Jody Springett’s Mum’s the Word | OPINION, October 13, 2016

And it’s gold, gold, gold to Mike Baird – with silver to Troy Grant – for an outstanding example of a political backflip.

But let’s be honest, the NSW Premier’s decision to ban greyhound racing was killing the government. He simply had no choice, but to backpedal on the issue, which teamed with issues like council amalgamations and the Sydney lock-out laws to send the NSW government’s popularity into freefall.

Mr Baird told a press conference on Tuesday: “In hindsight, we got it wrong — I got it wrong, cabinet got it wrong, the government got it wrong.”

I have to say, when it comes a mea culpa, the Premier’s effort at that press gathering was commendable.

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have some sympathy for Mr Baird’s original position of wanting to stamp out cruelty in the greyhound industry.

Like many people, I watched that original 4 Corners report and it was awful, just straight-out awful, to see live animals being ripped apart.

Mr Baird and his deputy premier Troy Grant, who is also the racing minister, were – and are – absolutely right that the industry needs to stamp out practices like live baiting.

Their mistake was to take to Facebook and announce the ban and assume that all those likes and shares were indicative of the community sentiment on the issue.

It must have come as an almighty shock to the duo to discover that, for all the social media commendations, the rest of the community was left uneasy by a government sweeping in and arbitrarily banning an entire industry.

What do they say about politicians who flop? They “didn’t take the electorate with them”.

Not only did Mr Baird fail to take the electorate with him, he didn’t even tell voters that he was planning the journey.

The problem is that Mr Baird tried to force a hefty change in our social fabric onto voters without building a case for it.

Yes, there have been previous reviews and plenty of discussion in animal rights circles, but does it pass the often-talked about pub test?

If you’d popped in to the front bar of your favourite watering hole six months ago, I’d hazard a guess that voters would be more likely to be discussing the state of the economy and whether their job was safe than wishing for a ban on greyhound racing.

Simply put, Mr Baird went too far. He did something the community hadn’t asked for, without building a case for his actions.

It’s not like he decided to widen the M5 to improve traffic flow after getting stuck in traffic. He decided to ban a $330 million industry without any widespread push from the community, after watching a TV show.

Mr Baird’s desire to see the greyhound industry stamp out live baiting and “wastage” remains commendable.

If he has learned anything from this fiasco though, it should be that you can’t pontificate from on high and then arbitrarily thrust social changes on voters.

What Mr Baird needed to do – and forgive me for using this overworked phrase – was to “start a conversation with the community”.

He needed to give voters a voice and a chance to think about the issue, just as he now needs to shine a bright light on the greyhound racing industry, which is now charged with cleaning up its own backyard and proving it deserves the support it has been given by the community.