Farm Weekly, 13th May, Colin Bettles
SHADOW Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon says the Labor party’s soon to be released animal welfare policy will seek to cut red tape while upholding growing community expectations of livestock production standards.
But he has remained coy on whether the Opposition’s policy position will indulge the Independent Office of Animal Welfare (IOAW) that farm groups have repeatedly opposed but animal rights groups support.
Today, Mr Fitzgibbon visited Yass in southern NSW with Labor candidate for Eden Monaro, Mike Kelly, holding meetings with locals, including farmers, to ventilate topical issues like animal welfare standards.
He said the Opposition’s animal welfare policy for the 2016 election campaign would soon be unveiled detailing his core objective to reduce regulatory burden rather than increase it.
Mr Fitzgibbon said the Labor party’s national conference last year committed to an IOAW and he supported that resolution.
But he promised more detail would be revealed in the coming weeks about how he planned to implement the party’s actual policy.
“I am determined that we do have standards in Australia that assist with both the productivity and sustainability of the sector which protects it from charges of animal cruelty,” he said.
“And I want to do that in a way which does not impose a regulatory burden but certainly helps provide the sector with a future.
“It’s good for the sector if people, consumers and animal activists know that we have a government that is working with the sector to ensure community standards are upheld.”
RSPCA Australia and animal rights groups have released a list of core federal election demands, including calling for an IOAW to be adopted by the federal government.
They have also slammed the Coalition government for axing the $1 million per year Australian Animal Welfare Strategy (AAWS) immediately after the 2013 election and also urged its return.
But farm groups say the AAWS should not be restored and oppose introducing an IOAW saying a federal watch-dog only adds to existing regulatory burdens while yielding no practical advantage.
The IOAW was designed on a pre-tense the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources possesses a conflict of interest in managing welfare outcomes, while overseeing the expansion of animal production.
But during an inquiry into legislation by the Greens to establish an IOAW in this term of government, the Department rejected that allegation saying animal welfare and livestock profitability had shared values, with improved practices leading to “healthier animals that produce a higher quality, safer and higher value product”.
Mr Fitzgibbon said he had heard and understood the various views put forward about the Department’s alleged conflict of interest in managing animal welfare and livestock profitability but kept his gunpowder dry.
“I’m determined that we will produce a policy which helps the sustainability and the profitability of the sector as we see the rise and rise of community concern about animal welfare issues,” he said.
“But at the same time, reducing regulatory burden and hopefully, doing more with the States to better harmonise some of the rules around animal welfare more generally.”
WoolProducers Australia senior vice president Ed Storey operates a fourth-generation wool enterprise near Yass and participated in talks with Mr Fitzgibbon today on core election issues.
Mr Storey welcomed the discussions but said his group had “grave concerns” about introducing the IOAW or returning to the AAWS.
“We see a lot of regulatory creep that only imposes additional costs on livestock producers while achieving little practical benefit,” he said.
Mr Storey said the Labor Shadow Minister understood industry concerns about the IOAW proposal “but the proof will be in the pudding” on any policy announcement.
He said while the AAWS wasn’t discussed, his group saw it as an unnecessary bureaucracy that failed to generate practical animal welfare improvements and “we’re absolutely against bringing it back”.
“The AAWS was just a talk-fest that achieved nothing in meetings with people whose credentials were questionable,” he said.
“They were mostly animal activist groups who are not interested in practical animal welfare standards and don’t want people using livestock for anything like food production or even owning pets.”
It’s understood the National Farmers’ Federation’s Animal Welfare Taskforce – Chaired by Chris Groves – is set to produce a broader, current view on the IOAW proposal.
Retiring Fremantle Labor MP Melissa Parke – one of the chief architects of the IOAW concept – used her valedictory speech last week to reinforce the need for greater regulatory oversight on animal welfare standards.
The Office gained legs at the 2011 ALP National Conference where Ms Parke also raised a motion to end live exports in a four year phase-out that was defeated 215 (against) to 174 (for).
At the time, Ms Parke said the new Office would be a statutory authority operating outside of the agriculture portfolio, dedicated to animal welfare policy, science and law and independent of undue influence from competing political and commercial interests.
She also acknowledged the work of RSPCA policy officer Jed Goodfellow in assisting with designing the proposed model.
Last week in her farewell speech, Ms Parke said “Lyn White, of Animals Australia, uses forensic investigations and powerful advocacy to raise public consciousness of the plight of the millions of animals raised, transported and slaughtered for human consumption”.
“I agree with the former President of the Australian Law Reform Commission, David Weisbrot, who said animal welfare would be the next great social justice movement,” she said.
“Establishing properly resourced independent offices of animal welfare at federal and State levels should be a priority to ensure that animal welfare laws and policies are strengthened, harmonised and enforced.”
RSPCA Australia has joined Animals Australia, Voiceless and World Animal Protection in calling for the government to restore the AAWS and establish the IOAW as part of a group election campaigning platform.
The collective advocacy block has also called for a ban on live animal exports and a ban on the commercial kangaroo trade.
RSPCA Australia said leaders of the main political parties, Malcolm Turnbull, Bill Shorten and Richard Di Natale, need to redress the lack of leadership on animal welfare issues during this year’s election campaign.
RSPCA Australia Chair Gary Humphries said Australia had been going backwards on animal welfare over the past three years with the dismantling of departmental and administrative structures for animal welfare and withdrawal of AAWS funding.
He said RSPCA Australia was also seeking a commitment from government to work with livestock industries to increase the nation’s meat exports and reduce live exports.