• Adjournment Speech – Veterinarians Mental Health

    A series of studies conducted in recent years have identified elevated rates of depression, anxiety and suicide among Australian veterinarians, with a suicide rate four times higher than the general population. These figures are consistent with studies conducted in Great Britain and America. There is clearly a common thread concerning the mental health challenges of the profession. Murdoch University is currently conducting research on the mental health of Australian veterinarians, which will hopefully assist the profession in improving the mental well-being of its members.

    Multiple studies cite risk factors such as long hours and highly stressful decision-making, the difficulty of recruiting locums to take much needed breaks, and in rural areas these difficulties are compounded by professional isolation. These are common stressors across many professions, but there are additional emotional stressors, such as the regular killing of animals, combined with easy access to lethal drugs, that are unique to the veterinary profession. The 2016 Australian National Coronial Information System report noted a history of self-poisoning suicides linked to drugs available in veterinary clinics.

    While there are no equivalent Australian figures, British studies showed that 81 per cent of veterinarians entered the profession due to their desire to work with the human-animal bond. Women veterinarians in particular were identified as having high levels of empathy towards animals. This empathy towards animals may, in a large part, be the cause of the mental distress experienced by veterinarians. Across a range of international studies, young and female veterinarians are at greatest risk of job dissatisfaction, leading to mental health difficulties and suicidal ideation. “Compassion fatigue” or “vicarious trauma” was identified as a risk factor leading to suicide.

    The realities of veterinary practice can be emotionally gruelling. Many vets speak of the distress of being responsible for ending animals’ lives, either directly in the case of euthanising sick or injured animals, or worse, being required to kill perfectly healthy unwanted animals, or indirectly in the case of the slaughter of farmed animals. Vets also found themselves in professionally challenging situations where they encountered animal abuse and neglect. Some studies have questioned whether the routine euthanising or killing of animals impacted on attitudes towards death more generally.

    In surveys, vets showed higher support for human voluntary euthanasia than the general population. This attitude to death may even facilitate self-justification and lower their inhibitions towards suicide as a rational solution to their personal problems.

    As a society we could do a much better job of providing funding and resources to ensure that no vet is required to kill perfectly healthy animals that have been abandoned or surrendered to council pounds or RSPCA shelters. The growth of no-kill shelters not only is a more humane approach to companion animals but also removes the risk of psychological harm to vets who are forced to administer the “green dream” to healthy animals. Even the upside of being a veterinarian—having clients with strong emotional ties to their companion animals—could create distress. The emotional intensity of that bond adds stress when the time arrives for euthanising sick or aged animals that are considered part of the family.

    I commend the work of our veterinarians in alleviating animal suffering. My personal heroes are those vets who find the time to work pro bono or provide discounted fees to companion animal rescue groups, wildlife carers and farmed animal sanctuaries. Perhaps the Australian Veterinary Association may consider supporting veterinarians as they deliver these services as a way of providing a channel for their compassion and empathy towards animals.

  • 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.

  • Vivisection

    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.

  • Marks Impassioned speech opposing the bill to remove homeless people from Martin Place

    The Animal Justice Party is absolutely dumbfounded by the Sydney Public Reserves (Public Safety) Bill 2017. I find it embarrassing that, in 2017, I am speaking to such a draconian, disgraceful, unconscionable piece of legislation.

    When the police arrest these people and pack up their very meagre belongings—as Mr Shoebridge pointed out, even the tiniest things; they could be photographs, locks of hair, a gift given to them by very important people—they are not valued in the way these homeless people value them, but they are going to be wrapped up and taken from them. It is questionable whether they will be returned. When the police arrest them and move them on, where will these people go? Where is their chance? Where is their space?

    It is important to note that one of the safest places—believe it or not—for homeless people to gather is in the city where it is busy and people and police are about, and Parliament and a hospital are nearby. Whether it be Martin Place or wherever they have chosen to gather in the city, they do so because living in a dark corner in Kings Cross or Newtown or any other backstreet is far more dangerous and jeopardises their wellbeing and safety. They come into the city for this sense of safety. But because a particular member of Parliament might find it uncomfortable to look upon these people we now have to remove this distasteful vista and push them away so we can have the space back . We do not know what has happened to them.

    I support the suggestions made by the Hon. Mick Veitch and Mr David Shoebridge. For God’s sake, we are a civilised society. The measure of a civilisation is how we take the vulnerable, the sick, the weak, the needy under our wings whatever the situation is that has caused these people to live in such a way that they are homeless. The notion that they are being belligerent and obstructive and may be choosing to live this way is utter rubbish. Even if some comment that this is the way they want to live, that person has a story to tell about why they have come to that decision. We cannot turn our backs on these people and treat them in this way.

    The aspect of section 7 that astounds me is that the provisions of the bill apply if the police officer believes on reasonable grounds that the person’s occupation of the reserve materially interferes with the reasonable enjoyment of the rights of the public. Using a broader definition of enjoyment, these people are enjoying the relatively safe space here in the city. How could they be considered to be materially interfering with other members of the public? I have seen no complaint, I have heard no claim that another person’s liberty has been materially interfered with by a person who puts a very small, very uncomfortable, cold tent in a street next to another tent where people can walk freely on either side.

    We need to face this problem head-on, not dodge it and not punish people for finding themselves in a terrible situation through no fault of their own. It is time that we turned our minds to understanding compassion and how it relates to civilisation. One of the best measures of human beings is whether they honestly address problems, take responsibility for them, and work proactively together to solve them. We must work with people in this dreadful situation and address homelessness. Not only have they experienced bad luck and terrible situations but this Government has also put in place many mechanisms that obstruct their free access to the liberty of a home.

    The Animal Justice Party absolutely opposes this legislation, which is draconian and an embarrassment to this and the other House. I condemn the bill.

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