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Speech: Independent Office of Animal Welfare Bill

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:58): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I am pleased to introduce this bill, which will establish an independent office of animal welfare and a fit-for-purpose animal welfare advisory committee. This would be an independent statutory body which would undertake key regulatory and administrative responsibilities relating to animal welfare and protection. This office would ensure independent oversight and review of animal welfare in our state of South Australia in line with scientific knowledge, technological advances and community expectations.

Our community does care about animals, all creatures great and small. People care about animals, whether they be companion animals, whether they be sheep and cattle. They care about greyhounds, whether or not they are raced or resting on the comfy couch in their lounge. They care about marine life, and I could go on.

As it currently stands, however, animal welfare is managed by a complex web of government departments, charities, councils, police and industry groups. No single body has the broad range and ultimate oversight and, as a result, there are gaps and significant room for improvement in protecting the welfare of animals in our state. We have a vacuum of strategy and leadership on this issue because of years of inaction. We see issues being handballed from one department to another, all while animals fall through the cracks and their welfare falls through the cracks.

Unlike other states, here in South Australia it is the Department for Environment and Water (DEW) that is largely responsible for administering the Animal Welfare Act. In some jurisdictions, animal welfare falls under the department of agriculture or primary industries. While it may seem here that PIRSA is not responsible for animal welfare in South Australia, that is simply not the case. PIRSA is responsible for the welfare of livestock. It is also responsible for those animals used for scientific or medical research. PIRSA was, of course, the lead agency in the response to animals that were caught in the most recent devastating floods in the Riverland. But, of course, they are not the only agency.

Recently, we have seen the heartbreaking examples of animals suffering in the floods. I have to say, over Christmas in particular I received many calls from those in the community watching animals trapped by the floods who were suffering: kangaroos with joeys in their pouches being left to slowly die by rotting, being left to drown, being left to die slowly and painfully because of a lack of departmental action. Fortunately for some animals, community groups activated, with individuals going out in tinnies to rescue the animals that they could, or that they were allowed to. Even with these efforts, thousands of animals were left to suffer and die. I note at times the numbers advertised as being able to be called over the Christmas break were left unattended.

PIRSA was responsible for activating the response to the floods. PIRSA is still responsible for monitoring the wildlife in the area as the waters recede. DEW has a role in advising on animal welfare issues, but there was a clear lack of overarching direction, which led to the death—the needless death—of countless animals. We do require an independent body with a focus on the welfare of the animals to look at issues like this and so many more. An independent body would be able to develop adequate disaster planning responses and ensure that the welfare of the animals was their priority and not an afterthought.

The recent report into the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary highlighted the impacts of a lack of clear responsibility and accountability in managing that dolphin sanctuary. While DEW has primary jurisdiction, animal welfare advocates are frequently required to contact a range of different departments: the Department for Infrastructure and Transport when boats are travelling too close to the dolphins, or PIRSA when it relates to the fishing, or the EPA or SA Water when it is a question of water quality impacting those dolphins.

It is an absolute quagmire, and it has become abundantly clear that this multidepartmental approach does not best serve the animals—and in this particular case, the dolphins. What people and the community do expect is, in fact, a one-stop shop, and not simply for our ease but to ensure that animal welfare is the priority of that body and that they are not conflicted in their decisions and their priorities.

We have also heard very much—mainly from the Greens in this state—about the lack of regulation in the greyhound racing industry. Already this year, two greyhounds have died and over 150 dogs have been injured (that we know of). You must remember, we are only in March. Those numbers are only going to get worse. One of the most egregious examples we have seen of an unwillingness of this industry to self-regulate appropriately is Greyhound Racing SA's hot weather policy. We allow Greyhound Racing SA to dictate when their races must be called off.

Given their races in this state have continued to run when temperatures have exceeded 41° at the time of the race, and with a most recent greyhound death in fact happening directly after they had been raced in the heat, it is clear that this industry prioritises the profits over the animals. That must change. There have long been calls that animal welfare does not belong in a primary industry department and that:

…public faith in Australia's animal welfare system had been undermined in recent years by revelation after revelation of cruelty to livestock…Departments of agriculture…are not widely regarded by the community or animal welfare groups as impartial when it comes to animal welfare. [It is] inherently conflicted…improvements in animal welfare are often not consonant with increased productivity and profitability and vice versa.

Those are the words of the Labor Party's own Melissa Parke. I thank her for those words and I remind the Labor Party that at federal level they have a policy and the support of an independent office for animal welfare.

PIRSA has been placed often in a difficult and, some would argue, insurmountable position. They have been asked to both promote the livestock industry and also to police it to protect the animals. The Department of Primary Industries and Regions describes itself as a key economic development agency in the government of South Australia and, indeed, I think those words were echoed by the relevant minister earlier on today in question time.

