.

Given that the Bracks’ government passed on industrial manslaughter legislation in 2004 a new uniform OH&S regime that effectively incorporates the policy might just save Hullsie’s bacon.

Assuming that Racing Victoria still has some role to play in the management of jumps racing after the new legislation is enacted, it would be well advised to consider terminating jumps racing given the palpable risk of death or serious injury it poses to jockeys.

In the meantime, as Racing Victoria is currently carrying the compensation risk (both statutory and common law) for jocks and jockettes injured or killed on the track, it may be that chairman Duffy will receive a missive from the Victorian WorkCover Authority suggesting that he should refrain from making any further statements that make more difficult the authority’s job of denying foreseeability of injury.