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RSPCA Victoria argues for continued farm livestock role at inquiry

by James Nason, 20 March 2017

RSPCA Victoria says a 10-year-old agreement limits its role to investigating animal welfare issues on farms to incidences where 10 or fewer livestock are involved.

In circumstances where more than 10 cattle or sheep or other commercial livestock are involved, animal welfare issues are referred to the Victorian Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources (DEDJTR) to investigate.

The statement comes in response to calls last week by Victorian farmers for laws to be passed giving the Victorian Government full authority to police animal welfare issues on farms, and confining the RSPCA’s role to only watch over domestic animals.

A Victorian parliamentary inquiry is underway examining RSPCA Victoria’s funding and use of powers.

Chair of the Standing Committee on Economic and Infrastructure, MP Joshua Morris, said the inquiry will involve a detailed investigation into the appropriateness of the RSPCA’s powers under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 and how those powers have been used.

In its submission to the inquiry, the Victorian Farmers Federation says Victoria’s Department of Agriculture should have the undisputed authority to regulate commercial farming zones, and the RSPCA’s role should be restricted to domestic animals.

The VFF said action is needed to stop animal activist groups from seizing the power to police farm practices.

“RSPCA Victoria does a fine job protecting and investigating cruelty towards domestic animals, but that role shouldn’t extend to farm animals,” VFF President David Jochinke said.

“The feedback we’ve received from farmers is that RSPCA inspectors are aggressive, demanding, and less willing to work with farmers to improve animal welfare.”

Mr Jochinke said RSPCA Victoria earlier this year pledged to cease all activism following an internal review of its operations, but the VFF remained concerned the group was circumventing this commitment by using the RSPCA Australia to campaign against commercial agriculture on its behalf.

“There is a clear conflict of interest when you have RSPCA Australia actively campaigning against farming practices while RSPCA Victoria is being used to regulate the law for farms,” Mr Jochinke said.

RSPCA Victoria response

In comments to Beef Central in response to the VFF submission, RSPCA Victoria CEO Dr Liz Walker said that for 146 years, RSPCA Victoria had been the state’s leading animal welfare organisation, and it had a high level of trust from the Victorian community who supported its work to end cruelty to all animals.

Historically, RSPCA Victoria’s Inspectorate had enforced the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, responding to cruelty reports involving both companion animals and livestock.

However, in 2007, RSPCA Victoria and the Victorian Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources (DEDJTR) agreed that all reports involving commercial livestock, defined as 10 or more cattle, sheep (and other commercial livestock such as goats and alpaca) or 200 chickens, would be referred to DEDJTR.

“RSPCA Victoria continues to investigate cruelty reports involving companion animals, and 10 or fewer livestock,” Dr Walker said.

“Positive community sentiment towards RSPCA Victoria runs at around 86% in the community, and recent research indicates that 69pc of Victorians have high or very high confidence in our Inspectorate’s effectiveness, and 84pc believe that the organisation cares about enforcing animal cruelty.”

In its submission, the VFF says that while RSPCA Victoria does not currently have active responsibility for commercial farming animals, RSPCA Australia, of which RSPCA Victoria is a member and has a seat on its board, is heavily involved with some agricultural industries through its farming accreditation scheme and activist campaigns.

“The VFF has concerns around the appropriateness of a member-orientated, activist group undertaking official government business with powers comparable to those of the police,” the VFF says in its submission.

“The VFF is concerned about the future direction of the agreement between RSPCA Victoria and Agriculture Victoria.

“The conflict of interest in having a national body campaigning against farming practices while the state body regulates the law for farms would be unacceptable for the farming community.”

Submissions to the inquiry can be lodged until Friday March 31, 2017, with more details at this link.

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