Our animal welfare advocacy goals for 2020-21

We’re pleased to announce RSPCA Victoria’s five advocacy goals for 2020-21:

  1. End duck shooting in Victoria
  2. Significant animal welfare improvements across the three racing codes
  3. Proactive, humane management of overabundant wild animal populations
  4. Improved farm animal welfare standards
  5. Animal welfare legislation reform in Victoria.  

We believe these are the current “big ticket” items for animals in this state. We chose these goals based on the scale and scope of each issue as well as the potential to achieve change for the animals affected. By setting ourselves five focused goals we hope to achieve some real wins for animals. We’ll advocate in our usual RSPCA Victoria way – using an evidence-based, ethical approach and ensuring we build direct relationships with policy decision-makers, industry and those who influence animal welfare policy and management.

Out for a duck – no shooting under current restrictions, but what about a permanent ban?

The circumstances around COVID-19 have been challenging for many Australians, but the announcement that duck shooting is not permitted during the COVID-19 lockdown will be welcome news to many who value the welfare of our native waterbirds and are concerned about sustainability.

Duck shooting season was due to commence in May, despite strong recommendations from RSPCA Victoria that it be cancelled due to the unnecessary injury, pain, suffering and distress caused to our native ducks as well as the unprecedented environmental conditions. Hundreds of thousands of ducks are killed or wounded each season. Not every bird is killed outright and data from last year’s season indicates around 24,000 ducks were wounded and left to suffer. Although this year’s duck shooting season had been shortened and modified, we have consistently recommended that the 2020 season shouldn’t proceed at all and that duck hunting should be banned.

Our recommendations for cancellation of the 2020 season were also based on long-term dry climatic conditions, along with drought conditions in NSW and Queensland and lack of available water, which have reduced available habitat for waterbirds and impacted their breeding and sustainability.  

Latest data from the annual Aerial Survey of Wetland Birds in Eastern Australia – which has been running for more than 30 years - reflects the dire conditions wetland birds are facing and presents compelling evidence of long-term declines in game bird abundance. Furthermore, the full impact on wildlife of the devastating summer bushfires is not yet fully understood but has the potential to be significant.

Prior to the COVID-19 restrictions, the decision to allow a duck shooting season this year was especially disappointing given public concern for protecting wildlife has increased significantly since the bushfires. A recent Public Attitudes to Bushfire Fundraising report revealed strong public concern for native animals, and a desire to rescue, treat and protect those animals. This was illustrated by the fact that animal charities and causes received the largest proportion of bushfire donations.

A recent survey showed that 61% of Victorians are opposed to duck shooting. While it has been banned for years in nearly all states and territories, duck shooting continues in Victoria and South Australia. As a state that prides itself on progressive values, it’s time for Victoria to follow other states and territories and ban duck shooting.

The long run – improving the welfare of racing animals

RSPCA Victoria has long been concerned with animal welfare issues across all three of Victoria’s racing codes – flat racing (thoroughbreds), harness racing (standardbreds) and greyhound racing. We’ve been advocating behind the scenes for a long time – including directly with the peak racing bodies – and this year we’re focusing our efforts to advocate for specific improvements in all three codes.

The 7.30 Report story shone a much-needed spotlight on horse oversupply and “wastage” – literally those horses that are no longer racing that become by-products of the racing industry. Overbreeding is a fundamental problem – we simply don’t know how many horses are being bred. However, at RSPCA Victoria we believe this is just one of many serious animal welfare problems within the horseracing industry. Others include a lack of transparency, risk of injury, use of painful devices such as whips, use of banned substances, racing immature horses, jumps racing and inadequate regulation of the industry overall.

This year our top priority is to see the introduction of a national horse register. Many are surprised to know that there is currently no registration system for horses in Australia. Introducing a national horse register would help to track all horses and their ownership throughout their entire lifecycle. Lifetime traceability would be very useful for tracking and monitoring the welfare of racehorses, rather just tracking them to their first post-racing home. Horses can live for thirty years and may change hands multiple times throughout their lifetime, so lifetime traceability is vital for understanding how many horses are bred and where they end up.

Our goal is to see significant improvements in animal welfare across the racing codes and this year we plan to do this by: 

  • Continuing to advocate for Government commitment to a national horse traceability register 
  • Encouraging the Victorian Government to commit to developing a mandatory code of practice for horse racing
  • Influencing the peak racing bodies to develop robust equine welfare strategies
  • Continuing to advocate for an end to the use of whips in racing
  • Continuing to advocate for ongoing improvements to greyhound welfare.
Read more about animal welfare issues in racing on RSPCA’s Knowledgebase.

Justified, effective and humane - management of wild animals

If you’re an animal in Victoria, the way you are treated can vary vastly depending on how you are classified under the law. Wild animals can be classified in several ways, while we often think of protected native wildlife but there are also countless species classified as pests, unprotected or game. Whatever category an animal falls into, at RSPCA Victoria we believe that any management of wild animals should be justified, effective and humane.

