• Mark questions the NSW government’s ludicrous Visit My Farm Initiative

    The NSW Department of Primary Industries, with the support of the Minister responsible for animal welfare, is trailing a new charade initiative called “Visit My Farm”.

    According to the Minister this new initiative is “helping to open farm gates all over the state as part of on a new initiative to bring urban and farming communities closer through the ‘Visit My Farm’ agri-exchange trial.”

    HOWEVER, while the Minister likes to speak glowingly about the department’s new industry backed charade, a quick visit to the website reveals not a single intensive farm in its list of farms to visit. Not a single observation of sows in farrowing crates and stalls, hens in battery cages, artificial insemination, routine mutilations without analgesia such as eyeteeth removal and tail docking of piglets, de-beaking of layer chicks, and sheds where 22,000 or more broiler chickens are packed in. How can such an initiative be accurately representative of the true reality of animal farming?

    Well we asked the question……..

     

  • No moral justification for the continued existence of Zoos

    It was not that long ago that we exhibited deformed, mentally ill and indigenous people in exhibitions such as circuses and zoos.

    There is no moral justification for the continued existence of zoos; they are just tourist attractions.

    The recent controversy over Taronga Zoo’s proposal to build a multiple-storey “eco resort” on its exclusive harbour-side grounds is clear evidence of tourism first, animals last. As noted by Mosman Council in its objection to the development application:

    The planned $45 million resort appears incompatible with the primary aims of the zoo, which are animal display, research, breeding and raising public awareness of species conservation.

    Any feeble claim that zoos are “educational” assumes that the numerous award-winning nature documentaries depicting animals in their natural habitat expressing their normal behaviours are inferior to watching captive animals engage in stress-relieving behaviour in a cramped, alien environment. It has been well documented that wild animals cannot, and do not, have the capacity to express their natural behaviours in unnatural circumstances. Many zoo-confined animals exhibit stereotypical behaviours, known as “zoonosis”. Examples of this include compulsive pacing, over-grooming and obsessive head nodding and weaving, often seen in the elephants and giraffes currently at Taronga Zoo. What about the educational benefits for children? It is said that seeing animals in the flesh is the only way to stimulate their interest. Given the number of seven-year-old children obsessing about long-extinct dinosaurs or preschoolers watching endless loops of Peppa Pig videos, I doubt that argument can be sustained.

    The trite observation that twenty-first century zoos have transitioned into conservation zones must be contested. While the larger zoos such as the Taronga Western Plains Zoo can reasonably accommodate specialised conservation programs, it is hardly the case with metropolitan zoos. The dirty secret of zoo breeding programs is that zoos regularly kill surplus animals or, at best, break up kinship groups in order to export family members to other zoos around the world. The proposed new Sydney Zoo to be constructed in Western Sydney Parklands is a classic example of a zoo that is designed primarily as a simple exhibition for tourists, not for animal welfare or conservation. The promotional materials give the game away—spruiking the zoo’s proximity to other tourist attractions such as Wet’n’Wild Sydney, Sydney Motorsport Park and the Sydney International Equestrian Centre. Up to one-third of the space in the tiny 16 hectares will be devoted to car parks and visitors’ entrance—no doubt well stocked with eye-catching merchandise and an inviting cafeteria.

    The zoo is planning on exhibiting up to 500 animals, including all the glamorous and exotic attractions such as rhinos, lions, tigers, cheetahs, gorillas, giraffes and monkeys. The zoo’s promotional video shows that predator and prey animals are confined in small enclosures that are so closely located they will be able to see, smell and hear each other. Judging from the information that has been released, there is not a shred of evidence that there will be any conservation programs for these confined exotic animals imprisoned in the suburbs of Western Sydney. In another promotional video, the former environment Minister is shown speaking enthusiastically about the zoo’s plans to establish a breeding program for native animals that have become threatened species in the wild. Given the ridiculously small area available for the native animal enclosure, I am at a loss as to how that can be achieved. At the very least, we should prohibit the construction of new zoos, close metropolitan zoos and move any damaged animals into conservation programs on rural animal sanctuaries that can best mimic their natural environment.

  • Defending introduced animals against state funded suffering

    Last week the NSW government passed a bill, that, on first glance looked innocent enough.

    However, when we dug a bit deeper, the bill enables the Minister to spend nearly $3 million dollars a year on providing farmers with 1080 baits and other cruel so called ‘control’ methods for killing animals deemed pests. Among these introduced animals deemed pests by livestock graziers and the like are foxes, pigs, cats, dogs, rabbits, deer, and even our native Dingo. How did we as a society get to the point where we treat innocent animals with such disdain, such venom? That, in order to ‘ farm’ animals for slaughter and ruin the environment we then give money to promote suffering to introduced animals trying to survive in an ever decreasing natural habitat, is a massive contradiction.

