OPINION

Animal protection laws in Australia have been set up to fail

Animal protection laws in Australia have been set up to fail

We are in the heat of an Australian summer when I pull my car up outside a sheep station.

Sheep lay on the ground not moving, and I can't tell if they are alive or not.

Further from the fence line I can see rotting carcasses of sheep, their eyes and stomach open and being picked at by birds.

I take photos on my phone and look up the number for the RSPCA.

Before they even answer, I am furious.

I know that no one may ever come, and even if they do it may be days or weeks away.

Prosecution for animal cruelty is so unlikely I don't even give it a thought.

Anyone who works or volunteers in animal protection will know exactly how I am feeling.

But our anger is misdirected, the RSPCA isn't to blame. This is the government's fault.

Animal protection laws have been set up to fail in Australia, and the RSPCA is just a symptom of a much greater conspiracy of oppression.

Before you think I am being sensationalist consider this: Every piece of criminal legislation in this country is fully funded by the government - except animal cruelty laws.

Instead, animal protection issues are primarily investigated and prosecuted by private charities, making the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act the only piece of legislation in NSW that requires fundraising from the public to be enforced.

Imagine if the police had to hold a cupcake day to raise the money to investigate drug labs, or a drink-driving charity had to organise a fun-run to raise the money to investigate and charge people who caused accidents while driving under the influence.

Sounds absurd, and it is.

Of course, the government will tell us that they give these charities grants and other funding to do their work- but when you look a little closer at these numbers, it reveals how little our government really cares about animal protection.

The New South Wales government covers only about 6 per cent of the RSPCA's costs for law enforcement.

In other states, it's a little higher - in Queensland the state government covers around 13 per cent and in Victoria, about 18 per cent.

These pathetic dribbles of cash are reflected in the actual prosecutions that take place.

In the 2018-19 financial year, RSPCA NSW received more than 16,500 complaints of animal cruelty but initiated only 77 prosecutions.

Perhaps that's because the 6 per cent given by government doesn't even cover the staff wages for their less than 50 inspectors.

Staff wages, I should point out, that are only aabout $60,000 a year.

Meanwhile, this small number of inspectors are expected to oversee more than 70 million animals in the NSW agribusiness industry, and the many millions of native, wild, and companion animals, as well as animals used for entertainment and medical experimentation.

You may be wondering why the RSPCA aren't demanding more government funding. That's the jackpot question.

You see, the government decides which organisations will have the power to prosecute for animal cruelty - a privilege any charity would want to retain.

And it is the Agriculture Minister - who also represents the very industries that use animals for profit - that decides on behalf of the government which charities will retain or lose those prosecution powers.

The conflict of interest with animal protection laws falling under the very minister tasked with the role of protecting and promoting the financial gains of industries that use animals is obvious- but how far that conflict travels is disturbing.

The animal agribusiness industry will frequently call for the RSPCA to be stripped of its authority any time a farmer falls afoul of the law and looks doomed for prosecution.

And it works. Cut and dry prosecutions against agribusiness cruelty are often never pursued by the RSPCA, or mysteriously dropped at the last minute. In fact, in the 2018-19 financial year proactive inspections were conducted on only three of the tens of thousands of animal agribusiness operations in NSW.

The end result is a toothless tiger with little money, few staff, and a failing report card on animal protection.

The answer though is simple: The portfolio for animal protection must be moved away from the Agriculture Minister, to a minister who does not have the same conflict of interest, and there needs to be an Independent Office of Animal Protection that will oversee and fully fund enforcement of animal protection laws.

Until that happens I suspect the sheep in the yard will keep rotting, and the notion of "animal protection" will remain weakly existing in legislation - but never in practice.

Emma Hurst is a NSW Animal Justice Party MP.

This story Animal protection laws in Australia have been set up to fail first appeared on The Canberra Times.