Animal Cruelty Inquiry Response

Today Abigail delivered the Greens response to the select committee on Animal Cruelty Laws inquiry. 

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (17:37): The Select Committee on Animal Cruelty Laws in New South Wales produced a very important report as a result of its inquiry. The report is an important step towards bringing animal cruelty legislation and enforcement into line with community expectations. The Greens have been campaigning for better enforcement of animal cruelty laws for the better part of two decades, I am pleased to see this important work making some headway in this place as a result of The Greens policy being adopted in the recommendations of this report. I acknowledge the work of my colleagues and predecessors, particularly the former Senator and member of this place, Lee Rhiannon. Since 2004 she has been calling for the Government to take real responsibility for enforcing animal cruelty laws and to fund inspection and prosecution powers through the NSW Police Force, and for an independent office of animal welfare since 2014.

The report outlines some good outcomes, which I will address first. The report recognises that the NSW Department of Primary Industries effectively views the concept of animal welfare within the context of agricultural industries as being synonymous with quality of stock. We often hear people say, "I love my animals. It's in my interest to keep them healthy because that is how I create a good product." Whether it is greyhound racing or animal agriculture, the notion that animal welfare reflects product quality is not necessarily reflective of the broader community's understanding of animal welfare. The community is increasingly viewing animals as sentient beings, regardless of their use to humans. That change in community attitudes is not being reflected within the Department of Primary Industries. The report expressed a real concern that the Department of Primary Industries risks maintaining this narrow and outdated view of animal welfare matters, which is out of step with the broader community, because of the way that animal welfare has been connected to the department as opposed to sitting with a different Minister in a different department.

The report recommended that the Government move responsibility for animal welfare matters out of the Department of Primary Industries and that it establish an independent statutory body—the Independent Office of Animal Protection. Interestingly, the call for having that independent oversight body does not come just from people who are on the animal welfare side of this debate. I have been involved with the greyhound inquiry visiting regional New South Wales and people have been expressing the view that having an independent animal welfare structure could benefit different parts of society. It is great to see that gaining some traction. There was also a recommendation that the Government ensure that the Act and the animal welfare framework that supports it be overhauled to better meet the community's growing understanding of animal sentience, their expectations about animal welfare, and that it reflect modern knowledge and practices regarding animal treatment. This is another area where we see science and evidence moving on, and research into various practices in other parts of the world not necessarily making its way into Australian practices.

The committee found that the bodies that are responsible for enforcing animal cruelty legislation—the RSPCA and the Animal Welfare League—rely heavily on donations for the vast majority of funding, which has the potential to compromise their independence. The report recommends that the Government should significantly increase the funding of those bodies to strengthen their enforcement capabilities, and to reduce conflicts of interest. It is not ideal to have major charities responsible for enforcing animal cruelty legislation, while also having in the back of their minds what that particular action looks like to the people who are most likely to donate. It is an unusual situation to have a body other than the police enforcing this kind of law and taking action for animal cruelty crimes. Although it has always been the case, it is incumbent on us to look at the impact that that continuous structure has in the modern day.

There were some less than optimal outcomes in the report. The report suggested that the Government consider statutory limits on animal cruelty offences, rather than recommend that those limits be lifted or just extended. I was pleased to see that in the recent Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act [POCTAA] The Greens managed to get up some penalty amendments that fix that situation. Hopefully they will stick. It was also disappointing that the committee did not recommend the removal of restrictions on private prosecutions of animal cruelty offences, notwithstanding the support for that notion across the board. In my view, the worst outcome of the inquiry is the absolute contempt with which the Government has responded to the report and the important work of the committee, stakeholders and community members who engaged with the process, and animals who were impacted by enforcement of animal cruelty laws.

By refusing to support a single recommendation of the inquiry, including the recommendation to increase penalties, which this place supported in March, the Government has exposed that it has no interest in listening when the community says animal welfare must be given a higher priority. In the context of the current legislation that the Government says it is working on to overhaul the POCTAA and animal welfare laws, whenever we point out the delay to the overhaul of those laws we constantly hear from the Government that it needs to consult and that there has not been enough consultation. This important joint select committee did the Government's work for it and consulted, and made very clear recommendations. For that to be dismissed by the Government is disappointing.

The Greens will continue to advocate for the welfare and protection of animals in New South Wales and across Australia. While the Government simply noted all the recommendations that were made by the committee and did not explicitly support a single one, we hope it will nevertheless take heed of the strong findings of the committee and begin to take responsibility for the protection of animals for the first time. I thank the Hon. Mark Pearson for chairing the committee, the committee staff and Hansard and everyone who made submissions and presented evidence. Although the Government may not have listened to the outcomes, rest assured that many other members in this place have heard their wishes.

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