Animal Welfare Amendment Bill - Third reading

Friday, May 15, 2015

STUART SMITH: It is a pleasure to speak on the Animal Welfare Amendment Bill. I was one of the new members to the Primary Production Committee and unfortunately did not go through any of the process with this bill. So I commend the members of the select committee for the fine job that they have done.
Agriculture underpins our economy. In fact, it pays for our way of life. We would not enjoy the same standard of living that we enjoy now, if it was not for the cows and the sheep, in particular. So I think we, to a large extent, ride on their backs in terms of our economic well-being. Agriculture earns $25 billion from livestock and it contributes to our economy. So it is absolutely huge in terms of New Zealand’s GNP.

I use the term “GNP” deliberately. Too often we focus on GDP. Actually, GNP is how we pay our way in the world—and that term means “gross national product”, for anyone who is not familiar with that term. I think that I would like to see a lot more focus on that term.

Animal welfare is absolutely vital, but I think that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals are currently running a campaign in Australia that does their cause no good. In their latest campaign they claim that 25 percent of the world’s wool is grown in Australia and that it is made from 100 percent cruelty. That is just a ridiculous statement, and I agree wholeheartedly with the Victorian Farmers Federation, which said that the campaign denigrates, offends, belittles, and insults every Australian’s intelligence.

I think that although we care very deeply about animal welfare, to take it to that level in a campaign really just runs the risk of putting everyone offside from that organisation’s particular argument. If you keep running into a crowded theatre calling “Fire!”, people will not listen to you for very long after that. So I think that they are not doing themselves any good.

New Zealand is, in fact, ranked first equal in the world for animal welfare, and that is fantastic. It is great but that does not mean that we should rest on our laurels; we should always attempt to improve.

I think that trade is so vital, and the previous speaker, Damien O’Connor, I think, mentioned that we are a trading nation, we are niche producer, we sell into niche markets, and we actually command a premium for our products. The fact that people who buy our products are paying a little more than they pay for those they buy from others is based around things like our animal welfare. They do care about that. It is not something that they necessarily do a lot of research on, but if it comes up, they certainly do care about it.

Although animal welfare has not been a big issue in Asia—and the Asian market is becoming an increasingly important market for lots of our goods—but over time, we have seen a distinct change in values around the environment in Asia, and I believe we will see the same thing with animal welfare. So it is incumbent upon us to have really good rules around that issue and this bill really does go a long way towards that.

Sixty-eight percent of New Zealand households own a pet, and although most of our talk and focus has been on farm animals, by numbers in the population most people’s contact with animals is with the family pet, and we should not forget that in this discussion. As my colleague said earlier, dogs, in particular, not only damage humans, which we often see when there is a dog attack, but they also attack other dogs quite often, and are often trained to be vicious. This bill deals with a lot of those issues and I commend the Primary Production Committee and the Minister for dealing with it in that way.

This bill seeks to amend the Animal Welfare Act 1999. It brings a higher degree of transparency to the Act, and I think that is much needed. It has a much greater enforceability, it increases the range of enforcement tools, and, in fact, it brings in more appropriate penalties. I think that is really important because we too often see well-meaning Acts of Parliament with little enforceability and inappropriate penalties. If people do offend then they deserve to feel the full weight of the law, and we need to make sure that it really is a deterrent.

The bill provides a framework for suitable regulations, and the Minister, at their discretion, is able to bring in regulations as things change. Over time, attitudes to animal welfare change considerably. We have just gone through the Anzac Day celebrations, and 100 years ago, 10,000 horses went off to the First World War. I can guarantee to you that the attitude to animal welfare 100 years ago was considerably different from what it is today. Not many of those horses came back and the way in which they were disposed of is perhaps best not focused on too much these days. Those things would not happen in the New Zealand of today under the current rules, but they are tightened further still under the*Animal Welfare Amendment Bill.

The issues that this bill tackles are complex, and I commend the select committee for the work it did on this. It is not easy to deal with these complex issues, but we are not elected to do the easy things; we are elected to make good law and do things that are sometimes a bit tough. I actually commend both the Minister, in particular, but also the select committee for tackling these things head-on and dealing with them in the way that they did.

I think it is worth noting that not all New Zealanders—in fact, very few New Zealanders—actually deal with farm animals or have any link with farms. Going back only a few generations, most New Zealanders had a direct link to a farm through their family or good friends. Nowadays most people probably do not have any interaction with farms at all. Farmers deal with animals every day, and the reality of dealing with animals every day is quite different from the interaction that people with a pet. Often, seeing what goes on in a farm can be upsetting for some people. But having a sheep being shorn, for example—although the sheep does not actually relish the process, it really enjoys getting the wool off its back when it gets outside.

Surgical and painful procedures were covered, and were alluded to earlier in the process. I have had some feedback from veterinary surgeons in my electorate who were concerned about the docking of tails on dogs. In particular, those surgeons did not want to see the law changed because they felt that some dog owners would take that procedure on themselves rather than doing it through a veterinary surgeon with adequate anaesthesia and sterile conditions. Although I have some sympathy with their position, the reality is that we do not like that sort of procedure in New Zealand and that has really got to end. We do have to draw a line in the sand somewhere, and I am pleased to see that that line has been drawn.

There are 16 codes of animal welfare under the Animal Welfare Act and developed by the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee. Those codes are being strengthened by new regulations, which I alluded to earlier. I think it is really important that the regulations will have some teeth rather than just being codes. I think that that is a fantastic innovation.

There has been some talk about factory farming, and I really just want to mention a little bit about that. If we do rush into banning so-called factory farming in terms of how we treat hens and farrowing crates, etc., there will be a cost. The cost will be borne by the consumer, and all we will do is likely see consumers switch to cheaper products that have come in from offshore, and you are simply shifting the animal welfare issue out of the country and into another country. In terms of the animals you are not really making any difference whatsoever. You may be salving your conscience but you are not helping animal welfare.

I think it is sensible to have a good lead-in time. Patoa Farms, which is New Zealand’s biggest pork producer—which processes 2,000 pigs a week, so it is a significant producer—does not in fact use farrowing crates, but it has taken some time for it to develop that process, and it will take the rest of the industry some time to catch up with those practices. I think it is quite right and proper that we give them some time to do that.

Wild animals, pest management, and hunting have been touched on by others, but I just want to speak a little bit about those issues. As a hunter myself I know that it is easy to be a little flippant about these things—ultimately, the aim is to actually kill an animal, but we should be doing it in a way that is humane. I think it behoves us as human beings at the top of the animal pyramid to treat those animals *right and properly.

It is with great pleasure that I commend the Animal Welfare Amendment Bill to the House. Thank you.