It is a truism that that all mainstream issues start off being fringe issues. I’ve campaigned on animal welfare issues since before I entered the Senate. Despite the fact that there is often widespread public opposition to animal cruelty, animal welfare is still generally treated as a fringe issue in politics, and usually in the media as well.
Even though the general notion of significantly improving animal welfare standards and enforcement is still responded to by most politicians with either platitudes or derision, every now and then a specific issue gets genuine widespread acknowledgement.
It seems that jump racing is going through such a phase at the moment, partly as a result of the recent spate of horse deaths I mentioned here. I can still recall the undisguised mockery I got in an interview on Melbourne radio some years ago in response to my call for an end to jump racing in that state (as has now occurred in all but two Australian states).
Now The Australian has run two pieces on the racing industry response to the possibility of a ban finally being brought in Victoria – as usual the industry is proposing changes to allegedly aimed at addressing the problem, whilst simultaneously declaring they “are not responding to the protesters and lobby groups.”
Even more tellingly, their main sports writer, Patrick Smith, has not only written that “People should be concerned about jumps racing”, he has also said “they need to be more agitated about the whipping of horses. It is cruelty. It can be nothing else.”
I don’t think there are any calls for a ban on whipping of horses – although there can be no doubt that being whacked with one of those things would hurt like hell – but significantly reducing the use of them should be easily achievable.
Victoria’s chief racing steward “wants consideration given to banning jockeys from raising their arms above their shoulders when whipping, and that horses be given reasonable opportunity to improve after a strike with the whip before the 100 metres. Only then can they be struck again.”
As Patrick Smith says, “it seems incongruous that we fret about horses falling and not about them being whipped. If it is cruelty that drives (Victorian) Racing Minister (Rob) Hull’s review of jumps racing, then he must also call for a full review of the practice of whipping horses every race on every day of every week in every year.”