THE proposed ban on greyhound racing in NSW poses just another challenge in the political life of Minister for Local Government Paul Toole.
Mr Toole created history in 2011 when he was swept into state parliament on the back of a 35 per cent swing in the Bathurst electorate – the largest swing recorded in an Australian election.
He arrived in Macquarie Street as a popular local member but with no profile outside his own electorate.
That changed when he was sworn in as the local government minister in 2014 and since then he has been widely vilified for his leading role in the state government’s program of forced council amalgamations.
He has even lost the support of voters in his own electorate, particularly Oberon, but would be expected to be comfortably re-elected in 2019 if he decides to run again.
Now Premier Mike Baird’s proposed ban on greyhound racing has put Mr Toole in conflict with many constituents.
Mr Baird announced last month that greyhound racing would be banned in NSW from July 1, 2017 and he is expected to bring legislation before parliament this week.
The greyhound industry has launched a well-funded campaign opposing the ban and has won the support of opposition leader Luke Foley. But the importance of greyhound racing to many smaller centres across regional NSW means that Nationals MPs have also been feeling the heat.
Some, including Cootamundra’s Katrina Hodgkinson, have already indicated they would be willing to cross the floor on the issue and while Mr Toole said he would not go that far, he did not rule out joining other Nationals MPs who say they will abstain from the vote.
But such a “half-in, half-out” position would likely win those MPs no friends either within the Coalition party room or outside in their electorates. Worse, abstaining from the vote would mean constituents would never be given a clear indication on just where their MP stood on the issue – and they deserve to know that much.
Mr Baird took a tough stance when he announced greyhound racing would be banned from next year and he has copped both brickbats and bouquets for that.
As tough as it might be, all the MPs in state parliament should follow his lead and have their say – wherever they stand on the issue. Abstaining from an important vote is simply abrogating their duty.