AGRICULTURE Minister Barnaby Joyce is cautious about the potential for the RSPCA’s mandatory reporting proposal to create an excessive legal requirement on people who work with livestock.
Last week the RSPCA called people who by virtue of their roles are expected to understand animal welfare legislation to be legally required to report animal cruelty.
“All the places I walk on or work on have an internal management mechanism which says you can’t treat animals like that and you will treat them in the appropriate way,” Mr Joyce said.
“I don’t want to have every ringer or every property owner or every jackaroo or jillaroo having to become some sort of legal arbiter about whether an action is legal or not.
“I think we have to give some latitude to self-monitoring… (but) if someone does something that’s obviously beyond the pale, then that’s an issue.”
Mandatory reporting would help create a culture where people are aware of their responsibilities to protect animals, and animal abuse or neglect isn’t tolerated, the RSPCA said. The proposed changes would also include whistleblower protections for those reporting cruelty.
RSPCA Australia chief executive officer Heather Neil said sadly the fate of the animals involved seemed to be lost in the current debate on farm trespass and animal activism.
Australian Pork Limited CEO Andrew Spencer said there was little wrong with the basic principle behind the RSPCA’s proposal.
“If cruelty occurs and you see it, you have a moral obligation to report it and do something about it,” he said.
“What the RSPCA is asking for is to convert that moral obligation into a legal one.
“I don’t see much wrong with that principle so long as it applies to the situations where it’s meant to apply and not just to farm managers.
“Anyone who comes across animal cruelty - including activists on farms who take videos - if they believe they’ve filmed or witnessed animal cruelty, they need to report it as soon as is practical.
“I don’t think there’s ever an excuse for allowing animal cruelty to persist and continue.”
National Farmers Federation president Brent Finlay said pursuing “the highest animal welfare standards possible” was best practice and served the livestock industry’s interests.
But he said the RSPCA’s proposal for a mandatory reporting regime for animal cruelty was problematic as it could add more legislation for an industry already weighed down by costly red tape.
He said individual States had legislative responsibility for animal welfare and the introduction of uniform laws would prove more effective.
Mr Finlay said the farm raid laws proposed by Western Australian Liberal senator Chris Back were designed to protect against biosecurity risks from trespass by animal rights activists.
He said Australia’s strong biosecurity regime provided a marketing advantage in export markets and needed better protection.
Ms Neil said the changes would require increased government support to ensure all agencies in charge of implementing animal welfare regulation are adequately resourced to enable them to respond to the increased number of cruelty reports.
“The RSPCA believes that anyone witnessing animal cruelty has a moral obligation to report it to the relevant authorities,” Ms Neil said.
“But there are some people who, by the nature of their role, are expected to know what animal cruelty is and when action should be taken. These people should have a legal obligation to report cruelty when they see it.”