RSPCA outed over duck hunt­ing ac­tivism

Fi­nally, af­ter years of sub­mis­sions and rep­re­sen­ta­tions, the Royal So­ci­ety for the Pre­ven­tion for the Cru­elty to An­i­mals has been outed over its ac­tivism.

Field and Game - - NEWS -

The RSPCA (Vic­to­ria) Re­view led by Neil Com­rie AO APM (for­mer chief com­mis­sioner of Vic­to­ria Po­lice) is con­vinced that the RSPCA can be more ef­fec­tive in prevent­ing an­i­mal cru­elty by be­com­ing a trusted part­ner with other key stake­hold­ers (in­clud­ing govern­ment) who have the ca­pac­ity to bring about leg­isla­tive re­form.

The ADA and FGA made a joint sub­mis­sion de­tail­ing the im­pact of RSPCA’S trans­for­ma­tion from an an­i­mal wel­fare or­gan­i­sa­tion to an an­i­mal rights or­gan­i­sa­tion, the abuse of its unique po­si­tion and the con­flict of in­ter­est be­tween its role as a reg­u­la­tor and its ide­o­log­i­cal agenda.

In the fi­nal re­port Mr Com­rie high­lighted the RSPCA’S ‘unique and priv­i­leged po­si­tion, given its char­i­ta­ble sta­tus, …to in­ves­ti­gate and pros­e­cute of­fences of an­i­mal cru­elty’.

The Re­view found that the RSPCA was pay­ing a price for its con­flict of in­ter­est: “The po­si­tion of govern­ment of­fi­cials was that the rep­u­ta­tion of the RSPCA as a trusted part­ner had been com­pro­mised by its ac­tivism. There was a re­luc­tance to en­gage in con­fi­den­tial dis­cus­sions with the RSPCA on the grounds that any sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion pro­vided to the RSPCA may be used against the govern­ment in ac­tivist cam­paigns.”

Pre­sum­ably, this as­sess­ment un­der­pins the con­cerns of the (RSPCA) In­spec­torate about the ac­tivist role, which Mr Com­rie said placed RSPCA Vic­to­ria “… in an un­ten­able po­si­tion with re­gard to work­ing with the govern­ment that has leg­is­lated its author­ity and em­pow­ered it to in­ves­ti­gate and pros­e­cute of­fences of cru­elty to an­i­mals.”

Mr Com­rie said it was clear the RSPCA had been ac­tive in cam­paign­ing (some­times in con­junc­tion with other an­i­mal ac­tivist or­gan­i­sa­tions) against law­ful ac­tiv­i­ties such as jumps rac­ing, duck shoot­ing and live ex­port­ing. He was crit­i­cal of emo­tive and judg­men­tal com­ments like ‘Sadly the 12-week duck shoot­ing sea­son went ahead in March’ and ‘We wit­nessed this bru­tal­ity first hand’.

RSPCA (Vic­to­ria) chief ex­ec­u­tive Dr Liz Walker said the or­gan­i­sa­tion would con­tinue an­i­mal cru­elty ad­vo­cacy but would no longer en­gage in public cam­paigns over ex­ist­ing laws, such as duck hunt­ing and jumps rac­ing.

Both ADA and FGA have been high­light­ing the RSPCA con­flict be­tween ac­tivism and en­force­ment for many years and be­lieve the rec­om­men­da­tions of the re­view should be adopted by the RSPCA na­tion­ally.

The test for the RSPCA in Vic­to­ria is whether it va­cates the an­i­mal ac­tivism field or sim­ply pur­sues a strat­egy of sub-con­tract­ing out con­tro­ver­sial, public ac­tiv­ity to or­gan­i­sa­tions such as An­i­mals Aus­tralia.

Less than a week af­ter the re­lease of the Com­rie Re­view, the Baird Govern­ment back­flip on the ban­ning of grey­hound rac­ing in NSW thrust the RSPCA in that state into an equally com­pro­mised po­si­tion.

The RSPCA in NSW had raised money and cam­paigned for grey­hound rac­ing to be banned and re­joiced when Premier Mike Baird ig­nored nearly 80 rec­om­men­da­tions from an in­quiry led by a spe­cial com­mis­sioner, Michael Mchugh, and in­stead made a uni­lat­eral de­ci­sion to wipe the in­dus­try.

Mr Baird has reversed the de­ci­sion and ad­mit­ted he, his cab­i­net and the govern­ment got it wrong.

The in­dus­try will live on but in a re­duced for­mat with re­stric­tions on breed­ing and a strong fo­cus on ac­count­abil­ity and an­i­mal wel­fare.

For­mer NSW Premier Mor­ris Iemma will lead a task­force to es­tab­lish the reg­u­la­tory frame­work for the re­vamped in­dus­try to op­er­ate un­der. “In any sort of reg­u­la­tory en­vi­ron­ment you need in­de­pen­dence, we don’t have that yet,” Mr Baird said. “What we will have in terms of reg­u­la­tion and com­pli­ance will be the tough­est in the coun­try.”

The RSPCA will be part of the task­force deter­min­ing reg­u­la­tion and com­pli­ance, un­der­stand­able given the priv­i­leged po­si­tion the or­gan­i­sa­tion oc­cu­pies in re­la­tion to an­i­mal wel­fare and cru­elty, but it also op­poses the ex­is­tence of the in­dus­try, a very clear con­flict.

RSPCA Vic­to­ria ac­cepted the rec­om­men­da­tion to cease ac­tivism in re­la­tion to le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties such as duck hunt­ing be­cause it is funded and em­pow­ered by the Victorian Govern­ment to in­ves­ti­gate and pros­e­cute an­i­mal wel­fare abuses on be­half of the State.

The Com­rie re­view found that ac­tivism, where the state sanc­tions an ac­tiv­ity, placed the or­gan­i­sa­tion in an ‘un­ten­able’ po­si­tion, which had caused rep­u­ta­tional and op­er­a­tional harm.

What level of trust can be ex­pected from the grey­hound in­dus­try, reg­u­la­tors and the broader public in NSW given the RCPCA in that state will be an ex­pert ad­viser with, more than likely, a more for­mal role in mon­i­tor­ing grey­hound wel­fare, yet it is also a long-time cam­paigner and vo­cal op­po­nent of the sport?

The RSPCA’S ac­tivism con­flict is alive and well in ju­ris­dic­tions out­side Vic­to­ria and the public, and an­i­mal wel­fare more broadly, would be best served if the or­gan­i­sa­tion aban­doned ac­tivism na­tion­ally.

RSPCA CEO Dr Liz Walker cam­paign­ing dur­ing the 2016 Duck Sea­son

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