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.
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