It is time to mourn the death of a once-respected animal welfare charity. Following a gruelling parliamentary inquiry that lasted more than a year and received significant public attention, the final report into the operations of the RSPCA Western Australia has sadly hammered another inevitable nail in to the organisation’s coffin. The findings are clear: certain board members have been allowed to make unchallenged decisions despite the majority views of its members; it “has been careless in its accuracy” and engaged in “misleading” advertising, leading to perceptions of “straying into animal rights advocacy”; and the WA Government should be given direct oversight of prosecutions instead of general inspectors going forward.
The 277-page majority report tabled on May 19 has no less than 26 recommendations and 56 findings, including the need for general inspectors to be rightly appointed by the Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA) instead of the RSPCA. The report also noted the need for general inspectors to agree to set duties, obligations and conditions, along with a “clear definition of ‘shelter, care or treatment’”. This definition is paramount as the current subjective judgment has no doubt contributed to the harrowing stories of inspectors storming farmers’ properties and putting down stock, often with no consequences for the individual and dire consequences for the farmer.
Better outcomes for the WA branch is the recommendation that it “continues its education program” with a strong focus on promoting “better animal welfare outcomes”, increasing the charity’s annual funding of $500,000 to better support animal welfare activities and initiating a review into the Animal Welfare Act 2002, which the RSPCA has publically supported.
The inquiry, chaired by Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party MLC Rick Mazza, was established following community concerns surrounding some of the RSPCA’s activities. Questionable actions included the misleading advertising campaign using manipulated images of inhumanely shot hares and the offensive term “hobby hunting” to portray the RSPCA’s opposition to recreational hunting.
SSAA WA responded with a series of advertisements titled ‘This is a trophy’ to correct the record and, with the support of SSAA National, provided a submission to the inquiry. Our submission raised widespread concerns held by SSAA members about the unnecessary attacks and vilification of hunters by a charity bearing the Royal seal. We took the opportunity to air our grievances about the fear-mongering used in the organisation’s so-called education campaigns, which painted hunting as immoral or cruel, when in reality animal welfare is at the forefront of any hunting activity and governed by regulations and a code of practice.
Another questionable action of the RSPCA WA included delaying a government-sanctioned aerial cull of feral horses, which the Pastoralists and Graziers Association said “impacted negatively on animal welfare outcomes due to missing the optimal time of year for an aerial cull”. Testimonies from former RSPCA WA president Eric Ball cited evidence of “intended or unintended change of policy and misdirection”, along with the election of known members of Animal Liberation to the state board, including one who became president in the 1980s.
Speaking to Australian Shooter, Mr Mazza said a series of concerning activities raised community worries and motivated him to establish the inquiry. “No doubt the RSPCA play an important role in animal welfare, in fact one of our recommendations is to have their funding increased,” he said. Claims that the inquiry was a tactical attack on the RSPCA were dismissed, with Mr Mazza citing similar inquiries held in other states, including an inquiry into the original RSPCA in the United Kingdom. “It was never a witch hunt, the inquiry was established after concerns were raised in the community. We were not looking for a smoking gun,” he said. Mr Mazza, a strong advocate for the shooting sports and hunting in WA, did point out that the RSPCA “opposes recreational hunting, and as hunters and shooters, this is a concern to us.”
As expected, those who share the same animal rights ideologies as the RSPCA seized the opportunity to push their political point by including a minority report. Penned by closely aligned Greens and Labor party representatives Lynn MacLaren MP and Sally Talbot MP, the dissenting report refuted most of the committee’s recommendations, even labelling them “half-baked”, while accusing the inquiry of being established to “denigrate the functions of the RSPCA”.
“When the RSPCA highlighted the failure to properly manage animal welfare in live exports and greyhound racing, clearly vested interests were upset,” said Ms MacLaren. “There were one or two matters where consensus was reached in terms of recommendations in the majority report, but given the intent of the establishment of the committee in the first place, we believe our minority report clearly shows the fantastic work and good management of the RSPCA.”
The RSPCA WA also attacked the legitimacy of the inquiry, saying “RSPCA WA questions why it was necessary to put a charitable organisation through the expense and stress of a parliamentary inquiry when a simple review of the Animal Welfare Act 2002 would have sufficed...The biased and unfair approach by three of the committee members has led to a majority report that lacks balance and properly informed evidence resulting in a large number of inaccurate and flawed findings and recommendations.”
Clearly, the need for transparency has been lost on the organisation. The disappointing response shows an arrogant attitude and shows them as seemingly above the realms of public scrutiny, despite receiving generous funds from taxpayers and donors alike. Critics of the RSPCA, including the SSAA, have pointed to an apparent shift towards animal rights rather than animal welfare. As noted by Mr Ball in his testimony to the inquiry, infiltration of the board by individuals pushing an animal liberation agenda rather than adhering to the original charter of animal welfare is evident.
This inquiry confirmed our worst fears. The finding that “there is a potential vulnerability in the current structure of the RSPCA WA Board...(where) resolutions could make changes of direction to the organisation with agreement by only two elected members of the Board...which may not be representative of the views of ordinary members” is deeply concerning. This allows board members to steer the charity onto a course more similar to that of animal extremist groups such as PETA and Animal Liberation, despite the wishes of the community and generous donors.
SSAA WA President Ron Bryant said the inquiry was necessary and revealed the need for the RSPCA to reflect on its activities and direction. “From our perspective, it is positive to see a review of the operation, especially considering the costly and unfounded attack on our lawful activity,” he said. “RSPCA WA should not waste its donated funds on negative animal liberation activities and stick to its core function of animal welfare and the appalling mistreatment of animals.”
The inquiry has national implications. SSAA National President Geoff Jones called on the RSPCA to revisit its charter and clarify its stance. “The RSPCA can no longer call themselves a much-loved animal welfare charity given the clear evidence showing how certain individuals have been allowed to push an animal rights agenda,” said Mr Jones. “Therefore, they must come clean with the public and declare their true colors and intentions. Whether that means a new charter shifting towards animal rights rather than animal welfare remains to be seen.”
It is a sad state of affairs for all involved, particularly when the RSPCA WA was the first branch outside of the UK to receive the Royal seal. But unless the wayward group pledges to return to its animal welfare principles and give up its shift to animal rights, shooters, hunters and those passionate about true animal welfare principles have no choice but to withdraw support and donations.