    Mark ensured these animals had their say and urged the government to support a proposed AJP amendment that would see 25% of these funds to fund research and development for non-lethal methods of management.

    Watch or read the full speech below.

    I speak to the Local Land Services Amendment Bill 2017. First, while the Animal Justice Party does not support the bill, I note that we oppose only one key section. That is the increased funding for killing so-called “pest species”. We had hoped to propose some sensible and proactive amendments but, as this is a money bill, that can only be done in the other place. I will touch on those amendments a little later. In relation to the Animal Justice Party’s concerns, my understanding is that the bill seeks to join general pest animal management funding with the existing locust fund, which generates its income from a levy placed on the landholders. While funding for locust control remains the main priority, residual funds will be used to target those species that are deemed to be pests with the cheapest, yet cruellest, forms of killing control—a control method that has been proven time and time again not to work in the end. In fact, it has the opposite effect in that mass slaughter provides only a quick, forced population control result.

    Professor Tony English of the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine stated that, despite 200 years of shooting, poisoning and trapping, feral animal numbers continue to rise. Feral animal populations have thrived not due to the setting aside of national parks, but due to the massive degradation and devegetation of the landscape that has compromised natural ecosystems and their native specie, thus creating a niche for feral animals. Much research has been published about the crude killing methods of control. It reveals that removing an introduced species from an ecosystem that has adapted to its existence, to a point, has a negative ripple effect for other animals. A basic example is the wiping out of rabbits in certain areas. While farmers rejoiced, it caused a dramatic decrease in quoll numbers because our native raptors, rather than preying on defenceless, prolific rabbits, turned to preying on quolls. Quoll numbers decreased, raptors struggled for food, and more and more consequential changes occurred down the food chain.

    We cannot go back to 1769 in relation to introduced species. Foxes, wild dogs, wild pigs, rabbits, cats, mice and rats have been born here for many generations and now fill an ecological niche. Given the massive habitat loss and changes in landscape, mostly due to agribusiness and the forestry industry, we must accept that our ecosystems are evolving and adapting. Rather than, as this bill appears to propose, providing a new avenue of funding for 1080 poisoning programs, mass slaughters, cruel hunting techniques and lethal viruses that cause long, lingering deaths, we should be investing in the research and development of more humane and non-lethal, but effective, control methods. While I note that there is a research and development area within the Department of Primary Industries, it is limited by general funding that is provided to the entire department. There is no designated fund to evolve the area past being more than a mechanism to support more profitable animal farming. Sadly, in regard to animal welfare it is merely a token gesture.

    Our amendment idea is simple and, since I cannot move the amendment in Committee, I urge the Minister and the Government to think seriously about its intentions and desired outcomes. Simply put, we call for a proportion of the residual funds—that is, what is left once the allocation for locust control has been made—to go to funding specific research and development of more humane and non-lethal methods of introduced animal control. We propose that no less than 25 per cent of the residual funds be provided and utilised only for introduced animal control research and development, and for such programs that are shown to be effective in other parts of the world, such as immunosterility contraceptive methods. These methods are being used with wild horses in Canada and with elephants in Africa, and are being trialled with some success with possums in New Zealand.

    But to ensure transparency and an accurate cost-benefit measurement, we also suggest that an annual report be provided outlining where the funds were spent and the outcomes and trials conducted as part of the specific introduced animal management plan. This report should also show the percentage of funding allocated in excess of the minimum of 25 per cent. Overall, our aim with this proposal is to ensure that introduced animal management provided by government tackles the long-term strategic view of genuine population control through humane and effective, non-lethal means. If funds are to be used to kill animals in the most barbaric and cruel ways, based purely on cost, it is only reasonable that a portion of those funds go into research and development of, not just more humane methods, but better long-term outcomes in reducing innocent introduced animal populations.

  • The REAL story on NSW Council pounds

     

    For many years I worked at Animal Liberation NSW and it was not unusual for me to receive complaints from distressed individuals about the fate of companion animals held in council pounds. When I was elected to Parliament, amongst the first calls my office received were in regard to the terrible conditions of some council pounds—allegations of outright cruelty and neglect of impounded animals, high kill rates and unacceptably low rehoming rates. For a nation that prides itself on its relationship with “man’s best friend” and the frequently cited observation that companion animals are “part of the family”, we discard tens of thousands of dogs and cats each year. These animals often end up in council pounds and face an uncertain future. That future is dependent upon the resources invested by individual councils to provide decent facilities, caring staff and a commitment to working with rescue groups to rehome as many animals as possible.

