Opinion

Animals Australia spreads its wings

CPI Strategic director and Field & Game Australia adviser Rick Brown looks at the impact of Animals Australia taking the lead role in opposing legal duck hunting.

During the 2014 Victorian elections Animals Australia and RSPCA Victoria jointly organised a full page advertisement in The Age opposing duck hunting targeted at Labor which was then in opposition. The effect of their campaign was to support the Greens over Labor in inner-suburban seats.

This initiative was the first indicator that Animals Australia, following on from their success in undermining Australia’s live beef export trade to Indonesia, was taking over the anti-duck hunting business from the Coalition Against Duck Shooting.

During the opening of this year’s Victorian duck season Animals Australia undertook activities ranging from being the voice of the anti-duck hunting movement through arguing for the introduction of mandatory, annual tests for duck hunters to attempting to sabotage the opening of the duck season.

This development is a reminder of how well resourced and sophisticated animal liberation organisations such as Animals Australia and the RSPCA are today. For example in the 2014–2015 financial year Animals Australia, after spending $3 333 000 on awareness
campaigns, still had a surplus in excess of $1 million. Its retained surpluses now total almost $6 million.

RSPCA Victoria alone had an income of more than $33 million for the financial year ending June 30, 2015 and almost $44 million in net assets. They spent more than $1 million on education, campaigns and communications.

Bequests are critical for the RSPCA. In the 2015 financial year bequests totalled more than $9 million. In the 2014 financial year they totalled more than $7 500 000.

Despite this balance sheet, Upper House MP James Purcell understands ‘bad financial decisions have been made whereby it has actually spent $40 million building a new headquarters for its executives, and it has transferred a $30 million profit into a cash-negative
situation since 2010.

Since that time the government has provided the RSPCA with over $8 million in grants.’ He also understands that ‘costs are increasing out of proportion with the decreasing number
of animals that it is looking after’ (Hansard, Legislative Council, 8 March 2016, p.1023–
1024). Mr. Purcell said that Australia remains the only country in the world other than New Zealand where the RSPCA has legislated prosecution and enforcement privileges. We think that this must be reviewed.

Mr. Purcell’s view is shared by the United Kingdom’s National Police Chiefs Council which represents chief constables. In a submission to the Parliamentary Committee on Environmental Food and Rural Affairs, the Council said that the RSPCA’s ‘long standing good work and expertise in this area should of course be recognised but it ought to be right that
the primary enforcer with responsibility for this area should be a single agency, preferably a statutory body funded by Government’.

The Council’s decision follows:
• the Crown Prosecutor’s Service assuming responsibility for deciding whether or not to prosecute hunting cases,
• the charity regulator’s telling the RSPCA in March to hire auditors to conduct an inquiry into its organisation and structure, and
• the RSPCA’s reining in its inspectors in February by banning them from rehoming animals unless vets have personally seen evidence of suffering.

UK Conservative MP and Committee member Simon Hart said that handing over the role of prosecuting animal welfare cases would allow the RSPCA to ‘repair its tattered reputation’.
He said, ‘there is increasing recognition that trying to be a political movement, tireless fund raiser and voracious prosecutor has resulted in a conflict that we would not accept in any other walk of life.

‘There are numerous examples of other countries and wild life charities that do good work, but who rely on the police and criminal justice system to implement the law, ’ (RSPCA should be stripped of right to pursue hunts or pet owners through courts’, say police chiefs, The Telegraph, April, 9, 2016 10 pm, Christopher Hope).

The interests of the RSPCA are wide and varied, and include advocating for bans on duck and recreational hunting, jumps racing, whips in horse racing, the use of exotic animals by circuses, the use of foster mares by the thoroughbred industry, and the live export of animals.

Animals Australia campaigns on a similarly wide range of issues: duck hunting, live animal export, rodeos, the use of animals in universities and schools for research and education purposes, and advocating vegetarianism to prevent slaughterhouse cruelty). This demonstrates that animal liberation is a business, and a big business at that.

Competition between the players is intense as they pitch to an inner suburban audience with high levels of disposable income for financing by trying to out-do each other in the extremist or courageous (depending on your point of view) image stakes.

The RSPCA has the advantage of incumbency and prestige. However this advantage is also a liability because many of its financiers (i.e. donors) do not understand its transformation from
an animal welfare organisation to an animal rights organisation and would be uncomfortable about this revolution if they did, as the RSPCA in the United Kingdom is discovering.

More recent organisations such as Animals Australia, PETA, Voiceless, Animal Liberation and Humane Society International have neither the RSPCA’s advantages nor its limitations.

Consequently they are able to be more nimble and imaginative and are less constrained in their marketing strategies. The alliance between the RSPCA and Animals Australia which obviously is intended to maximise their strengths and limit their weaknesses reflects this
competitive environment.

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