How much funding is Labor actually allocating to animal welfare in the 2024-25 budget?

Today in Parliament, Abigail grilled the Minister for Agriculture on the complete lack of transparency in the 2024-25 budget regarding how much money is actually going to the organisations that enforce our animal welfare laws.

Abigail said:

My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Agriculture. The budget specified that $21 million would be allocated to animal welfare to be shared between an additional support for animal welfare approved charitable organisations, the review of animal welfare laws and the supposed establishment of an independent office for animal welfare. Given the dearth of information and lack of communication from the Minister's office, will the Minister please confirm the exact amount of the total funding that has been allocated to the RSPCA and the Animal Welfare League in the 2024-25 budget?

The Minister for Agriculture replied:

I thank the member for the question. I am delighted to outline to the House today that the Government has a record spend on animal welfare for New South Wales. We are getting on with the job of delivering on our election commitments on animal welfare and providing better protections for animals and enforcement in New South Wales. The Government has made a record investment of $21 million, which will be split in a number of ways, including, as I said, on election commitments that we took to the people of New South Wales and which we were elected on. That includes reviewing the funding for charitable organisations. That work has been completed.

An allocation of this funding will go to charitable organisations who conduct enforcement activities for the government. At the moment the organisations that conduct enforcement for the government are the RSPCA, the Animal Welfare League and the NSW Police Force. The New South Wales police has its own budget, but the Government will engage with the RSPCA and the Animal Welfare League on an allocation of funding to carry out enforcement activities. Under the previous Government, the RSPCA received $500,000 a year for those activities. That will be increased by this Government. We have proper rules in place for the allocation of funding. We have grants processes that we have put in place because the previous Government pork-barrelled funds and wasted money without accountability. The processes that we have put in place for the spending of taxpayer money will be implemented as we work with those charitable organisations to provide funding for them to carry out enforcement.

We also made a commitment that we would establish an independent office of animal welfare. We will be doing that. Work is underway by me, my department and the Government for the framework of that office. Part of the funding will be allocated to setting up that office of independent animal welfare, as we said we would do. I also have two bills before the House to deal with the Government's animal welfare commitments. The work will continue on those. We have committed to reviewing the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, and some of the funding will go towards the work that needs to be done for that. In addition, we made a commitment to end puppy farming, and part of the funding will go towards delivering on that commitment.

To which Abigail asked a supplementary question:

Given that last year's allocation to the RSPCA was $20.5 million and not $500,000, will the Minister elucidate how this year's investment, which is less than the $43 million from last year, is a record investment, and explain how $21 million can include additional support for animal welfare organisations when the $21 million that was announced across all of these things is less than what was given, we understand, to the RSPCA last year? That would result in a funding cut. Does that mean the word ''additional" as used in the budget is incorrect and misleading?

The Minister for Agriculture replied:

I welcome the supplementary question from the member. It is wrong. I am happy to provide information to follow up on the answer I have provided. The Government has made a record investment of $21 million to deal with animal welfare in the ways that I have outlined and in the ways we took to the election. Last year there was a one-off amount of money provided to the RSPCA without proper information from the previous Government about how it should be spent. That money was spent on a range of things within the RSPCA. Some was spent on enforcement activities but some was spent on facilities that are one-off builds for the RSPCA.

Frankly, because no information was provided when the previous Government allocated the funds, we have had to ensure that systems are in place so that taxpayer money is being spent in the way that taxpayers expect. That is the process we will be going through, as I outlined in my previous answer. The Government is committed to delivering on strong animal welfare rules in New South Wales and making sure that charitable organisations tasked by the Government to carry out enforcement operations are funded appropriately. I will continue with that work.

After Question Time, during the Take Note Debate, Abigail said:

I take note of the answer given by the Minister for Agriculture in relation to my question about RSPCA and Animal Welfare League [AWL] funding. This is very perplexing. Page A5-10 ofBudget Paper No. 1—and elsewhere in the budget paper—states that $21 million will provided for:

Funding to establish a modern animal welfare framework, including additional support for Approved Charitable Organisations.

Anyone in their right mind would think that "additional support" would mean support over and above what had been provided previously. When I asked the Minister about this, she answered with a comment about having delivered a record investment in animal welfare. That is quite curious when members consider the media release from the Liberals on 4 February 2023 when they announced a record investment of $40.6 million, which is almost $20 million more than the Labor Government's announced record animal welfare funding. An ordinary person on the street might think a record investment that is $20 million less than the previous record investment is just wrong.

The funding announced by the Liberals included $20.5 million for RSPCA NSW. In fact, in Labor's budget last year it gave $20.5 million to RSPCA NSW. Additional funding would mean it is giving the RSPCA more than $20.5 million this year. Instead, we have heard from the Minister that she cannot tell us how much is going to be given to the RSPCA. Given that the RSPCA budget submission asked for $23.4 million and they were given $20.5 million. Ideally it should be $31.1 million. We have an unfortunate situation in New South Wales where animal cruelty crimes are not routinely enforced by the police but by the RSPCA and the AWL. We ask them to do that job under our criminal law and we have to fund them for it.

Both the Hon. Emma Hurst of the Animal Justice Party and I have done a good deal of work and spent loads of time educating both the major parties, trying to explain the links between domestic and family violence and animal cruelty and the need for RSPCA inspectors to be funded adequately. Currently the RSPCA has 59 inspectors. If it has $20 million cut out of its budget, that is 50 fewer inspectors enforcing animal cruelty law. To call this a record investment and additional funding is just not fair or true.

 

Read the full transcript in Hansard here and here.

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