We’re pleased to announce RSPCA Victoria’s five advocacy goals for 2020-21:
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.
Recent lengthy court cases and heated debate have delayed Parks Victoria’s plan to cull feral horses in the Alpine National Park. It’s an emotive issue for many – whether to allow feral horses to roam free in national parks, or employ the most humane method available to manage the population and protect the native species and habitats they are currently threatening.
Feral horses – known colloquially as brumbies – live in Victoria’s Alpine National Park and Barmah National Park. Feral horses, along with feral deer, goats and pigs, are not a natural part of the Australian ecosystem and can cause severe damage to alpine and sub-alpine environments, including the destruction of habitat critical to many native wildlife and plant species. This damage negatively impacts the welfare of native animals and their environments – the Mountain Pygmy Possum, Northern Corroboree Frog, Smoky Mouse and Broad-Toothed Rat are just some of the native species currently subjected to welfare impacts due to feral horses destroying their habitat, leaving them vulnerable to predation and impacting their food availability.
A comprehensive aerial survey across the Australian Alps in late 2019 found a significant increase in feral horse numbers, with estimates of those in Victoria rising from around 2,300 to 5,000 over the five years since the previous survey. Compounding this is the damage from the 2019-20 bushfires, which caused major losses of high country native wildlife, native plants and habitats. For this reason, Parks Victoria wants to act now to reduce the impacts introduced animals are having on native ecosystems within the Alpine National Park
It is because of our passion for all sentient creatures that RSPCA Victoria believes it is necessary to manage populations of wild animals when they impact the welfare of other species. This is a very tough ethical equation – allow feral horses to drive native species to extinction while impacting their welfare by disrupting the ecosystem, or employ the most humane method available to manage the population to a less damaging level to support the welfare of all species, including horses, in that environment.
In our view, introduced species that negatively impact the welfare of native animals and their environments should be proactively managed in the most humane, effective and target-specific way available. To ensure the welfare of all animals, this should only be done under appropriate government-supervised management programs.
Importantly, all introduced species should be treated equally and no single species should be exempted from humane control, as has been the case with feral horses up until now.
The mountain pygmy possum, northern corroboree frog, smoky mouse and broad-toothed rat are just some of the native species whose habitats are being destroyed or threatened by feral horses, leaving them vulnerable to predation and impacting their food supply.
The broad-toothed rat - which has lived in the Alps for thousands of years - is now listed as a vulnerable species. There are currently only 2,000 mountain pygmy possums left in the wild. In contrast, feral horses are not native, endangered or at risk of extinction. They also suffer from poor welfare when they compete for resources due to their large population numbers. Because of these animal welfare impacts, RSPCA Victoria recognises the difficult but sometimes necessary case for controlling numbers of a particular species – in this case, feral horses.
RSPCA Victoria supports rehoming of feral horses and passive trapping where there is demand for horses from appropriate horse rescue groups or homes that have the expertise and ability to provide for their long-term care. The evidence suggests that there are simply not enough places like these.
Media coverage in 2019 clearly illustrated the market for horses in Victoria is currently saturated, with hundreds of unwanted horses being sent to abattoirs and knackeries. This is further illustrated as Parks Victoria has only received three expressions of interest to rehome feral horses.
Therefore, we can’t see how rehoming could be the principal control method for feral horses, rather, it should be utilised in conjunction with other control methods, such as humane shooting according to best practice standards and exclosure fencing. We encourage anyone with experience in homing horses and an interest in rehoming feral horses to contact Parks Victoria.
Kangaroo harvesting for commercial purposes needs to be very carefully regulated. The RSPCA believes harvesting should only be permitted as part of a wild animal management program supported by clear evidence that kangaroos are having an adverse impact on the environment, agriculture, tourism or transport. Currently, that is not the case in Victoria.
In our view the current Victorian Kangaroo Harvest Management Plan doesn’t adequately protect animal welfare. RSPCA Victoria would like to see more rigorous requirements along with greater monitoring and compliance enforcement. We shared these views with the Government during a recent consultation process on commercial kangaroo harvesting.
Kangaroos are harvested for pet food and other commercial uses and there is a market for exporting kangaroo products overseas. In 2019 the Victorian Government introduced a kangaroo harvesting program following a trial that ran over several years. The Victorian Kangaroo Harvest Management Plan 2020 (“the Plan”) permits accredited shooters to harvest a quota (set by Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning - DELWP) of kangaroos and sell them to the domestic pet food industry. Shooters are required to shoot with high accuracy and aim for the head to prevent suffering.
