College students fight for racehorse welfare

Six students from Newhaven College took part in this year’s Victoria Youth Parliament, drafting a bill calling for stricter regulations for the horse racing industry. From left to right: Anthony Car, Seth Ringrose, Simone Hunt, Anna Scott, Caitlin Hunt, and Charlie Brewis.

By Wing Kuang

COVID-19 lockdowns may have interrupted their normal school lives, but a team of six students from Newhaven College are using their extra time to fight for race-horses in Victoria.

The students have written a Bill for the YMCA Victoria Youth Parliament calling for stricter regulations for the horse racing industry.

The Bill was handed to state Youth Minister Ros Spence at the Youth Parliament closing ceremony on September 29. The students want to establish an industry control board as a regulatory body, prohibit steeplechase and hurdle racing, and restrict the training of immature horses.

Year 11 student Anna Scott has been passionate about this issue since she was 10. She enjoyed horse riding and once owned a retired racehorse. She was upset when she found out how horse racing could negatively affect the lives of horses. Anna said the Bill aims to change the situation for the horses “from the beginning of their careers” and improve the quality of their lives.

The students, all aged 17, drafted their Bill as part of the annual Youth Parliament. Participants aged 16 to 25 develop bills on issues they are passionate about and debate them with their peers in Victoria’s Parliament House.

This year, 19 teams of young Victorians joined the program and developed Bills in areas including school education, regional road safety, animal welfare and mental health support.

Due to the COVID-19 lockdowns, the students missed the opportunity to sit in Parliament House and gain feedback from their peers on their Bills.

But the Newhaven College team still enjoyed their experience with the program.

Caitlin Hunt and her sister Simone are both participating for their second year.

“I think it’s a really unique way to have your voice heard and also develop skills to enhance your communication and learn the channels to make a difference,” said Caitlin.

Seth Ringrose and Anthony Car, both year 11, were new to the program. Both have a strong interest in politics and joined in to learn how to draft a bill.

But writing a bill was not easy, and lockdowns have made it even harder.

The team met on Zoom regularly to discuss their Bill, while also studying from home. With help from YMCA volunteers, they researched all state regulations on horse racing, and discussed appropriate punishments for violations.

As regional Victoria’s lockdown was lifted on September 16, the team was excited to go back to school and catch up with friends outdoors. They were excited to hand their bill to the Minister of Youth and seeing their Bill contribute to Victorian legislation.

“It feels good knowing we did our best to present a change, even if it’s small, to Victorian legislation,” said Caitlin.

“I think the biggest lesson I learnt from Youth Parliament is our ability to make change and the importance of politics to reflect the wants and needs of the people.”

Elio Celotto, campaign director for the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses, praised the team for their hard work. He was particularly impressed by the Bill’s articles which prohibit steeplechase and restrict breeding.

“Even 10 years ago, if you were to put this [Bill] forward, you would probably be laughed at,“ said Mr Celotto.

“Now we’ve got young people coming through and being a voice to defend racehorses and horses in general.”

The students’ local Member of Parliament, Jordan Crugnale, praised the students.

“The fact that they’ve chosen the issue of horse racing demonstrates compassion and a commitment to animal welfare. The students are taking on that voice and advocating to ensure all practices in and around the industry are safe and humane,” said Ms Crugnale.

Ms Crugnale said programs like Youth Parliament offer participants first-hand experience to learn how parliament functions. She also encouraged young people to engage with politics in their daily lives.

“Find an issue that you are passionate about, get involved, lead by example, follow your heart. It starts in your home, in your street, neighbourhood and can expand out so much wider.”

This article was originally published in Philip Island and San Remo Advertiser.

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