HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [5.01 pm]: As members would be aware, the issue of animal welfare in horseracing has very much come to the fore in recent times, and that means we are seeing increased calls for industry-wide reform. Today, I will confine myself to the issue of the whipping of horses in racing. The practice has now been banned in Norway, and California has initiated bans on whipping unless necessary for the safety of the horse or the rider. I think it is particularly significant that in Australia we are now seeing leading industry figures questioning the value of whipping and recognising that whipping is a practice that will further erode horseracing’s social licence. After the 2018 Melbourne Cup, six jockeys were found guilty and fined a total of $7 700 by stewards for excessive whipping. It is important to note that this included the top three placegetters. The winning jockey was penalised $3 000 of his approximate $200 000 share of the $4 million prize money.
The current rules of racing in Australia state that a rider cannot use the whip more than five times before the 100-metre mark, but the whip can be used as often as the jockey likes in the final 100 metres. Horses can also be slapped on the shoulder with a whip as long as the jockey’s hand stays on the reins. The industry is slowly reacting to changing community expectations. For example, prior to this year’s Melbourne Cup, all jockeys were warned about excessive whipping via a text message from the Victorian Jockeys Association. Chief steward Robert Cram is reported as having said —
“We’ll talk to them before the race as well to remind them of their obligations with the whip and about riding safely. We don’t want jockeys flaunting the rules just to win the Melbourne Cup.”
He went on to say —
“If a jockey goes over it has to be a significant penalty and they’ve been made well aware of the whip rule which they ride under every day ... Given the magnitude of this race we know the spotlight is on us.
“The penalty is going to be a significant suspension and fines, but we also have to take into account the magnitude of the breach. We don’t want to see what happened last year happen again.
That came after Racing New South Wales also issued a warning to jockeys prior to the Everest race at Randwick racecourse. Sadly, I note that this warning was pretty much ignored, as this year’s Melbourne Cup again saw a clear disregard of the rules by a number of jockeys, including the second place jockey, who was penalised after using the whip 12 times before the final 100 metres and admitted to stewards that the desire to win his first Melbourne Cup overrode any thought of the whip rules.
The RSPCA, of course, continues to oppose the use of the whip in racing due to the pain and distress that it inflicts on horses, and that is despite the changes to the rules in 2009 that mandated padded whips and also reduced the distance over which unlimited strikes are allowed to the final 100 metres. A 2012 University of Sydney faculty of veterinary science study determined that the unpadded section of the whip made contact on 64 per cent of impacts, demonstrating that padding the whip does not necessarily safeguard a horse from possible pain. Meanwhile, independent research commissioned by the RSPCA highlighted that nearly three-quarters of Australians do not support the use of whips in racing and that 87 per cent of punters would continue to watch and bet on racing even if whipping was banned.
Leading racing identities such as English trainer Charlie Fellowes and six-time Melbourne Cup–winning owner Lloyd Williams have publicly called for more action to be taken against jockeys found to have breached the excessive whip rule. Lloyd Williams said —
Australia needs to be at the forefront and withdraw the whip. If we are not proactive, the industry will be lucky to survive. If the industry doesn’t do something, it will be done for them. The world has changed ... The whip has to go.
The industry now needs to realise whips need to be withdrawn very soon. They should be a world leader and be the first to do it.
It is too late for Australia to be leading the world. European countries have already banned the whip and Australian harness racing banned whipping in 2017, recognising that there is compelling evidence these days that society will not tolerate continued cruelty to animals. But banning whipping now is better than later or never. We need to recognise that community expectations have significantly changed and evolved, and beating animals, even with padded sticks, belongs in the dustbin of history. I do not think it is tolerable in the twenty-first century.