Un­clear RSPCA out­come from In­quiry

Field and Game - - NEWS -

More than three years ago Field & Game Aus­tralia said pub­licly that we wanted “our RSPCA back” but an­other in­quiry into the or­gan­i­sa­tion risks un­do­ing some of the gains al­ready made.

Frus­trated by RSPCA Vic­to­ria’s shift from an­i­mal pro­tec­tion to an­i­mal ac­tivism, we be­gan lob­by­ing for re­form more than three years ago.

Even­tu­ally our ar­gu­ments of con­flict of in­ter­est and loss of fo­cus earned recog­ni­tion but it came from a most un­likely source: an in­ter­nal re­view com­mis­sioned by RSPCA Vic­to­ria.

For­mer Vic­to­ria Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Neil Com­rie AO was ap­pointed to con­duct the in­ter­nal re­view in the wake of pub­lic crit­i­cism over the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s han­dling of horse deaths on a prop­erty on the out­skirts of Mel­bourne.

Mr Com­rie was thor­ough and re­cep­tive, mak­ing par­tic­u­lar ref­er­ence to the joint sub­mis­sion made by FGA and the Aus­tralian Deer As­so­ci­a­tion in his find­ings.

Ac­tivism, in­clud­ing di­rect ac­tion op­pos­ing duck hunt­ing, was cited as a prime ex­am­ple of an un­ten­able con­flict given the fund­ing and au­thor­ity granted to RSPCA to en­force the laws of the Vic­to­rian Par­lia­ment.

To its credit, RSPCA Vic­to­ria ac­cepted all the re­port rec­om­men­da­tions, with­drew from ac­tivism prior to the 2017 Duck Sea­son, and re­moved pub­lic ma­te­rial with the sort of emo­tive judge­ments such as “bru­tal­ity”, crit­i­cised by Mr Com­rie.

RSPCA’S for­mal pol­icy op­pos­ing duck hunt­ing re­mains in place but the ac­tivism has ceased.

FGA said at the time, the test for the RSPCA in Vic­to­ria would be whether it va­cated the an­i­mal ac­tivism field or sim­ply pur­sued a strat­egy of sub-con­tract­ing con­tro­ver­sial ac­tiv­ity to or­gan­i­sa­tions such as An­i­mals Aus­tralia.

On face value, the with­drawal from pub­lic ac­tivism is real, al­though what re­ally mat­ters for cam­paigns is money and the nec­es­sary trans­parency is ab­sent, mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble to judge ei­ther way.

In light of the Com­rie re­view out­come, FGA thought it risky for the Vic­to­rian Par­lia­ment to launch its own RSPCA in­quiry. Con­se­quently, FGA and ADA urged the ad­vo­cates not to pur­sue it.

A Par­lia­men­tary in­quiry pro­vides a plat­form for every­body, in­clud­ing one’s op­po­nents. That’s why the out­come can­not be taken for granted and why history is full of sto­ries of Royal Com­mis­sions and Par­lia­men­tary In­quiries that have back­fired against their pro­po­nents.

When such in­quiries are launched, it is es­sen­tial to en­sure the in­quir­ers are fully in­formed of the is­sues and that takes time, ef­fort, and money, even if that means di­vert­ing re­sources from other ac­tiv­i­ties.

Our ad­vice was ig­nored and the Econ­omy and In­fra­struc­ture Com­mit­tee is in­quir­ing into: the ap­pro­pri­ate­ness and use of RCPCA’S pow­ers pur­suant to the Preven­tion of Cru­elty to An­i­mals Act 1986; the ap­pro­pri­ate­ness and use of fund­ing pro­vided by the Vic­to­rian Gov­ern­ment; and any other con­se­quen­tial mat­ters the Com­mit­tee may deem ap­pro­pri­ate.

De­spite mis­giv­ings, FGA and ADA made de­tailed writ­ten sub­mis­sion. Nev­er­the­less, de­spite the role the two or­gan­i­sa­tions have played in this is­sue, nei­ther will be invited to ap­pear at any of the pub­lic hear­ings.

The “any other con­se­quen­tial mat­ters” al­lows im­por­tant is­sues to be raised through pub­lic sub­mis­sions but it is also an open in­vi­ta­tion to en­gag­ing in the sort of bash­ing normally re­served for banks.

A sim­i­lar up­per house in­quiry into the RSPCA in Western Aus­tralia pro­vides an ex­am­ple of the maxim that you should not launch an in­quiry with­out un­der­stand­ing the out­come.

De­spite the fact the Lib­eral, Na­tional and Shoot­ers, Fish­ers and Farm­ers Party mem­bers made up the ma­jor­ity of the WA in­quiry, it re­sulted in greater pow­ers and more fund­ing — not the with­drawal of pow­ers many sub­mit­ters can­vassed.

In its own sub­mis­sion to the Vic­to­rian in­quiry, the RSPCA specif­i­cally raised the need for the or­gan­i­sa­tion and its of­fi­cers to be pro­tected from civil li­a­bil­ity in the law­ful ex­e­cu­tion of their role. Oth­er­wise, the Com­mit­tee mem­bers were di­rected to the Com­rie re­port and its im­ple­men­ta­tion.

Given the re­sults of the Western Aus­tralian in­quiry and the re­jec­tion by the-then Gov­ern­ment of a set of weak rec­om­men­da­tions, it will be in­ter­est­ing to see the out­come of this in­quiry.

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