    Improvement in reducing kill rates and increasing rehoming rates across New South Wales must be acknowledged as being due to the enormous efforts of volunteer and self-funded rescue and rehoming groups that outperform council pounds and authorised agencies such as RSPCA NSW and the Animal Welfare League. New South Wales statistics collected for the period 2013-14 show that council pounds rehomed 5,549 cats and dogs, and killed 14,641 animals, the vast majority being healthy animals. The RSPCA rehomed 10,718 but killed 12,641, with one-third being killed for failing the behavioural temperament test. Community rescue groups rehomed approximately 8,000 and euthanased fewer than 200, all for genuine illness or severe behavioural problems.

    In my travels to regional areas, I will often meet with carer groups that work hard to improve the lives of impounded animals and do their best to work with councils to rehome cats and dogs. Frustration is evident in pound reform advocates who observe a lack of accountability and transparency in regard to councils discharging their obligations under the Companion Animals Act. Advocates complain about being referred between the Office of Local Government and NSW Department of Primary Industries when complaining about animal welfare in pounds.

    Although councils are required to comply with both the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and the Code of Practice for Cats and Dogs in Animal Boarding Establishments, many councils are either unaware or fail to comply. Examples include Griffith pound’s failure to provide daily exercise for dogs, pounds such as Singleton where animals are exposed to the extremes of weather, and Wagga pound where cats were placed alive in freezers. Evidence from the McHugh Commission of Inquiry into the Greyhound Racing Industry found that Kempsey Shire Council Dog Pound’s record-keeping was so deficient it could not account for the number of greyhounds surrendered. The use of more than 250 millilitres of euthanasia drugs was not recorded

    I note that pounds are still legally allowed to shoot dogs and kill cats by direct needlestick to the heart or peritoneal cavity. These are marked down in reports as “euthanasia”, with some councils dumping bodies at the local tip. The public would be outraged if they knew. The public are generally unaware of the state of pounds, which can be hidden away near council tips and water treatment sites. A number of council pounds are failing to adhere to the requirements to be open for a minimum of four hours per day, making it difficult for people to reunite with their lost cats or dogs. Many pounds also refuse public access, making adoptions and rehoming difficult. I believe that a comprehensive audit undertaken by the Office of Local Government of all New South Wales council pounds, with findings and recommendations, is the only way the public can obtain a truly accurate account of the state of New South Wales pounds and the care that they provide to impounded companion animals.

  • Notice of Motion – Threatened Species Children’s Art Competition

    THREATENED SPECIES CHILDREN’S ART COMPETITION 2017

    On Threatened Species Day 2017, I was privileged to host the Threatened Species Day Children’s Art Competition. This is an amazing event which has grown by 250% since last year. It is exciting to see the connection children have with individual animals and their right to a free life in this world. Interestingly, ever piece of art I saw showed animals in the natural habitat, free from the bars of zoos and cages of captivity. To commend the event and congratulate the winners and organisers I gave a Notice of Motion to the House which was unanimously agreed to.

    Children have an inspiring connection with animals and this is a trait that must be nurtured into adulthood so that we can have a better life for ALL.

