RSPCA WA accused of abusing power

In light of the current Select Committee Inquiry into the operations of RSPCA Western Australia, The Sunday Times in Perth has written a damning article highlighting the potential abuse of power by the organisation.

The article ‘RSPCA accused of abusing power as WA vets ask to appear before parliamentary inquiry’ from August 10 details the plight of Ina Carrick, an equine vet and horse hospital owner, and her vet husband Matt, who have been asked to appear before the WA parliamentary hearing. RSPCA intrigues are a subject the Carricks are well versed in after finding themselves caught up in a dispute triggered by the once revered animal welfare institution last year.

Out of the blue, the couple were slapped with a legal order from the RSPCA to erect a shelter in their 8ha paddock at Greenough Equine Veterinary Centre without any formal inspection of Dr Ina Carrick’s horses having taken place. The paddock housed 24 mares as part of an embryo transfer program. The mares, the bulk of them rescued from a knackery, were in rude health, according to the Carricks.

The order - a Direction Notice issued under Section 40(1)(b) of the Animal Welfare Act - was sanctioned by the RSPCA’s Perth-based chief inspector Amanda Swift and arrived at the horse hospital in March 2014. The RSPCA insists it had received three complaints. The Sunday Times quotes RSPCA chief executive David van Ooran as saying, “The complainants were concerned about the welfare of horses in the yards without shelter when the temperature was in the high 30s and rose to over 41C...The site was visited by the local inspector who took photographs and brought the matter to the attention of staff at the clinic...Attempts to engage with the clinic were unsuccessful.”

The Carricks refute this. They have an idea that the Direction Notice was ‘payback’ for having endorsed other horse owners’ arguments in the region, after they had also been ordered by the RSPCA to construct shelters. As Dr Carrick told The Sunday Times, “Low humidity and ever-present strong cooling south-west ocean winds means that there are very few days in a year that a horse might feel any ill effect from the sun in this area...We did have the contingencies to move them to paddocks with shelter as well as deploy several 100m x 20m sprinkler systems...We were never asked about our contingency plans.”

The order left the Carricks with a mere four weeks to build a shelter or suffer a potential penalty of $20,000 plus one year’s imprisonment. As a result, they destocked the property. That caused the temporary closure of the hospital and the shutdown of its embryo transfer business. “We had spent a lot of money developing that business,” Dr Carrick told The Sunday Times. “It’s gone, it’s finished.”

The couple said the heavy-handed procedure also had fallout for Matt’s vet practice, BosVet & Rural. Between the two concerns, there were five vets involved, but the RSPCA simply ignored this evidence of available expertise.

Though the animal charity itself has no formal legislative clout, it can put forward staff to be installed as general inspectors under the Animal Welfare Act. The appointments are made by the Director General of the Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA). The harsh reality is that a Direction Notice issued under Section 40(1)(b) of the Act cannot even be reviewed or overturned by the Agriculture Minister, or the State Administrative Tribunal (SAT). Had a similar Direction Notice gone out via Section 47 of the Act, the Carricks could have appealed to the Minister or the SAT.

However, when contacted by The Sunday Times, Mr van Ooran backed the use of Section 40(1)(b) ahead of Section 47. “Direction Notices are issued by an authorised inspector who uses the section of the Act they consider most appropriate for individual situations,” he said.

The Carricks are still wondering how it all came to this. “At one point I stood in the paddock crying my eyes out while talking to the Department of Agriculture because I didn’t know what to do,” said Dr Ina Carrick.

Even when WA Nationals MP Paul Brown stepped in to plead the Carricks’ case, the RSPCA rebuffed his intervention. It prompted Mr Brown to tell State Parliament that the draconian whims of a supposed civilian body were “mind-boggling”.

Meanwhile, SSAA National and SSAA WA provided a joint submission to the Select Committee Inquiry, which is expected to report on its findings in December.

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