Animal Welfare Amendments in WA
One of the most important issues in animal welfare at the moment is the current discussion about the State’s animal welfare laws.
The legislation that covers matters relating to the welfare of animals in all kinds of settings in the community, including farms, saleyards and abattoirs, is the Animal Welfare Act 2002. Changing community expectations around the treatment of animals and issues with the operation of the Act have meant a review of the Act is required and is long overdue. Last year, the State Government put forward the Animal Welfare Amendment Bill in the WA Parliament, which proposes changes to parts of the Act as a “stop-gap measure” pending a review.
Generally, RSPCA WA supports the purpose of the Bill – which is to amend the existing Act to provide a legislative framework so National Standards and Guidelines for Animal Welfare can be put in place in WA. These provide for minimum standards of care for animals, including in agriculture. The Standards have been worked up over several years by a group that represented the views of all parties involved in the management of livestock. They have been agreed nationally but to come into effect here they have to be included in WA legislation.
At the moment, WA is lagging behind. For example, the National Standards and Guidelines for the Land Transport of Livestock, which were agreed in 2012 have already been implemented in all States and Territories except WA. The Standards are important because they ensure consistency of regulation across Australia as well as market confidence. There are other new national standards, such as for saleyards and depots, that can’t come into effect here until the Act is amended.
It is worth noting that some cattle producers in WA who have signed up to MLA’s Livestock Production Assurance (LPA) scheme are currently working with their vets to make on farm changes that accord with the Australian Standards and Guidelines for Cattle (WelfareCheck). We applaud these producers for their proactive approach and for other producers considering joining this scheme, info is available at https://www.ava.com.au/cattle/welfarecheck-general
The Bill was drawn up by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD), tabled in the State Parliament and then referred to a Parliamentary Committee for review. As part of that review, RSPCA WA made a submission that generally supported the purpose of the Bill but raised some concerns with how it proposes to regulate the Standards in practice. The Committee has now reported to the Parliament.
The main points that are relevant for farmers working with livestock are -
RSPCA WA considers that the amendments in the Bill to implement the standards are unnecessarily complicated and create uncertainty. Notably, we don’t support the way in which the Bill proposes to make some breaches of National Standards an automatic cruelty offence. In other jurisdictions, in most cases, a breach of the Standards would be a regulatory offence, not a more serious cruelty offence. The Standards are intended to be a guide to minimum standards of proper animal husbandry and are not intended to define acts of animal cruelty. That is a different thing all together, although serious breaches of the standards could, in some cases, amount to animal cruelty. Both RSPCA WA and the Committee agreed on this issue.
The Bill proposes the creation of a new class of ‘designated general inspector’ with powers to enter to monitor compliance with National Standards. We support this because we believe the powers of entry that currently exist are not sufficient and the amendments in the Bill are necessary. Also, we believe that if Inspectors have to give notice of entry (for example, 24 hours’ notice) to non-residential premises this could jeopardise monitoring work. The public needs to have confidence that standards are being properly monitored. Effective monitoring is more likely to create positive outcomes for both animals and industry. Unfortunately, the Committee did not support these amendments.
Finally, the Act currently contemplates general inspectors having the power to issue infringement notices, which are a step less serious than a cruelty prosecution. Infringement notices are used to enforce National Standards in other jurisdictions. However, there are drafting problems with the current Act that mean RSPCA WA Inspectors and other general inspectors can’t issue infringement notices. The Bill has not addressed this at all but we believe this is essential to implementing National Standards and we hope the Government will include new amendments to fix this in the Bill.
We understand that the State Government is considering amendments to the Bill following the Committee Report and it will be returned to State Parliament later this year.