    1. That this House commends Forestmedia Network Incorporated for facilitating the 2017 Threatened Species Children’s Art Competition, which helps children unleash their artistic creativity while learning about the extinction crisis facing our native plants and animals; and which aims to encourage the next generation of environmental leaders.
    2. That this House acknowledges that with more than 1,000 species now threatened in New South Wales alone, environmental leaders have never been more needed.
    3. That this House congratulates the organisers of the event held on Threatened Species Day at Parliament House: Lorraine Bower, Susie Russell, Lindie Ward, Penny Walton, Stephanie Knox, Jenny Ellyard, Jenny Symons and Bri gid Dowsett.
    4. That this House thanks the Hon. Gabrielle Upton, MP, Minister for the Environment, Minister for Heritage , and Minister for Local Government, and Dr Mehreen Faruqi, MLC, for their attendance and contributions to the discussion.
    5. That this House notes:
      1. entries to the 2017 competition have grown by 250 per cent, with more than 1,600 children entering, involving 68 schools and 14 other programs;
      2. the quality of the artistic work was inspiring and it is a testament to the future environmental leaders concerns for the future of our unique threatened species of flora and fauna—a future where they may never be able to see their chosen species in the wild, or see it at all;
      3. two exhibitions are being held—one at Surry Hills from 9 to 23 September 2017 and one in the open space at the Botanic Garden from 15 to 29 September 2017; and
      4. that the following schools and children’s programs participated in the competition: Alma Public, Beecroft Public, Ben Venue Public, Blue Mountains Steiner, Booligal Public, Broadwater Public, Brighton Le Sands Public, Burraneer Bay Public, Canley Vale Public, Capa Marks Point Public, Castle Cove Public, Cessnock West Public, Corndale Public, Jerrabomberra Public, John Colet School Belrose, Lawson Public, Lane Cove West Public, Largs Public, Larnook Public, Maribyrnong Primary, Middle Dural Public, Molong Central, Mother Teresa School, Mount Keira Demonstration School, Mullion Creek Public, Murray Farm Public, Murwillumbah public, Neville Bonner Primary; North Wagga Public, Ocean Shores Public, Oxley Park Public, Parramatta North Public, Paxton Public, Peterborough School [SSP], Plunkett Street School, Point Clare Public; Quakers Hill Public, RED inc—In school support, Roseville College, Sherwood Grange Public, St Clair Public, St Mark’s Catholic Primary, St Joseph’s Catholic Primary, St Patrick’s Primary, Sydney Children’s Hospital School, Sylvania Heights Public, Tamworth Public, Telopea Park Public, Tambelin Independent School, The Channon Public, Thomas Acres Public, Waitara Public, Weethalle Public, Westdale Public, West Ryde Public, Young Public, Ultimo children’s program, King George V children’s program The Rocks, Pyrmont children’s program, Crown Street children’s program, Redfern children’s program, Woolloomooloo children’s program, Girls and Boys Brigade holiday program Surry Hills, Girls and Boys Brigade after school program Surry Hills, Naidoc Festival, Art Box Workshops, Class Artz at Woollahra, Clovelly, Paddington, Kensington, Waverley and Randwick school s, Young Artists, and Art Zone- Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery.
    6. That the House thanks the following supporting organisations and individuals for their considerable contribution to the event and subsequent exhibitions: the Animal Justice Party; the City of Sydney Matching Grants program; Sophie Daniel, Team Leader, Community and Education Programs—Botanic Garden, and Mary Bell, Education Coordinator, School Programs—Botanic Garden ; Bren Weatherstone and the ACT Chapter of the Australian Association of Environmental Educators; Victoria Johnstone, Creative Director, Surry Hills Festival; Cassie Tilbrook, Gillian Elliott and the Surry Hills Neighbourhood Centre; Trish, Robyn, Georgia and the Byles Creek Valley Association; Donna Upton and the Capertee Valley Association; Jill; Helen and STEP Inc; Taronga Zoo; Featherdale Wildlife Park; Hoyts; the National Parks Association NSW; the Wilderness Society Sydney; Nature Conservation Trust; WIRES; Humane Society International; Nature Conservation Council NSW; Australian Forests and Climate Alliance; Animals Australia; North Coast Environment Council; South East Coast Regional Council; Nambucca Valley Conservation Association; and Caldera Environment Centre.
    7. That this House congratulates all the entrants in the competition and makes special note of the 2017 award winners:
      1. Kevin Yeh, (6)—first place in the category of five – to seven -year- olds;
      2. Emily Nees, (6)— second place in the category of five – to seven -year- olds;
      3. Amelia Gutwenger, (6)— highly commended in the category of five – to seven -year- olds;
      4. Jasper Hartmann, (8)—first place in the category of eight – to 10-year- olds;
      5. Anneliese Gutwenger, (10)—second place in the category of eight – to 10-year- olds;
      6. Jaccob Trevisan, (10)— highly commended in the category of eight – to 10-year- olds;
      7. Natalie Barclay, (9)— highly commended in the category of eight – to 10-year- olds;
      8. Claire Camilleri, (11)—first place in the category of 11 – to 12-year- olds;
      9. Sarah Chen, (11)—second place i n the category of 11 – to 12-year- olds;
      10. Sonia Pillai, (11)— highly commended in the category of 11 – to 12-year- olds;
      11. Michelle Ciu, (9)—first place in the category of Most Unusual Entry;
      12. Mahli Barnes, (9)—second place in the category of Most Unusual Entry;
      13. Buraneer Bay [Skeleton]—First place in the category of Group Work;
      14. Art Box Workshops [Lepidopteras] —second place in the category of Group Work [equal];
      15. Oxley Art Group [Fragile Beauty]—second place in the category of Group Work [equal];
      16. Art Box Workshops [Rosenberg’s Goanna]— highly commended in the category of Group Work;
      17. Forrest Public School [Golden Sun Moths]— highly commended in the category of Group Work;
      18. Jake Fergusen, (11)—first place in the category of Best Written Explanation;
      19. Alyssa Sim, (8)—second place in the category of Best Written Explanation; and
      20. Kieren Kelly, (9)— highly commended in the category of Written Expression.
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