A PLAN to create an independent Office of Animal Welfare and to put an end to "cruel factory farming practices" is the cornerstone of the Greens animal welfare policy launched on Sunday.
NSW Upper House MP and Greens spokeswoman for animal welfare, Mehreen Faruqi, unveiled the party's plans to protect animals, saying the creation of an Office of Animal Welfare is long overdue.
Dr Faruqi told Fairfax Media that it would for the first time ensure that animal welfare in NSW is regulated "without influence" from the government or the agricultural sector.
"Too many animals in NSW are at risk from animal cruelty," she said.
"Many factory farming practices, such as sow stalls and battery cages, are unnecessarily inhumane. While there have been some industry efforts to phase these out, it is now time to relegate these cruel practices to the history books where they belong."
RSPCA 'not up to task'
The move also comes after recent criticism of the RSPCA's ability to prosecute animal cruelty cases.
Animal groups have called on the RSPCA to relinquish its role as prosecutor under the state's Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. The organisation has previously admitted that it is unable to effectively regulate the state's puppy farms under current funding arrangements.
Fairfax Media has previously reported animal activists group Oscar's Law had uncovered evidence of alleged animal cruelty at the Frazer puppy farm in northern NSW last year but was outraged that the farm was allowed to keep operating despite evidence of "squalor, malnourishment and freezing conditions", along with a history of disturbing RSPCA NSW vet reports.
The Greens policy is to establish an independent office take the primary responsibility away from the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI), be given a staff of 40 which include animal welfare investigators to work with police to identify and prosecute animal cruelty. It would be costed with the $5 million of current funding from the DPI plus additional; small recurrent funding increase.
They also want activities relating to animals to be licensed including dog breeding, slaughterhouse regulations, farm animals.
And they want to introduce a ban on battery cages for hens, pig stalls and farrowing crates.
Although there have been some voluntary industry initiatives such as Woolworths phasing out battery eggs and Australian Pork Limited committing to a partial sow stall phase-out, the Greens argue that legislation is required to ensure improved welfare for all farmed animals.
Marshall backs regulator plan
In January, Nationals MP Adam Marshall lobbied the NSW Minister for Primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson, to establish a dedicated task force. The Northern Tablelands MP has had two puppy farms raided in his electorate in the past year.
Mr Marshall suggested that the government could overhaul the current animal welfare system and look at establishing a separate agency to monitor these cases of animal cruelty.
"These cases highlight the need for more rigorous monitoring." he said. "If there have been breaches of the code of practice, then these people need to have the book thrown at them."
Animal welfare groups have been calling for the establishment of the office for the past year.
Animal Liberation spokeswoman Emma Hurst said the Office of Animal Welfare needed to be separated from the DPI.
"The Minister for Primary Industries' main focus is to protect the financial stability of primary industries and welfare often falls in opposition to this," she said.
"The current minister is pushing for controversial ag-gag laws, which will prevent issues of animal welfare reaching the public," Ms Hurst said. "Instead of trying to cover up welfare issues, the focus of any minister with the portfolio of animal welfare should be to rectify them."
Ms Hurst called on the minister for police to take on the responsibility for the role. "That is the only way it would work," she said.
Ms Hodgkinson would not comment whether the NSW government would consider establishing an Animal Welfare Office.
She reiterated the NSW government's commitment to animal welfare through the Companion Animals Taskforce and said that the animal welfare system, "will soon be bolstered even further through the introduction of the NSW Biosecurity Bill".
According to the legislative framework, the yet-to-be-introduced NSW Biosecurity Bill is designed to "protect the economy, human health and the environment from problems associated with pests and diseases of animals".
The state's chief regulator of animal welfare, RSPCA NSW, has declined to comment.
- with Eryk Bagshaw