RSPCA Activist or Welfare Organisation – Not Both


In the October 1, 2020 edition of the Farm Weekly the RSPCA published two articles commenting on live exports and WAFarmers one by their CEO Richard Mussell titled ‘Winding back reforms is short-sighted,’ and the second by their President Lyn Bradshaw “Animal Welfare Views’.

Both articles attempted to portray the RSPCA as the reasoned voice of animal welfare, a trusted agency of experienced, knowledgeable, professional health inspectors who are only interested in the welfare of animals.

And so they largely are, but they are also a professional lobbying outfit that uses donated money to attempt to change government policy and one of those policies is to ban the live export trade. 

In our system of government, we have over generations learnt the lesson of the importance of the separation of powers, we keep the police separate from the courts, the legislature from the bureaucracy.   We ensure all range of government inspectors from work safety, health and environment are under the control of the government and not private industry, but for some reason we have let the fox into the hen house when it comes to the RSPCA overseeing an industry they oppose.

In simple terms the RSPCA is seriously conflicted as they continue to expect to play the role of a political activist organisation, lobbying against various forms of commercial animal production – while also acting as the industry police officer.  It’s an untenable situation which government needs to address.

The RSPCA can’t have it both ways, they can’t act as a political organisation similar to Greenpeace working to shut down commercial activities, all the while being funded by the government to undertake contracted inspection services.  It’s like giving Greenpeace powers to enforce compliance in our commercial fisheries, or the Wilderness Society inspection powers of landholders.  That is not how western democracies operate.  

In this modern world no government would consider handing over statutory powers and responsibilities for animal welfare to an organisation that is run by a board of passionate but also  politically motivated volunteers who have strong views at odds with the government that funds them, a government which claims it supports the live export trade (albeit with ever increasing regulatory restrictions).

Just as no government would today consider giving responsibilities for the inspection and enforcement of standards for children, the aged, the sick, the incarcerated, the fish or the environment to a society of passionate people with no authority other than being badged by the Queen as Royal. 

These responsibilities sit with the Crown – that is the State Government and its public servants not with Her Majesties loyal subjects.  That’s the basis of the separation of powers, we vote in governments to regulate the affairs of the state not sub them out to non-elected and unaccountable groups of people.

So why does the RSPCA have the powers to investigate animal welfare breeches, in short it’s a relic of the past from the days when the churches and welfare organisations looked after the sick and the elderly, ran schools and orphanages free from any state based rules or regulations. 

But those days are long gone, now government retains the sole power to ensure standards and compliance.

WAFarmers has argued that the RSPCA is so conflicted and so underfunded and so out of step with modern governance practices of independent compliance and enforcement that their future role should be reviewed and wound back to focus on offering shelter not policing.

If the RSPCA really cared about animals it would welcome a no holds bared inquiry into its role and responsibilities with a special focus on its future ability to adequately fund and administer best practise animal welfare support across the state.

With a budget of just $8 – $10m a year almost all of which is heavily reliant on donations it knows it is woefully underfunded and worse has been racking up a rolling series of cash deficits, with last years a record $1.8m.

But despite its desperate financial position it has failed to gain the government funding needed to fill the gap, and worse faces serious future funding shortfalls as the economy goes into recession.

A new animal welfare compliance structure is needed. One that can provide a world class service from one end of the state to the other something that the RSPCA is clearly unable to do as its cash crisis has left it with a city centric focus and a clear reluctance to investigate and invest resources into animal welfare issues in some of our more remote communities.

The RSPCA needs to refocus and invest its commendable care efforts into shelters leaving government to undertake all the inspection and compliance work. This in turn will free the RSPCA to focus its limited resources on shelters and allow it to peruse its political campaigns without being at risk of being accused of a conflict of interest.

To be clear WAFarmers has no problem with the RSPCA being a strong advocate for animal welfare and continuing its vital work caring for neglected animals.  It has every right to continue as an active political organisation competing for the communities and politician’s attention alongside of all the other animal rights organisations such as the Animal Liberation Front and Direct Action Everywhere.

What they can’t do is continue to use the governments stamp of approval via its government powers and contracts for fund raising campaigns which in turn support their lobbying campaigns against Live Exports and other commercial farming activities.

If they really cared about animal welfare they would join with WAFarmers and sit down with government and map out a plan to hand back their compliance powers to government in return for a substantial increase in taxpayer funding of the government’s own animal welfare inspectors, and more support for the RSPCAs shelter work. 

All government inspectors be it in health education or animal welfare need to be professional public servants, working free of any perception of conflicts of interests and appropriately paid with appropriate resources to do the job properly.

The RSPCA will need to acknowledge that its long term plan of waiting and hoping for more donations or govt funding is not a viable way forward, neither are its attempts to claim it can manage its conflicts of interests. It’s time to trade their powers for the government to do more.

The organisation also needs to stop running the argument that the powers need to stay with the RSPCA because they could never trust a future Liberal minister to direct the Department to ignore animal welfare issues. 

Such a view is naive in the extreme of the powers of a government minister to direct their department are actually very limited and ignores the common sense approach that past Liberal Ministers of Agriculture like the Hon Ken Baston have taken in supporting the RSPCA via initiating the last independent review into the organisation back in 2015.

But even this review which was very sympathetic to the RSPCA and saw many of its key recommendations adopted has still left the RSPCA struggling for the government funds needed to do the job properly.  Government sources claim that DPIRD would need an additional $10m a year to effectively cover the animal welfare of companion animals.  At the moment the RSPCA gets less than $500,000 to cover the whole state.

Only government has the bank balance and the core powers to do the job properly and while the RSPCA remains in this space it allows government to walk away from the real and growing issues in animal welfare, the vast majority of which are linked not to farm animals but domestic and companion animals.

For too long the State has gotten away with outsourcing animal welfare and for too long have the elites in the RSPCA hung onto the power they have been granted by the state. 

WAFarmers would like to see an open and frank discussion on the merits of government bringing in-house all the compliance powers as part of the current review into the Animal Welfare Act and just as it does with a whole range of other emergency services, out sourcing the helping hand side, such as the running of shelters to non for profits like the RSPCA.

This will leave the RSPCA to continue on with their political campaigns against live exports, dog racing or anything else they want banned, free from any charges of conflicts of interest, and most importantly it will ensure the animals particularly the companion animals that are being abused in the remotest parts of WA are given the same level of protection as those in the inner city.

David Slade – President Livestock Section WAFarmers

Trevor Whittington – CEO WAFarmers


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