In addition, the Australian Government recently consulted on the Draft developmental wildlife trade operation for the sustainable harvest and commercial export of Eastern and Western Grey Kangaroo products in Victoria. This would see Victorian kangaroos harvested as per the guidelines in the Plan for overseas export in addition to the domestic pet food market.
In most States or Territories, quotas are set for the commercial harvesting of kangaroos which no longer relate population reduction directly to damage mitigation. Kangaroo management plans treat kangaroos as a sustainable resource available for commercial use, rather than making a decision for control as a result of examining of their impact on the environment. Given the effects of drought and climate change, there is debate about the effect of the sustainable use approach on future populations of commercially exploited species.
We believe that the issue of whether kangaroos and wallabies should continue to be killed under a sustainable use policy should be reviewed by both federal and state governments. Continuing research is needed to determine the impact of current culling practices on kangaroo populations and their environment.
Additionally, we are concerned that the Victorian Plan is not sufficient to protect the welfare of animals harvested for either domestic or export purposes.
There are several areas where further research is required to improve welfare outcomes for kangaroos under the Plan including:
Additionally, we’d like Victoria’s Plan to incorporate more rigorous auditing and compliance enforcement measures such as:
RSPCA Victoria will continue to advocate to the Victorian Government to make changes to the commercial system to increase protections for the welfare of kangaroos.
Community attitudes to animal welfare in farming
are changing, and so too are expectations regarding appropriate standards. In
2019, tension between animal activists and the agriculture industry prompted
the Victorian Government to hold an Inquiry into the impact of animal rights
activism on agriculture. This month the Government released its response to the
Inquiry recommendations and it was pleasing to see a commitment to some
RSPCA Victoria does not support any kind of illegal activity in the pursuit of animal welfare objectives. We believe that animal welfare improvements can be achieved through productive engagement with key stakeholders and democratic processes rather than through illegal activities. We made our views clear during the Inquiry and are looking forward to seeing some good outcomes. Read our submission here.
The RSPCA encourages transparency throughout the
supply chain to enable consumers to make informed choices about animal
products. Transparency and communication of agricultural practices at all
stages of the food production process can be an effective way of increasing
consumer confidence and understanding. Therefore, RSPCA Victoria is pleased to
see that the report is highlighting the need for greater transparency around
farm practices to better inform the community.
Moving forward, we will work with industry groups and farmers to assist them to proactively engage with the community to address concerns about farm animal welfare and build community trust.
RSPCA Victoria welcomes the recommendation to improve independent federal oversight of development of Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines by creating an Australian Commission for Animal Welfare. We’re concerned that the current development process has resulted in the production of inadequate standards that are not sufficiently supported by science and do not meet community expectations. The Standards and Guidelines produced to-date fail to raise the bar on animal welfare standards and simply reflect current industry practice.
RSPCA Victoria welcomes the recommendation to implement closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras in Victorian abattoirs. At abattoirs, saleyards, and other commercial facilities where large numbers of animals are handled on a daily basis, there is the potential for the welfare of the animals to be at risk. Implementation of CCTV would ensure evidence that animal welfare standards are maintained and never compromised. Facility management must ensure that animal welfare is seen as a priority and that there is a zero-tolerance policy towards animal abuse. CCTV is now used in many workplaces and public spaces, and the use of CCTV in commercial animal facilities sends a strong signal to those people working with animals that animal welfare is of the highest priority and that cruelty will not be tolerated.
RSPCA Victoria is looking forward to working with the Victorian Government on the modernisation of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 (POCTAA) to ensure that animal welfare is better protected. As POCTAA covers all animals, this is an important piece of work that is independent of the national animal welfare standards setting process for livestock. We agree that reviewing and strengthening codes of practice for animal welfare and making them mandatory is vital for ensuring the protection of animals.
RSPCA Victoria does not promote an end to animal
use or consumption by people. Instead our philosophy is that all animals should
live a good life and die a humane death. The RSPCA advocates for the humane treatment of
all farm animals. We believe it is important to work with the farming community
and other stakeholders to affect positive change and improve animal welfare
throughout the lives of the animals.
Attitudes and expectations of ordinary Australians are evolving and if industry practices do not keep pace to meet these expectations, it will result in eroding levels of trust in animal agriculture and increasing challenges to its social licence.
You can read more about the RSPCA’s policies on agriculture here at our national Knowledgebase.
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:
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.