Given this, it is hardly surprising that priority is given to measurable economic goals over the welfare of the animals that are seen as the 'product'. The information on animal welfare on the PIRSA website is buried so deep that many would not even know it is the body responsible for so much of it. Some guidance documents, such as what to do if you find a 'beached, stranded or sick marine mammal' simply do not work in terms of being able to be linked at all. Obviously, if the website is any reflection, it is clearly not a departmental priority to provide this information.

It highlights the need for a central body that has accessible, consistent and clear information on the state's animal welfare policies. An independent office for animal welfare would act as a liaison for all bodies responsible for animal welfare policies not just in our state but, of course, nationally. It would be able to focus on educating the community on animal welfare issues.

The community does care about animal welfare. Animals should not just be a commodity. Indeed, I refer members to the 2019 report, 'Commodity or sentient being? Australia's shifting mindset on farm animal welfare', which was commissioned by the federal Department of Agriculture. This report made it clear that community expectations around the regulation of the agricultural industry were changing when it comes to animals.

Unless we create an independent body, not focused on industry, distrust of both government and the agricultural industry will grow. It is clear that the creation of an independent office of animal welfare is not only best practice but it would also be very popular within the community.

I now turn to the specifics of the bill. Section 4 sets out the objects of the act, highlighting the focus on promoting knowledge of animal welfare issues and improving animal welfare outcomes. There is also a focus on the independent review of our animal welfare codes, requirements and standards to ensure they take contemporary scientific knowledge, advances in technology and community expectations and values into account.

Section 5 establishes the independent office of animal welfare. It lays out its functions, which include liaising with bodies responsible for national policies, reviewing and monitoring, conducting inquiries and preparing reports on our state animal welfare laws, including compliance, enforcement and effectiveness. It also gives the independent office the power to inquire into the treatment of animals in particular industries. This includes, but is not limited to, greyhound racing, horseracing, agriculture and animals used in all medical and scientific research.

Section 11 creates the independent office of animal welfare advisory committee and the minister to appoint the following people to the independent committee: three representatives of non-government animal welfare organisations, two representatives from approved charitable organisations, two animal welfare scientists, one animal welfare ethicist, one representative of the commercial animal industry, one government representative and one local council representative.

The make-up of this committee will ensure that their advice is in line with scientific knowledge, technological advances and community expectations. This replaces the current process, which provides representatives from the livestock industry and PIRSA the opportunity to review and comment on enforcement proposals and codes of practice relating to animal welfare before changes are made.

This bill presents us with an opportunity to make real change for the animals in our state. The review that is currently taking place into the Animal Welfare Act is specifically asking the South Australian community whether they agree that the administrative arrangements and functions of the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee support the promotion of animal welfare. We shall see what the community view is on this, but I believe that an independent advisory body, free from industry interests—or should I say conflicts of interest—would best support the promotion of actual animal welfare.

The current review asks for community views on the model of shared enforcement that has DEW, PIRSA, RSPCA, SAPOL and councils all sharing responsibility for animal welfare. This model creates confusion and inconsistency and treats animals differently, and it has allowed for some animals, such as fish, to be forgotten entirely. It is a historical oversight, which should be rectified in the current review.

I would like to thank those numerous animal welfare organisations and individuals who have had longstanding relationships with my office for the tireless work they have put in to highlight the plight of animals, which has seen this bill come forward here today. It is a bill that has had similar incarnations moved in other states and at a federal level and is a longstanding policy of the Greens; it has been an election commitment of the Labor Party; it has been moved by Independents, such as Andrew Wilkie; and, of course, it is a policy of the Animal Justice Party and, in jurisdictions where they have MPs, they have be able to progress this. It is also what the public wants.

It is also something done elsewhere. In fact, you can look to New Zealand, the UK, Canada or the EU to see where they have similar bodies operating at a national and also a supranational level. The current review that the minister has announced and that the Department for Environment and Water is conducting is an opportunity for generational change in our attitude to animal welfare in this state.

We are lagging, as a legislative body, far behind what the community expects. The community cannot understand how we have allowed, for example, the greyhound industry to set their own hot weather policy that is so loose it allows animals to be run in temperatures of 41° if they are a racing greyhound, whereas a person with a pet greyhound, should they walk their dog in that same temperature, would rightfully be reported to the RSPCA.

It is time this parliament came into step with community expectation and recognised that animal welfare is something that has been significantly lacking in importance with far too many governments, and I commend the Labor Party for their suite of promises around animal welfare that they have come into this term of parliament with. I look forward to working with them on a range of them, and I commend to them an independent office of animal welfare to help get this job done. With that, I commend the bill.

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