'Dogs love racing': Winston Peters won't rush decision on greyhound racing ban

Winston Peters. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone
Winston Peters. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone
By Craig McCulloch

The racing minister says he will not rush a decision on whether to ban greyhound racing for fear of the government ending up in court.

Appearing before a select committee on Tuesday morning, Winston Peters also declared that "dogs love racing" and encouraged his fellow MPs to "watch them in the wild".

Green MP Steve Abel took the opportunity to challenge Peters over what it would take for him to prohibit the industry given the harm caused to animals and its "very low level of social licence".

Peters told MPs he "utterly opposed" animal cruelty and wanted to ensure the sport was safe.

But he said he had no interest in making a "careless" decision which could land taxpayers in legal trouble.

"It's a very delicate situation, make no bones about it," he said.

Speaking to media later, Peters refused to detail the potential legal risk, but said that was his judgement based on his own experience as a former lawyer.

Peters said he expected to make a decision on the industry's future before the end of the year, but told reporters "don't hold us to that" as he was still waiting on all the facts.

He told the select committee the worst outcome would be if many greyhounds had to be euthanised because of a political decision to ban the sport.

"That's more serious than getting killed at - than getting injured at the races ... they're not even alive at all."

He also encouraged MPs to "go and watch" greyhounds in natural and free conditions.

"Dogs love racing. Watch them in the wild. Just like horses. Three o'clock in the morning, everybody's quiet and they're out there having a race in the paddock.

"So before we rush off, there are certain instinctive things that animals like, and one of them they will do whether you're going to organise the race or not."

Photo: File image
Photo: File image
Abel asked whether Peters would be prepared to shut down the industry if welfare groups had sufficient strategies for rehousing the dogs where they could "run free of their own volition without the risk of being drugged, or forced to run, or harmed, or killed".

"Isn't it time for us to have a decisive minister like yourself to take action and bring this industry to its rightful end?" Abel asked.

In response, Peters challenged the first-term Green MP what he had done to champion the matter during the last term of government, prompting a quick-fire exchange.

Peters: "Where were you in 2021-22-23?"

Abel: "Not in government."

Peters: "Oh, no, that cannot be an excuse. Were you writing to the minister at the time? Were you all over [Kieran] McAnulty telling him to do this, that and everything?"

Abel: "You're the minister now."

Peters: "Can you show me letters you wrote to him?"

Abel: "Oh, yes, certainly."

Peters: "Oh, you can?"

Abel: "I can."

Peters: "Well, please do."

During a televised leaders' debate before last year's election, National leader Christopher Luxon expressed support for a ban on greyhound racing,

After becoming prime minister, Luxon told reporters he maintained that position, but said the matter was now one for Peters to consider.

Animal activists have long called for action after numerous reviews of the sport sounded alarm about animal welfare practices.

In 2021, former sports minister Grant Robertson put the industry "formally on notice" after a report found the industry had failed to adequately improve animal welfare systems.

In May last year, then-racing minister Kieran McAnulty declared that the status quo was no longer viable: "We are faced with two options: continue under strict conditions or closure."

McAnulty, however, did not take any action before the election. He said he had been delayed due to his other responsibilities as cyclone recovery minister following a series of severe weather events.