ACT News

Canberra Greyhound Racing Club lobbyist attempts meeting with RSPCA over ban

A lobbyist working for the Canberra Greyhound Racing Club has denied trying to ambush the RSPCA into meeting with representatives from the embattled sports body after calls for a ban in the ACT.

Kel Watt said he approached RSPCA chief executive Tammy Ven Dange​ to meet on Monday with him, club senior vice-chairman Garry Harriden​ and secretary Debbie Collier in a bid to "build a positive relationship", invite RSPCA staff to inspect the club's facilities and discuss ways of improving animal welfare at the site.

The Canberra Greyhound Racing Club, including secretary Debbie Collier pictured with trainer and breeder Jason Platts ...
The Canberra Greyhound Racing Club, including secretary Debbie Collier pictured with trainer and breeder Jason Platts and Cupcake the greyhound, hope to meet with the RSPCA to defend the sport after calls for a ban in the ACT. Photo: Jamila Toderas

But Ms Ven Dange said she was unaware club representatives would be present when she agreed to what she thought was an informal "chat" with Mr Watt, until approached by The Canberra Times on Sunday.

After failed attempts to set up a meeting last year, following revelations of live baiting in the industry, Ms Ven Dange said she would be "very happy" to meet with the club, but her staff were unprepared for Monday.

Lobbyist Kel Watt has denied  trying to ambush the RSPCA into a meeting with the greyhound racing club.
Lobbyist Kel Watt has denied trying to ambush the RSPCA into a meeting with the greyhound racing club. Photo: Erin Jonasson

"I'm really surprised. If it was done intentionally it would be very unprofessional, if it was done through lack of communication I'm disappointed that would be our first interaction," she said.

"I don't want to waste anyone's time by meeting and not having anything to say."


But Mr Watt said he had been "very clear" about who he was bringing to the meeting when he arranged it with RSPCA staff after contacting Ms Ven Dange directly early last week before he began work for the club.

Seeking RSPCA expertise to build a $20,000 off-leash socialisation yard at the club's Symonston track for trainers and members of the public to use, is among "a whole range of things" on the table to promote animal welfare, he said.

"At least we had the courtesy to contact and advise and put positive things on the table, it's about far from an ambush as you can get."

Mr Watt said the club had felt ambushed after the RSPCA made public accusations of animal cruelty and mistreatment at a rally calling for greyhound racing to be banned in the ACT without approaching its members and despite there being no recorded instances and no complaints made against the ACT club.

But Ms Ven Dange said she couldn't "see the point" of contacting the club before calling for the ban because few members lived in the ACT.

The RSPCA and ACT Greens MP Shane Rattenbury have called for the sport to be banned because of concerns over animal welfare and the $1 million government subsidy used to sustain the industry.

Mr Watt said Ms Ven Dange may be attempting to back out of the meeting, after finding out the RSPCA claims failed to stand up, but he hoped the confusion was a case of miscommunication.

Club secretary Debbie Collier said about 31 trainers lived in the ACT and 80 came from outside the area, and there had been "zero" instances of animal cruelty or complaints in the club's 37-year history.

She said every ACT trainer had "excellent results" from Greyhound Racing NSW's recent kennel inspections and the ACT was ahead of other states in rules and regulations, including the introduction of random drug swabbing before races and a $36,000 plastic safety rail, both initiated in 2013.

Although Ms Collier admitted the club would not be able to operate without the $1  million government subsidy, she said the club generated a further $700,000 to cover prizemoney and it was moving towards self-sustainability as international betting grew.

"In the last 12 months [international race fields] has gone from $1100 a quarter to $14,000," she said.

Ms Ven Dange said the RSPCA would never take money from the racing club and there was little to inspect at the club's track, but she didn't rule out working with the club.

Ms Collier said the club was not approached by the RSPCA after the live-baiting scandal, but hoped for joint support to lobby the ACT government to increase the $22,000 animal cruelty penalty.