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Baird backflips on greyhound racing ban

AAP logoAAP 10/10/2016 Dan McCulloch

Mike Baird's standing as a "conviction politician" has suffered a damaging blow after the NSW premier performed a humiliating backflip on his greyhound racing ban.

Mr Baird has offered greyhound racing "one last chance" after spectacularly retreating from his promise to shut down the industry by July next year.

The premier declared on Tuesday he "got it wrong" in legislating to ban the industry, instead throwing them a lifeline under strict new regulations.

"We got it wrong. I got it wrong. Cabinet got it wrong. The government got it wrong," Mr Baird said.

In a 52-minute press conference, he conceded the decision would disappoint a lot of people but argued it proved his government was listening.

"My personal convictions on animal cruelty have not changed at all," he said.

"But it's clear, listening to the feedback and on reflection, that we did not give the good people in this industry a chance to respond, a chance to reform.

"On behalf of that, I am sorry. That is something we should have done."

Mr Baird said the final chance would not mean a return to the "status quo".

"The barbaric practices of live baiting, cruel wastage and high rates of injury must end," he said.

Mr Baird's about-face raises questions about whether he may backflip on other controversial measures including lockout laws, forced council mergers or the WestConnex road project.

"This is obviously a specific issue we're responding to, and I think what we're doing is the right thing to do," Mr Baird said.

A panel chaired by former NSW Labor premier Morris Iemma will be established to govern and regulate the industry.

The new "regime" will include mandatory life bans and increased jail time for live baiting, lifetime registration for greyhounds and controlled breeding.

An independent regulator will be installed and extra resources allocated towards enforcement and prosecution of animal welfare.

For months, Mr Baird had steadfastly insisted the greyhound racing ban was the "right thing to do".

But Mr Baird and his deputy, NSW Nationals Leader Troy Grant, faced an unrelenting campaign waged by opponents since announcing the divisive ban.

The ban came after a Special Commission of Inquiry report that found up to 68,000 "uncompetitive" greyhounds were slaughtered in the past 12 years and nearly one in five trainers used live animal baits.

Mr Grant denied Tuesday's backflip was staged to save his political skin in the face of a possible leadership coup from disgruntled Nationals MPs.

Meanwhile, the premier rejected suggestions his plummeting popularity played a part in the decision.

His approval rate has plunged from 61 to 39 per cent since December due to a raft of issues, including the greyhounds ban and lockout laws.

Mr Baird said he previously didn't think the industry could change, but John Keniry, who was appointed to advise the government on the industry's transition to closure, had convinced him there was "a deep appetite" for reform.

"Dr Keniry has made it very explicit to us - indeed, has made a plea as part of his report to us - that he now strongly believes that the industry is desperate to change," he said.

Mr Baird admitted the government had not yet received Dr Keniry's formal report but promised to release it publicly.

NSW Labor Leader Luke Foley - who has always opposed the ban - said: "He's the lay preacher who told us that greyhound racing was a morally evil activity that he'd rub out. And today, the mother of all backflips."

Animal welfare activists say they are "gutted" by the backflip, but industry insiders say the reversal is "a win for battlers".

The reform panel is expected to report back to government early next year, before legislation is introduced to repeal the ban.

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