Review Animal Welfare Act: Brown

30 May, 2014 02:00 AM
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File photo only.
If those horses are not taken off inside one month, the facility will face a $20,000 fine...
File photo only.

AGRICULTURAL Region MLC Paul Brown has demanded a review of the Animal Welfare Act over an alleged "vengeful" misuse of the RSPCA's powers in WA.

In a fiery speech in Parliament on May 15, the first-term Nationals MLC highlighted an incident in February and March where the RSPCA charged the Greenough Equine Veterinary Centre under section 40(1)(b) of the Animal Welfare Act.

A notice was issued due to concerns the property had insufficient shelter to protect about 24 horses from over-exposure to the sun.

But Mr Brown said the equine facility was an embryo transfer centre staffed by three qualified veterinarians and veterinary nurses with "an exceptional reputation throughout the equine community".

He said there was "no animal welfare risk or concern with these animals".

But in making its decision the RSPCA had paid "no regard to the advice of four qualified veterinarians".

Mr Brown said an RSPCA inspector had directed a previous animal welfare complainant to the equine centre as an example of good practice.

That complainant was told that the Greenough region had good coastal breezes and did not experience exorbitantly high temperatures or high humidity and "is actually a very good area for horses", he said.

"This was conveyed quite clearly to the complainant but she went away and made a further complaint to the RSPCA," he said.

"The RSPCA inspector then turned up at the equine centre and spoke to the vet nurse and to an associate vet who was there and made a direction under section 40(1)(b) of the Animal Welfare Act."

However, Mr Brown expressed concern about section 40(1)(b) which he said was "quite a strange section of the Act to use" and was normally used "when animals are in dire circumstances, such as imminent threat of death".

The charge should have been made under Section 47(1)(j) of the Act which "generally deals with the more pedestrian-type complaint of animal welfare", he said.

Mr Brown said that section allowed scope for negotiations with the RSPCA and the decisions could be reviewed by the Agriculture and Food Minister.

A review isn't possible under Section 40(1)(b), he said.

Mr Brown said he found it "untenable" that there was no possibility for recourse following a civilian organisation's decision and no review undertaken by the Minister.

He said the RSPCA had been "out and out vengeful in its regard for the Greenough Equine Centre and also completely disrespectful of the Department of Agriculture and Food and the Ministry".

Mr Brown said the RSPCA was asked to rescind the section 40 direction and issue a section 47 but instead, "thinks it knows better than the agriculture department or the four veterinarians and it will determine the outcome for these horses".

"The outcome for these horses is going to be very dire and I think the RSPCA should be held accountable," he said.

"I am calling for a review of the Animal Welfare Act to remove section 40, so that a full review of any decision made by any livestock inspector who works for either the agriculture department or the RSPCA is allowable."

Agriculture and Food Minister Ken Baston and his department have since held unsuccessful discussions with the RSPCA and have written to it requesting the charge notice be changed from Section 40(1)(b) to Section 47(1)(j).

In a statement to Farm Weekly, Mr Baston said due to its age, it was "normal process" for the Act to be reviewed and "preparations are underway for that to occur".

Mr Brown said the "laughable thing" about the incident was that the RSPCA has used section 40(1)(b) which demanded greater urgency, but had actually given the veterinary facility a month to comply.

"If these horses were in such dire need of shelter, food, water and treatment, why has the RSPCA allowed the facility one month to comply?" he said.

"Not 24 hours, not 48 hours, not a week (but) one month.

"If those horses are not taken off inside one month, the facility will face a $20,000 fine for non-compliance."

Mr Brown said the horses had been agisted elsewhere and the property destocked.

"It is costing the equine centre, which has put all the time and effort into building these horses back up into a pristine welfare condition, money," he said.

"The equine facility is too scared to put these horses outside in paddocks, even for a little while to let them have a trot around and have a bit of green pick and then go back into hospital.

"This is what the RSPCA has created by being belligerent and vengeful."

The RSPCA hit back at the claims, with WA chief executive officer David van Ooran saying shelter, food and water were basic requirements for the welfare of any animal.

Mr van Ooran said a direction notice was issued to the Greenough Equine Centre because horses were out in paddocks with no shelter in summer months.

He said the RSPCA does not agree that Section 40 is an emergency section and should not need to be reviewable by the Minister.

"The wording of that section is common sense," he said.

"The second of RSPCA's five freedoms for animals clearly states: freedom from discomfort: by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.

"Section 40 of the Animal Welfare Act 2002 states that: an inspector may: (a) provide to an animal; or (b) direct a person in control of an animal to provide to the animal, any food, water, shelter, care or treatment the inspector considers necessary to ensure the welfare, safety and health of the animal."

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Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media

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