RSPCA Victoria Told to Be More Accountable

By Andrew Heaton

(image via RSPCA)

The Victorian branch of a leading animal cruelty prevention organisation has been told to improve its accountability, confine its investigations of commercial animal welfare to emergency situations only and improve stakeholder engagement.

Delivering its report from its Inquiry into the Victorian branch of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), the state Legislative Council Economy and Infrastructure Committee found that a number of the concerns about issues associated with the organisation related to historical issues and that progress had been made to address these as a result of an earlier inquiry.

Nevertheless, it made several recommendations to improve the transparency and accountability with regard to which the organisation and its inspectors conduct their duties.

First, it said that the organisation together with the government should be clearer and more transparent about the powers of RSPCA inspectors under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 and a Memorandum of Understanding which the organisation has with the Victorian Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources (DEDJTR).

Consistent with its powers under the Act, the report also found that the organisation should ensure that it investigates potential cruelty to commercial animals in emergency situations only.

Finally, the organisation should consider ways to improve stakeholder engagement and collaboration, the report said.

Despite being a non-government organisation, RSPCA Victoria enjoys legislative powers under the state’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 and its offers are appointed as inspectors by the Minister for Agriculture with the power to monitor compliance with control orders in respect of animal welfare as well as undertake a range of potential actions in emergency situations.

Under a related memorandum of understanding with DEDJTR, the organisation’s role as an agency for the government is recognised.

Nevertheless, that MoU specifies that the RSPCA’s primary role revolved around the investigation of welfare issues relating to those which are kept for companion or non-commercial reasons.

Primary responsibility for investigation of animal welfare issues relating to commercial livestock rests with DEDJTR itself.

During the inquiry, the Committee heard evidence surrounding concern about the organisation’s duel role a registered charity and an enforcer of laws under legislation.

Issues were also raised about the inspectors overstepping their mark under the boundaries of the MoU and investigating animals involved within primary production industries.

Furthermore, there were worries that the organisation has shifted from a legitimate animal advocacy role to animal rights activies.

In particular, some stakeholders raised concerns about the organisation’s role in campaigns against activities which were legal and promoted by government – an apparent conflict of interest in light of its receipt of funding from the Victorian Government to undertake its Inspectorate role.

The Sporting Shooters Association, for example, raised concerns about emotive language used in the organisation’s campaigns against industries such as duck hunting, dairy cows, greyhound racing, layer hens, live exports, meat chickens, pig farming and whips in horse racing.

In its report, the Committee acknowledges these concerns but says most of these related to historical practices.

The organisation has made progress in addressing critical issues since an independent review conducted by the Victorian Inspectorate in 2016, it said.

Nevertheless, it recommended that the organisation together with the government be more transparent about how its powers should be exercised, that it refrain from non-emergency investigations of commercial activities and that it better engage with relevant stakeholders.

“Since the Independent Review of the RSPCA Victoria Inspectorate in 2016 it has made good progress towards focusing on the prevention of cruelty to companion animals rather than engaging in animal rights activism,” Committee Chairperson Bernie Finn said.

“The RSPCA Victoria now needs to focus on developing stronger stakeholder relationships. Many of the organisations the Committee engaged with believe that a more collegial approach to prevention of cruelty to animals would be of great benefit to the sector.

“Both the government and the RSPCA Victoria should ensure greater transparency and provision of information about the role and powers of inspectors.”

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