PERFORMING CIRCUS ANIMALS BAN
Discussion of a Petition Signed by 10,000 or More Persons
Ms CLOVER MOORE
(Sydney) [6.15 p.m.]: I have tabled a petition calling for a ban on forcing wild animals to perform in circuses. The petition has been signed by more than 10,000 New South Wales citizens. The petition was created by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Animals Australia and Animals Asia and the ban has wider support from Voiceless, Animal Liberation, the Humane Society International, Young Lawyers Animal Law Committee, the World League for the Protection of Animals, Pals@Pilch, Sentient and the Animal Societies Federation of New South Wales.
Most people think that wild animals are no longer forced to perform in circuses because this practice is inherently cruel and archaic, but a small number of circuses in New South Wales still use monkeys, lions and, until only recently, elephants—Stardust and Lennons Bros are two such circuses. Wild animals are not meant to live, travel and perform in circuses, and circus life causes them immense psychological and physical suffering. Wild animals have natural instincts and they need to socialise and carry out natural behaviours that are impossible in a circus. Elephants live in herds and roam grasslands, travelling tens of kilometres on any day. They cry, laugh and play and grieve the loss of a family member. Lions typically live in grasslands in prides of related females with their offspring and a small number of males. They spend most of their days resting and socialising by rubbing heads against each other and grooming. They then hunt at night.
Monkeys are intelligent and live in social groups in which they help and care for each other. They spend hours taking bugs and debris out of each other's fur. Their facial expressions show love, fear, anger and sadness that create strong bonds. The life of these animals in the wild is in stark contrast to the regimental training, constant performance, confinement, and road travel in cages, which is a regular part of a circus routine. Circuses deny exotic animals the opportunity to maintain instinctive social bonds, making life sad and painful. Wild animals need a high level of stimulation and most wild animals in circuses display stereotypical behaviours that show their stress and boredom, such as repetitive pacing and swaying. In 2009 the journal Animal Welfare
published the article Are Wild Animals Suited to a Travelling Circus Life
, which concluded that circuses could not meet the essential animal welfare needs of exotic animal species.
The report found that circus animals spent most of their day in confinement, some time performing or training, and the rest of their time in exercise pens that were significantly smaller than minimum standards for outdoor zoo enclosures. Their social groups are artificial and cannot meet their social needs. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals states that no matter how well a circus is managed, even if all legal requirements are surpassed, circus life always will be cruel to exotic animals because it is absolutely incompatible with their physiological, social and behavioural needs. This level of cruelty has no place in modern entertainment.
Forcing wild animals to do tricks serves no educational purpose. It teaches children nothing about the life of animals in the wild. Such circuses encourage children to disrespect animals and sentient beings in general, encouraging them to believe that animals exist solely for human entertainment. Wild animals in circuses also pose a dangerous threat to staff and patrons. In 2008 Arna, the circus elephant, who had been the subject of a very famous court case where it was argued that she suffered psychologically due to her solitude, attacked and killed her handler. In 2001 a lion tamer was attacked by three lions at a Lennons circus performance in Penrith. In 2004 a toddler at Ashton's circus tragically lost his arms when he stuck them through bars of a cage containing two tigons. There are many other examples.
A number of councils have banned circuses that use wild animals on their land, including Parramatta, Lismore, Wingecarribee, Newcastle, Blue Mountains, Warringah, Woollahra, Hornsby, Pittwater, Manly, Randwick, Ku-ring-gai, Lake Macquarie, Liverpool and Camden. However, it should be the State Government that ends this cruel practice, following the example of the Australian Capital Territory. The United Kingdom recently imposed a ban. I understand that bans exist in Portugal, Bolivia, Austria, Costa Rica, Hungary, Finland, India, Israel, Singapore and China, with nationwide bans on all animals in travelling circuses under consideration in Brazil, Colombia and Peru. The people of New South Wales want to move on from this archaic and cruel practice. I call on the State Government to take the lead and commit to banning the use of wild animals in circuses in New South Wales.
Ms KATRINA HODGKINSON
(Burrinjuck—Minister for Primary Industries, and Minister for Small Business) [6.20 p.m.]: I speak on behalf of the Government on the petition before the House. Like the people of New South Wales, the New South Wales Government is adamant that appropriate levels of housing and care are provided to animals irrespective of whether they are in circuses, zoos, homes or on farms. The New South Wales Liberal-Nationals Government takes animal welfare very seriously and is committed to further improving the already high standards of animal welfare in this State. Before I go to the specifics of this debate, I reassure the people of New South Wales that we already have very high standards for the exhibition of circus animals in New South Wales and excellent compliance with those standards.
Since becoming the Minister for Primary Industries earlier this year, I have taken a number of steps to improve the welfare of animals in our State. I want briefly to outline a couple of those steps. Last month, together with the Minister for Local Government, I established the State's first Companion Animals Taskforce to address the high rates of animal euthanasia in New South Wales. Andrew Cornwell, the member for Charlestown, is chairman of this important task force, which brings key animal welfare groups together with government to progress animal welfare in New South Wales. This task force has been set up to provide an organised and constructive method for industry and interest groups to interact with and advise the Government on ways to improve the care of companion animals.
