Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick has called for a council-owned greyhound racing track in Auckland to be redeveloped as her party continues its lobbying efforts to ban the sport entirely, despite the industry saying its made significant welfare improvements.
Appearing on Breakfast, the MP debated the ethics of greyhound racing with Greyhound Racing New Zealand's Elizabeth Whelan.
"We are one of seven countries left in the world that continue to allow commercial greyhound racing and the death, and the trauma, and the injury, that comes along with that," Swarbrick said.
"Here in Aotearoa, just last week, we had yet another meth doping scandal with three people charged in the greyhound racing industry.
"There are plenty of other things that we can be gambling on. If we really are prioritising our animal welfare… greyhound racing has no place here."
In the past month, Swarbrick has been lobbying the Ōtara-Papatoetoe Local Board to end the renewal of the Auckland Greyhound Racing club’s ongoing lease to use a greyhound racing field at the Manukau Sports Bowl.
In a letter to the board and local councillors, she encouraged local board members to endorse redeveloping the existing greyhound race track as an athletic and community space.
In response to Swarbrick's comments, Whelan said the sport had seen "exponential progress" made towards improving animal welfare.
"A few years ago, I would have completely agreed with Chlöe, to be perfectly honest - we have had historical issues, but that's changed," she said. "Animal welfare is Greyhound Racing New Zealand and our participants' foremost priority."
She reiterated that the racing industry had stopped practices that saw uncompetitive dogs euthanised, and said rehoming was an important part of the sport.
"One of our key mantras at Greyhound Racing New Zealand is no dog left behind. We give every greyhound the opportunity to live its best life throughout its entire lifecycle," Whelan said.
However, Swarbrick contended that rehoming was an "ambulance at the bottom of the cliff" and that there would be deaths and injuries "as long as the greyhound racing industry continues".
"In a typical year we're looking at around 800 dogs being bred and around 150 dogs being imported - hundreds of those dogs don't even tend to make it to the track."
She said there had been a lack of transparency from the sector to verify claims about animal welfare and that dogs often left the sport with significant trauma.
"We know that greyhounds experience an extreme amount of trauma, these can last for up to 23 hours a day, which then can make them not necessarily well-positioned to be in a place of being rehomed."
But Whelan said in response that the dogs were "athletes" and that the sport would inevitably "occasionally" see injuries.
She said the industry had made significant strides since the Government released a review into greyhound racing.
At the time, then-Racing Minister Grant Robertson said Greyhound Racing New Zealand had to "demonstrate decency".
Meanwhile last week, new Racing Minister Kieran McAnulty said the industry was at risk of losing its social licence to operate if it didn't meet safety standards.
“Any sport that involves animals must live up to the highest standards of animal welfare, and if an industry can’t meet those standards, then they’re at risk of losing their social licence,”
Meanwhile, Whelan said the industry had made changes including trialing preferred box draw races and investigating the possibility of introducing straight tracks.
"We've made exponential progress in the area of track safety and animal welfare," she said. "Do we need to do more? Always, we need to do more, and we're always going to keep doing more."
She said that there had been hundreds of greyhounds that had been successfully rehomed in the past year, and that a very small proportion of greyhounds had behavioural issues.
"This season between August 1 and June 14, a further 503 greyhounds were rehomed, so lots of people are enjoying these pets."
Swarbrick's office told 1News that the MP has a new member's bill drafted to respond to greyhound racing. It encouraged the Government to take onboard the bill.