Bills - Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment Bill 2021
I make clear from the outset that cruelty to animals and neglect of animals are detestable behaviours that I do not tolerate in any form. My constituents do not and will not tolerate intentional or deliberate cruelty to animals. In the Barwon electorate our pets are part of our family; they are also part of our businesses—a good working dog on any day can be worth 10 men. Our livestock is core to our prosperity: Their health and wellbeing is paramount to a successful farming operation. I do not refute that the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and its penalties must be reviewed. However, my constituents and I hold concerns regarding the appropriateness of having two charitable organisations—RSPCA NSW and Animal Welfare League NSW—responsible for the compliance and enforcement of the Act. When we look at RSPCA Australia's website under the "What we do" tab, the problem is clear. It states:
… RSPCA Australia works to influence animal welfare policy, practice and legislation across the country.
That is the organisation charged by the Government with enforcing the bill: an agency that publicly states it works to influence policy. How can we trust that the way it is going about enforcing the law is within the bounds of how that law should operate? How can we trust that its behaviour is not pushing the boundaries towards where it, as an animal welfare agency, would prefer to be? Under the "Take Action" tab on its website the RSPCA openly states its opinions on certain farming practices, which are in opposition to the regulations that the Government has in place around those practices. How can an organisation be both an activist against government and an enforcement agency of government?
For people in my electorate, that relationship makes for strange bedfellows and does not pass muster. My concern is that the RSPCA is a charitable organisation charged by the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act with policing the rules, but there is no mechanism to bring oversight to the behaviour of an agency charged with those significant powers. With great power comes great responsibility and, dare I say, great accountability. Why is holding the RSPCA accountable so vital? It is because there is an imbalance and some individuals within the RSPCA appear to have abused the power they have. I am not talking about all of them—I know a local gentleman in my community who works for the RSPCA and I would trust his judgement every day of the week. I have no problem with his ability to come and assess a situation. This is about some people, not everyone. When we give an entity such significant power we need to balance that with accountability and transparency for public confidence.
When I worked for the NSW Police Force there were many mechanisms that sought to balance the legislated power given to police officers with the accountability, transparency and procedural fairness that allowed an avenue of complaint, appeal or independent review. Whilst I absolutely condemn any cruelty to animals, I cannot support increasing penalties until we see a higher degree of transparency, procedural fairness and accountability for the organisation that is given such significant powers. Farmers in my electorate tell me that they have found RSPCA officers in their paddocks unannounced. For a rural land holder, that is not so different from finding someone in your urban lounge room. It demonstrates a massive amount of power.
One farmer in my electorate no longer owns her property; the RSPCA does. The penalties and legal costs meant her property was forfeited to the RSPCA. She is allowed to live there until she can no longer live on a farm or passes away, but the property will never again be hers and will never be her children's. That farmer has significant health issues and it was her intention to sell the property, using the proceeds to move closer to her children, which can never happen now. I encourage the New South Wales Government to review and remedy that situation. It is a significant amount of power and any government agency has multiple ways for a person to seek justice when an injustice occurs. The RSPCA is a proxy for government. If the Government outsources a role in the community, it cannot then outsource responsibility for getting it right.