RSPCA needs to 'regain lost ground'

25 Oct, 2015 01:00 AM
Senator Chris Back.
The RSPCA needs to regain a lot of lost ground with the production animal sector
Senator Chris Back.

WESTERN Australian Senator Chris Back believes former Liberal colleague Gary Humphries will have a moderating influence on RSPCA Australia which must address an unbalanced attitude towards livestock production.

Last week, Mr Humphries - who left federal parliament in 2013 - was appointed chair of the RSPCA’s board of directors.

Senator Back said Mr Humphries was an ACT Liberal Senator and co-chair of the RSPCA Parliamentary Friendship Group during the 2011 “debacle” where the former Labor government suddenly suspended the live cattle trade to Indonesia.

He said at that time, he and his former Liberal Senate colleague “had a fairly spirited discussion” about the live animal export trade’s standing and issues underpinning the suspension.

“I was fairly critical of the RSPCA at that time and he (Mr Humphries) was concerned by the criticism I expressed,” the former veterinarian said.

“I basically spoke in the party room and informed Coalition members and Senators about my experiences and background with the live export trade and its importance.

“Gary indicated that he had some concerns and so we sat down afterwards and had an amicable discussion.

“We resolved that issue but where I will be anxious for him to play a role now will be to re-establish the RSPCA’s balance in terms of production animals and companion animals.

“I’ve had serious concerns for some years - which have also been expressed by others as well - that the RSPCA in a sense went down the companion animal industry pathway and disassociated itself from the production animal industry.

“I know they would disagree with that view but I will be having a discussion with Gary to congratulate him and also to remind him that the RSPCA needs to regain a lot of lost ground with the production animal sector.”

Senator Back said as a long-term Senator for the ACT and a former ACT Chief Minister and Attorney General, Mr Humphries would bring a rich history of public policy development to his RSPCA leadership role.

But he said the new RSPCA boss must ensure the RSPCA understands and respects the animal welfare issues associated with animal production.

Live exports the 'elephant in the room'

Senator Back said the elephant in the room for the RSPCA was its position in wanting to ban the live export trade which Mr Humphries supports.

“The animal activists will say that the best welfare outcome for animals is to travel the least distance from the farm to the processing establishment,” he said.

“But as I constantly say, in the case of Northern Australia, the least and most comfortable distance to travel is by sea to Indonesia rather than long distances by road to southern Australia and markets where Bos indicus cattle are not in demand.

“Live exports is an issue the RSPCA has to come to terms with in my view.

“Gary has said he will make his decisions based on good science; well there’s one prime example of good science.”

Senator Back said the RSPCA’s long-running opposition to live exports needed to consider regulatory changes made since the 2011 suspension which have improved animal welfare outcomes on the global stage; not just for Australian animals.

“There is no case of the banning of the trade and if people are genuinely interested in animal welfare then animal welfare standards don’t stop at Australia’s borders,” he said.

“Over a long history both scientifically and from a trade/market point of view, we can point to Australia’s involvement in improving animal welfare standards in all of our target markets.

“Not just for Australian raised and bred animals exported to those destinations, but also for locally bred animals and animals from other countries.

“If the RSPCA and others want to genuinely engage in this space then they need to recognise the international perspectives.

“In every other sector Australia is asked to play its role in terms of human rights - the rights of children particularly - so therefore why can’t that apply to the rights of animals?

“The fact is we do produce animals for consumption by humans in other countries (and) we have a greater obligation, than just looking inside our own borders.”

RSPCA a 'balanced voice': Humphries

Speaking to Fairfax Media, Mr Humphries said the value he brought to the RSPCA chairman’s role - having been a former member of the federal parliament - was in knowing and having worked with many members and understanding how government works.

“I hope that I can improve the dialogue between the federal government and the RSPCA about the issues that matter and therefore move those issues forward, get them taken more seriously, discussed at the right levels, identify the areas of common ground and therefore move to a point where we can lift standards,” he said.

