Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals Act

21 Nov 2007 speecharchive

This speech is in relation to the Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals Act. The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK urges all members to support the disallowance motion in favour of the rodeo sector.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK  (19:47): I would like to commence by thanking all honourable members for their contributions to this debate. Indeed, I was somewhat surprised that so many people took a position on this motion, which I initially moved because I thought that it would enable some form of debate and discussion on the matter of the regulation of rodeos. In summing up, I do not wish to repeat all the comments that I made when I initially moved this motion but I do want to state a few things for the record. First, I believe that there has been a distinctive shift in the policy of this government in relation to rodeos. I again refer to a letter from the previous minister for the environment, the Hon. John Hill, dated 16 March 2006, to Mr James Willoughby of the Festival State Rodeo. It states:

I am pleased to advise that this meeting was convened on 25 January 2006. The RSPCA, D E H and APRA agreed on the following statements: 

•  rodeos in South Australia are far more regulated than in most other states;

•  the NCCAW  [t he  N ational  C onsultative  C ommittee on Animal Welfare ]  standards are practical and achievable, and it is the responsibility of rodeo personnel to ensu r e that these standards ar e  met.

On the next page it goes on:

The government remains committed to ensuring that South Australian rodeos are conducted with the highest standards of animal welfare, including the presence of a veterinarian— 

and I emphasise 'veterinarian'—

at every event, and will ensure that DEH, the RSPCA and APRA continue to work together to consider the implementation of further improvements to rodeos in South Australia. 

The regulations, as tabled by this government, codify what is already taking place. I have had some correspondence from proponents of rodeos (who have been referred to in this debate), and they have examined the Hansard comments of a number of members who spoke on this motion. They say that, as far as they are concerned, other than the changes to calf roping and cattle prods, what is being proposed in these regulations is basically following the NCCAW standards. They state:

We ,  in South Australia ,  have stringently followed these standards, where we have had no injuries at all in the calf roping in this state under this code . I n the last five years alone, where we can differentiate injury rates between calf roping and steer roping, it  c learly shows that, in the calf roping event, there has been, in fact, only one injury which nation a lly is .024 per cent . 

They have specifically raised the issue that calf roping has involved no injuries in South Australia. In fact, Victoria was the first state to introduce a minimum weight of 200 kilograms, which means that it is steers instead of calves. Victoria's injury rate is, in fact, higher than the national rate. The injury rate for steer roping (animals greater than 200 kilograms) is 0.112 per cent compared with 0.024 per cent. I think that they raise the valid issue of statistics, which are vigorously kept and provided to the Department for Environment and Heritage, and which in many ways speak for themselves.

On 17 October, in her contribution to this particular motion, minister Gago stated the following:

While the concept of having the agreed code of practice enforced by the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act was a good one, it was a concern to me that the wording of the code did not lend itself to being a document able to guide whether or not an activity was prosecutable. 

We have a bill before us—the animal welfare bill—which makes a certain number of offences indictable. I would be surprised if the existing act did not allow a number of those issues to be addressed through that means.

I would like to reiterate that we have a situation in South Australia where rodeos comply with national standards. The regulations in effect codify those national standards as regulations. Yet, in relation to the bill before the council, which is the subject of a separate debate, there is not codification of those particular codes. So, I think it is germane to the whole issue of rodeos that they have been singled out for very specific treatment—and I use that word very carefully. I think they have been singled out, and I think that there are very minor sections of our community who have very strong views about what occurs at rodeos, who have perhaps captured the left wing corner of this debate, and are—to mix metaphors—the tail wagging the dog in this debate.

I have already mentioned injury rates. It is probably worth raising the issue of injury rates that occur in other comparable events which involve animals as competition. I think it would be interesting if the government were prepared to place on the record the injury rates for other competitions using animals, for example, steeplechases. A number of us have attended the Oakbank festival a number of times. Unfortunately, a number of animals are destroyed as a result of their involvement in that particular event. I would be very surprised if the injury and destruction rate of those race horses was lower than it is in some of the competitions involved in this particular regulation.

We have specific initiatives in South Australia instituted by the rodeo organisations, which specifically attempt to improve the treatment of animals and prevent injury. One of the proponents has written to me and stated:

 Rodeos in South Australia use a jerk device to prevent injury. In the USA most calf ropers use a polygrass rope. These ropes have no stretch in them at all. In Australia very few calf ropers use a polygrass rope because our climate is too dry and these ropes go limp. Calf ropers here use poly ropes that have roughly 30 centimetres of stretch. 

The proponent goes on to suggest that, if the minister wanted to improve the welfare of the calf she could ban the use of polygrass ropes in South Australia. Further, it goes on to say that the implement, the jerk device, has made the event safer. However, the device did not work on a 200 kilogram steer.

There has been some discussion about the issue of consultation in relation to this regulation. The people who have been referred to in this debate have put on the record their view on the consultation that occurred. I will refer to the minister's speech on 17 October, wherein she stated:

 Clubs were aware of the final content of the regulation prior to the rodeo season commencing. On 8 July this year staff from my department and the RSPCA met for several hours with the rodeo club organisers and participants... 

They state that on 4 July this year the minister released a media statement advising that small electric prods and calf roping were planned to be banned under the new regulations effective from 1 September, but stated that there would be no further debate on the issue. According to them that media release of 4 July was the first news of the proposed changes. Four days later, 8 July, which concurs with what the minister stated in her contribution, a meeting was held at Marrabel, where copies of the draft regulations were distributed and input sought. They state that during the lunch break an officer of the DEH was asked if the minister would change her mind if there was opportunity to present their side of the case in relation to calf roping. They state that this officer of the department was very nice and honest, but replied that it would be very unlikely, due to the media release, and that it would not look good to go back on that.

The perception amongst the proponents of rodeos is that the government has made up its mind that the media release of 4 July had set the case in stone and it would be very hard to resile from that position. Any further representations that may have been made after that date would fall on deaf ears and the proponents of rodeos continue to provide representations and have stated that the minister sent emails about the changes, but requested that no more information be sent about calf roping after receiving a report from APRA. They have stated the case quite clearly, and I do not think anybody has sought to misrepresent any positions.

The Hon. Caroline Schaefer and I met with representatives of APRA and the Festival Rodeo Association, which, as I mentioned previously, clearly struck us as very genuine, somewhat surprised and clearly having the interests of animal welfare at the front of mind in all of its organisation and capacity in terms of rodeo events. There is that aspect of it. There is also the issue of the contribution that rodeos make to the life of rural and remote communities. They play a significant fundraising role and provide a community meeting point which is very important in the life of a number of our rural communities which, as we all know, are experiencing drought conditions.

So, I think it is quite unfair for the rodeo organisations to have been singled out in this way and made an example of when their injury rate is incredibly low and their reporting standards are rigorous. They have a veterinarian at every event. They do it with the interests of their community at heart and provide a central meeting point for their communities, and they are run by volunteers. That they should be made an example of, particularly when there are other competitive animal events which clearly have much higher injury rates, I think is completely unfair, and I urge all members to support the disallowance motion in favour of the rodeo sector.