Overabundance of certain species is a problem that we believe needs to be proactively managed. Overabundance of certain species can negatively affect ecosystems, natural habitats and can result in the suffering of animals. For example, we are increasingly seeing hungry deer encroaching on Melbourne’s urban fringes searching for food and kangaroos being hit by cars more frequently as the urban fringe expands further north.

Unfortunately, many of the methods used to control animal populations are only implemented when a population has reached crisis point and control methods can vary in their humaneness. RSPCA Victoria supports proactive population management for animal welfare reasons. It is crucial that management plans are developed early on and that any control methods are adequately considered and justified, appropriate targets are put in place and that there is ongoing evaluation to ensure that the impacts of the animals being controlled are effective.

This year we’ll be advocating for more humane management of wildlife and pest animals and we’ve identified a few specific opportunities already:
  • We’ll advocate for key changes to the Victorian Government’s Kangaroo Harvest Management Plan  
  • We’ll advocate for a robust, proactive and humane Victorian Deer Management Strategy 
  • We’ll advocate for development of feral cat management code of practice  
  • We’ll work to ensure that a clear feral cat definition is included in the Code of Practice for the Management of Dogs and Cats in Shelters and Pounds. 
Read more about RSPCA’s policies on humanepopulation control here.  

A good life and a humane death - improving the lives of Australia’s 500 million farm animals

At RSPCA Victoria we believe that engaging directly and building constructive relationships with farm animal enterprise is vital to ensure incremental improvements are made to farm animal welfare.

We work with a range of stakeholders in the livestock sector to improve the standards and conditions for farm animal welfare. Around Australia, RSPCA’s work with farmers includes supporting research and development, engaging with producers through the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme (run by RSPCA Australia), and actively contributing to the development of Standards and Guidelines for different livestock industries.

There are some current issues that present real opportunities to improve the welfare of farm animals. These include the ongoing review of the national poultry standards, recent exposés on treatment of animals at knackeries and abattoirs and the recently released recommendations from the Inquiry into the Impact of Animal Rights Activism on Victorian Agriculture. They all provide valuable opportunities to liaise with decision makers and industry groups to advocate for improvements to farming standards and to improve transparency around farm practices. We believe that increasing transparency around farm practices is vital for building public confidence and accountability within the sector.

This year we’ll be specifically focused on: 
  • Encouraging farmers to provide increased transparency regarding their farming practices
  • Continuing to advocate for the Victorian Government to commit to a phase out of conventional (battery) cages 
  • Advocating for improved animal welfare at both domestic and export abattoirs 
  • Continuing to develop constructive working relationships with key industry bodies.

Read more about RSPCA’s work to improve the welfare of farm animals here

1986 was a great year…but it’s time to update our animal welfare legislation

Excitingly, the Victorian Government is currently undertaking an animal welfare legislation reform project as part of a promise made at the last state election. This involves updating Victoria’s animal welfare legislation to ensure that it is contemporary and in line with current scientific evidence of what is good animal welfare.

We are pleased to be able to provide valuable input into this prodigious government initiative to ensure new legislation incorporates key changes that RSPCA Victoria would like to see for better protections for all animals in Victoria.

RSPCA Victoria has nearly 35 years of experience in enforcing the POCTAA and our Inspectorate receives the majority of animal cruelty complaints in the state. For this reason, we are uniquely positioned to make recommendations on what is needed in the new legislation.

The current POCTAA presents several barriers to enforcement including lack of early intervention tools available for Inspectors, the use of non-enforceable Codes of Practice and the ability to prosecute only once a breach has been made. The current Act also includes little reference to promoting positive experiences for animals and does not explicitly acknowledge that animals are sentient.

This year we’ll be working to ensure new legislation addresses these limitations and reflects contemporary understanding of animal welfare by incorporating concepts such as sentience and duty of care.

Sentience is most commonly defined as the ability to feel, perceive or experience subjectively. Importantly, this includes not only negative feelings such as pain or distress, but also positive emotions such as comfort and happiness. A significant body of research from a range of scientific disciplines supports that all vertebrates, including fish, and certain classes of invertebrates, namely cephalopods (i.e. squid and octopi) and decapods (i.e. crabs and lobsters), are sentient. Contemporary legislation should reflect this scientific evidence.

We’d also like to see duty of care incorporated into the new legislation. Duty of care is the legal obligation of any person in charge of an animal to provide the prescribed level of care in a way that is reasonable and appropriate. Failure to provide this care is in itself would be an offence and could be investigated before harm has been caused. This would allow RSPCA Victoria Inspectors and other authorised officers to take a more preventative approach to animal welfare.

What is good animal welfare? Visit RSPCA’s Knowledge Base to find out