“It may not be that we get agreement on closing the industry down any time in the next little while.

“But I do think there’s the basis here for discussion about what needs to happen to alleviate the misery of those animals that live in horrendous conditions travelling to those countries that import them and then often facing quite unacceptable standards of slaughter and treatment.”

Mr Humphries said the RSPCA would continue working with animal rights groups like Animals Australia on public campaigns where their views overlapped; like wanting to ban live exports.

“The RSPCA has always taken a quite distinct position and I would think we can say, with confidence, we are a respected and balanced voice about the treatment of animals,” he said.

“We don’t argue for example that the exploitation of animals for food or for the benefits of human kind is wrong.

“We accept that is an appropriate use of animals however we argue that the animals need to be treated humanely while alive and the humane slaughter of the animals when it comes time to use their meat or for other products.

“We sometimes work with other organisations where we have common ground but we don’t necessarily take the position of other organisations with respect to the end point that we want that process to lead to.

“We’d want to be saying to federal government agencies and others and certainly to the farming sector, that we have a position which is quite clearly articulated.

“It’s based on good science, we’ve worked through those issues very carefully and we’ll take that position consistently.

“Sometimes that will put us in the same camp as other organisations like Animals Australia – sometimes it won’t – and if our paths cross well that’s fine.

“But we’ll maintain our independence and our ability to invoke the sense that we are honest brokers in this area.

“We present a balanced picture; one that does rely on good science and is the basis of good discussion about where we go in the future to get better outcomes.”

Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


Jo Bloomfield
25/10/2015 6:32:46 AM

Good Science! Was not what RSPCA's Bidda Jones did in her so called scientific investigation of Indonesia in 2011 she based her viewing only on footage supplied by Animals Australia and ABC, a paltry 50 odd head of doctored footage of the 600,000 head that went in that year. RSPCA have no right to claim AW improvments for Australian animals will be improved if LE deminishes significantly because in Australia it would negate many AW abilities simply through financial and economic hardship.
Sick of self serving politicians
25/10/2015 9:59:31 AM

Is it any wonder animal welfare doesnt progress like it does in other countries when we have people like this...person, fear mongering? Gee if some vets would only remember animals and their welfare like they are supposed to. Bottom line is the anger about is RSPCA does not support live export. If he and farmers think than animal welfare charity would ever support a trade that is inherently cruel then you are stupid as well as ignorant and absolutely arrogant.
26/10/2015 6:43:08 AM

Good AW outcomes for livestock are VERY dependant upon the commercial value of those livestock. To put it into simpler terms for the twits in RSPCA- the more it is worth, the better it can, and will be managed. If these twits believe that by reducing market opportunities for farmers,and thereby decreasing the commercial value of animals, that they are improving AW standards, then they have proven that they have NO place in livestock production systems. What about the improving AW standards in other countries brought about by LE??
Katrina Love
27/10/2015 3:42:06 PM

Back needs to pull his head in - any vet who openly supports the live animal export trade should have their license revoked... and how about doing your job and representing the views of ALL the residents of WA in the federal Senate, not just the minority. Being a society for the PROTECTION of ANIMALS, RSPCA would be remiss in its duties if it did NOT oppose the live animal trade as all other animal protection/welfare/rights organisations worldwide do. The cruelty is inherent & there are worse animal welfare outcomes for 100% of animals exported, as soon as they step on board a ship.
Katrina Love
27/10/2015 3:54:39 PM

Nice way to prove our point, Jo Bloomfiled. Bidda Jones (and Temple Grandin) based her findings on hours and hours of footage taken in 7 randomly selected slaughterhouses known to process Aus animals. 4 Corners found exactly the same issues present when they did their own filming and they were issues that were referred to in the 2010 MLA-commissioned report in animal welfare issues in Indonesia. It is expected that what was caught on film would have been happening in all but the Elders owned/operated, other 60-70-odd facilities being used at the time - this was just the tip of the iceberg.


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