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This Is Why Mike Baird Overturned The Greyhound Ban

The premier is still considering adopting a greyhound.

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In July, a damning report into the NSW greyhound racing industry was released that found "illegal and unconscionable activity" on a scale that was "unlikely" to be successfully reformed.

It described the "slaughtering of tens of thousands of dogs", the widespread practice of "live baiting", the failure of rehoming efforts to keep up with the number of dogs who needed to be adopted, and the "deliberate misreporting" and secrecy perpetrated by trainers, owners, and the industry's regulatory body, Greyhound Racing NSW.

It was a watershed moment for the NSW government.

The state's premier, Mike Baird, announced the state would "put an end to greyhound racing" and shut it down by 1 July 2017 because the government could not and would not "stand by and allow the widespread and systematic mistreatment of animals".

The ACT Labor chief minister Andrew Barr quickly followed suit, saying the sport would be outlawed in the territory and its one greyhound track shut down.

Baird had support: 82% of Australians wanted an industry-wide shutdown, a poll taken in July found.

He repeatedly said it was the "right thing to do", that his mind was made up, and that whatever loss of life "regrettably" came as a result of the shutdown, it was a "small fraction of what would happen if the industry continued".

Despite having fractured his vertebrae the night before, Baird stayed up until almost 4:00am to make sure the the legislation passed through the NSW upper house in August.

"I can’t think of a circumstance outside of being under the surgeon’s knife that I wouldn’t be here," he told BuzzFeed News that night.

"I think in time people will look back and see it as the right thing to do."

But just three months later, after his approval rating fell from 61% to 39%, Baird announced he would reverse the ban.

“I got it wrong. We got it wrong. The cabinet got it wrong. And government got it wrong," he said in a press conference, adding that a task force would be monitoring the industry to ensure that “animal cruelty or the status quo" did not remain.

So what made the premier perform a spectacular backflip on a policy he said he believed in?

Here are some of the key players who fought hard against the ban. And won.

"MPs were actively being spoken to in constituent meetings, stakeholder meetings and community meetings ... and feeding that back," Baird told BuzzFeed News this week.

When asked whether his leadership was under threat over the greyhounds ban, Baird said: "Any day is a day that you don’t take leadership for granted."

"I’m here on the basis that my party has given me the privilege of being leader and the state has given me the privilege of being premier ... On any day that can change."

Liberal MP Peter Phelps spoke out against his leader and said the party should not ban an entire industry due to the behaviour of a minority.

"The report itself is quite emotional, while there are some terrible stories in it, even the report acknowledges that it's just a small part of the industry," Phelps said.

While animal activists rejoiced, the trainers and owners of greyhounds readied to save their hobby from becoming a crime.

The national Greyhound Breeders, Owners and Trainers Association hired former solicitor-general of Australia David Bennett to captain its legal battle.

"We have tens of millions of dollars to put to this case to fight it," the association's spokesman and Dubbo Greyhound Club president Shayne Stiff told AAP in July.

Greyhounds ACT hired Kel Watt, a PR consultant who had experience fighting the 2011 live cattle export ban.

Watt got federal Labor senator Sam Dastyari onside, who then threw federal support behind state Labor, calling for a senate inquiry into greyhound racing.

In August, hundreds of greyhound industry supporters gathered to protest the ban at NSW parliament.

NSW opposition leader Luke Foley and his party vehemently opposed the ban and accused Baird of creating policy that would result in the "mass slaughter of greyhounds".

“The greyhound carcasses will be piled sky high and they’ll have to burn them – this is not a plan for animal ­welfare, it’s a plan for mass slaughter,” Foley told the crowd gathered at a rally.

With the support of Dastyari, Foley campaigned hard against the ban and said if he were made premier in 2019, he would reverse it.

ICYMI, Greyhound Racing NSW board dismissed amid revelations of live baiting http://t.co/6ouyX73Ur3

But it didn't always go to plan for Foley.

It was revealed Labor's posterboy greyhound trainer, Tony Gannon, said in 2015 he "would have bashed the fuck out of" anyone filming at racing tracks, after the ABC obtained secretly filmed footage of other greyhound trainers “blooding” their dogs with live animals.

The NSW government is ruled by a coalition of MPs from the Liberal and National parties.

National MPs hold seats in regional NSW, where greyhound racing is most popular.

Although deputy premier and National party leader Troy Grant initiated the inquiry into the industry, the ABC reported last month that senior National MPs had told Grant his position on the ban must be changed before the Orange by-election on 12 November.

The National party candidate for Orange, Scott Barrett, openly opposed the ban, as did National MPs Katrina Hodgkinson and Chris Gulaptis.

"There is no doubt the concern was stronger in regional NSW, but we are a government for the whole of NSW and it wasn’t just in regional NSW," Baird told BuzzFeed News.

Further up the chain, the leader of the National party, deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce, opposed the ban but said he had no intention of reading the report that prompted it.

News Corp tabloids ran a sustained campaign against the ban. The Daily Telegraph ran a front page begging Baird to "give greyhounds one last chance" and published an editorial titled "Baird's greyhound racing ban bites too hard".

An editorial run by The Australian described the ban as "a heavy-handed response to the animal-rights agenda of inner-city green-Left activists".

Radio broadcasters Ray Hadley and Alan Jones – who have the ears of more than 15% of Sydney's breakfast radio listeners each morning – were consistently scathing of the ban.

"If there’s one, one bone of decency left in your hypocritical body, do the right thing, withdraw the legislation," Jones told Baird on his show.

On the eve of the reversal, Baird, whom Jones had referred to as "Kim Jong Baird" and a "megalomaniac" over the ban, dined at the shock jock's luxury Circular Quay apartment.

The premier is now back in Jones' good books.

"He is the man to lead the state, there is no doubt about that," Jones told his listeners the morning after.

Baird was coy on the subject of media influence when interviewed by BuzzFeed News.

"There are all types of media outlets that had views across this and it wasn’t just isolated, there were people in every publication and every news channel that were criticising the decision," he said.

"My strong sense was that almost all of them were against it and that is the media picking up sentiment and reflecting sentiment."

"The strongest and the primary reason for the change was what the community was telling us, and the government should be listening," he said.

But he is still considering adopting a greyhound.

"That is absolutely on the family agenda, so that remains something that we are seriously thinking about."

Gina Rushton is a breaking news reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.

Contact Gina Rushton at gina.rushton@buzzfeed.com.

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