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Overview of Petitions
Extract from Hansard
[COUNCIL — Wednesday, 13 June 2012]
Standing Committee on Environment and Public Affairs — Twenty-fifth Report — “Overview of Petitions”
Hon LYNN MacLAREN: As a member of the Standing Committee on Environment and Public Affairs, I want to make a few points. This is one of the first streamlined reports that we have tabled. We made a decision to not burden members with too much of the detail. Instead of putting all the detail in these reports, we have just summarised it, so they are quite light on. We have been able to do that because we have revamped our website. All the public material that we receive as a committee is posted on our website. If members or their constituents have a particular interest in a matter, I encourage them to consult that website because quite a bit of effort goes into responding to these queries. When we receive a petition, we write to the ministers who have relevant responsibilities in the area of concern. Those ministers go to quite some effort to respond to the petitioners’ concerns. People who sign a petition are only a small fraction of the people who are really concerned about an issue but it gives us some indication of the wider concern out there.
I want to point out three or four of the petitions that we dealt with in this report. This was the period when we received the shack sites petition that led to our inquiry, and we have already tabled quite a significant report on that. We also looked at Cottesloe local planning scheme 3, which, Mr Chair, you would be well aware is to do with building heights in Cottesloe. It is notable that 13 436 people signed a petition asking for the local planning scheme that Cottesloe had already approved to be respected and that higher building heights not be imposed on that community. We know now in the course of history that that has been the case. Following the presentation of this petition, a decision was made to impose building height allowances that were much higher than the local planning scheme permitted. The committee looked into this petition and determined that because it was under the statutory planning processes at the time, there was not much we could do until those processes were completed. If people are still concerned about that and present another petition to look into it, we would consider it on its merits.
Another couple of petitions that I wanted to mention relate to the Canning Bridge precinct vision in my own region of South Metropolitan. There were concerns about the process that the City of South Perth was embarking on to redevelop that area. That was tabled as a petition. However, we did not go very far with that because the petitioners, the organisers, did not see fit to follow through with it. I am looking forward to seeing the Canning Bridge precinct developed in all its hopefully sustainable glory.
The petitions that I really wanted to highlight would not surprise members. Three petitions were tabled to do with live animal exports. We looked at two of those petitions for live animal exports together—petitions 82 and 83. We did not have a full-blown inquiry but we had a hearing into these petitions. Dr Jennifer Hood, the then manager of the animal welfare branch of the Department of Local Government, gave us a little more detail about exactly how the regulations are policed. The terms of the petitions were —
- animals suffer during transport to the Middle East;
- animals are slaughtered in a cruel manner that would be illegal in Australia;
- the inadequate policing of road transportation and loading regulations; and
- the live animal trade undermines the processed meat trade.
During our inquiries we sought to focus on the inadequate policing of road transportation and loading regulations, as it was brought forward in evidence to us that there were issues about that, and that is why we asked Dr Hood to come in and tell us more about the issues. The transcript of that hearing is on our website. I invite members to look at the transcript of that hearing so they are more educated about the trade and how it is policed in Western Australia. One of the most poignant comments that Dr Hood imparted to us was that the mortality statistics do not reflect the suffering on board the ships, the morbidity and the loss of condition. The illnesses of many of the animals on board are not recorded in the statistics of mortality. She was very convincing in her testimony to us that there really is much more than meets the eye in suffering on board the ships and that more could be done to monitor the experience that the livestock face.
It was determined that the pivotal issue that fell within the state’s jurisdiction was the adequacy of resources for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act 2002. Since this petition was investigated and since we heard the evidence of Dr Hood, the responsibility for the Animal Welfare Act has been shifted to the Department of Agriculture and Food. This raises some very serious concerns for people in the community about a potential conflict of interest because the Department of Agriculture and Food, as we know, has to look after the livestock industry. The livestock industry is the industry that needs to be policed under the Animal Welfare Act. It was interesting for us to then look at a subsequent petition on whether the Animal Welfare Act had been adequately resourced. That was petition 101, “Funding for the Animal Welfare Unit Inspectorate”. It was clear that a small number of inspectors were trained and were out there enforcing the standards that we have. It is an ongoing concern for people who care about animals that the animal welfare inspectorate is not adequately resourced to do its job. I believe that since that time, the number of inspectors has increased several times. I do not have in front of me the number of inspectors we now have, but back then there were about five or seven. That has dramatically increased now. There is no doubt that the added scrutiny of our practices has improved animal welfare enforcement and we hope that it has improved animal welfare outcomes.
I made a dissenting opinion on page 15 of the committee’s report. I opposed the decision to conclude the inquiries on this petition, and I did so because I had the view that little evidence had been presented of the compliance or enforcement of industry standards. In fact, this bore fruit. This was in June 2010 and it was a matter of weeks after that when Animals Australia travelled to Indonesia and filmed the animals in horrific circumstances, which caused the federal government to suspend the trade for a period of weeks and to look carefully at how it was being managed. I believe my opinion at that time was validated because evidence came to light that the trade was not being adequately policed or enforced. Now there is much more evidence in the public domain, so that more people are aware that this is a very serious issue for animal welfare in Australia. Western Australia has a very important role to play in improving animal welfare. As all members would know, my solution to that is to end the trade altogether.