The task force was set up in response to statistics showing that in the past five years more than 150,000 dogs and cats have been euthanised in New South Wales pounds. New South Wales is negotiating with other jurisdictions to develop new Australian animal welfare standards through the Primary Industries Ministerial Council. The aim is to develop and implement a number of national standards under the umbrella of the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy, including standards for exhibited animals and the land transport of stock. This week I met with the Veterinary Practitioners Board to obtain a better understanding of how they contribute to the health and welfare of animals through the registration of veterinary practitioners, the licensing of veterinary hospitals and the regulation of veterinary conduct and standards.
In relation to the petition, which calls for exotic animal circuses to be banned in New South Wales, I draw to the attention of members that under the Exhibited Animals Protection Act 1986 New South Wales has had prescribed standards for the exhibition of circus animals since 1996. I understand that these standards were adapted and adopted at the national level by all States and Territories and that, in fact, New South Wales has some of the toughest standards in the world. I am advised that there have been no prosecutions of any circuses in New South Wales for cruelty since the introduction of the standards. The standards, which were introduced in 1996, cover a wide range of requirements such as animal suitability, animal housing and management, transport, performance and training, animal dignity and public safety.
Inspections of circuses are carried out by the Department of Primary Industries animal welfare branch, which assesses and enforces compliance with the Exhibited Animals Protection Act and its standards for the exhibition of circus animals. I wonder why the RSPCA has not taken any action to address the concerns raised by the people who signed the petition. If the allegations are shown to be correct, the RSPCA has the power to investigate and take appropriate action. Reports of non-compliance with the tough New South Wales standards are taken very seriously and are promptly investigated. The conclusions of overseas research upon which the RSPCA is relying should be assessed by the Exhibited Animals Advisory Committee to ensure that any conclusions reached are scientifically sound and applicable to the circuses that operate in New South Wales.
The Exhibited Animals Advisory Committee is an independent statutory committee established under the Exhibited Animals Protection Act 1986. This committee assesses the validity of evidence and provides advice to me on whether there is agreement among animal welfare scientists that is objective and reaches scientifically sound conclusions. I encourage everyone to follow due process. The issue of whether a ban should include all animals or specific species must be canvassed and a consensus reached before a ban can be considered. Although the petitioners are motivated by a well-meaning concern for the welfare of circus animals, the petition is flawed by its sweeping statements and lack of detail.
There is no place in New South Wales for circus operators who do not comply with our intentionally high standards, nor is there a place here for any operator involved in animal cruelty. Incidents of cruelty should be reported to enforcement agencies such as the RSPCA so that the incidences can be investigated and, if warranted, prosecuted under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. I stress that a world of difference exists between acts of animal cruelty and failure to meet the standards for circus animals. Since the introduction of the exhibition of circus animal standards in 1996, the Department of Primary Industries animal welfare branch has conducted numerous inspections at circuses and investigated a small number of reported incidents. Inspections have shown that compliance levels are very high. The few incidents reported were resolved with the cooperation of the circus operators.
Circuses have existed for centuries and remain a highly popular form of family entertainment in New South Wales. Performing and exhibited animals are a very important attraction for some circuses that tour New South Wales. Without animals, those circuses may not survive. Compliance with our strict standards ensures that circus animals in New South Wales receive an appropriate level of care. While incidents of poor standards and cruelty elsewhere may be used to justify the call for a blanket ban on exotic animals, circuses in New South Wales are complying with our tough standards.
I remind members that prior to the election the Premier committed to providing a one-off grant of $7.5 million to RSPCA New South Wales to assist in the rebuilding of the Yagoona animal shelter. That grant is in addition to the Government's annual contribution to RSPCA New South Wales to assist this charity organisation to carry out its important activities involving the care and protection of animals at risk. I certainly do not accept, and I hope no member in this House would accept, animal cruelty of any kind. New South Wales has very strict standards for the exhibition of circus animals and excellent compliance with those standards. The New South Wales Government does not tolerate the mistreatment of animals.
Mr RICHARD AMERY
(Mount Druitt) [6.27 p.m.]: I congratulate those who were able to obtain more than 10,000 signatures for a petition to debate this sensitive issue in Parliament. To be fair, it would not be difficult to get a petition signed on matters relating to animals and animal cruelty because most of our society takes a keen interest in and has great passion for these issues. Like most people, I respect animals. I regard myself as an animal lover. However, I do not believe that because an animal is in a circus or a zoo that prima facie the animal is being treated cruelly. If the petition called for more improvements in the codes of practice for managing animals in circuses and zoos in this State, I would be pleased to support it, so long as the shortcomings in any allegations were clearly identified.
The Labor Government, which was elected in 1995, had a record in animal welfare of which I am particularly proud. I had a person dedicated to animal welfare issues in my former ministerial office and the then Department of Agriculture had an animal welfare unit, which the Minister for Primary Industries has indicated is still in operation. We gave the unit plenty of work. Labor always takes animal welfare seriously. I am pleased to highlight some of the outcomes that we achieved. We rewrote the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, doubling in some cases the penalties for acts of cruelty to animals. We banned the use of steel-jawed leg traps and required the tethering of dogs on the back of open vehicles. We changed the practice of passing koalas around to tourists at animal parks and other locations throughout the State. We changed the laws relating to the docking of tails on dogs, we banned fire-face branding and we banned the tethering of pigs in feedlots, to name just a few improvements.
The issue of banning certain classes of animals from pet shops and circuses is complex. However, the petition relates to the circus and I will confine my comments to that. Whether any political party would vote for a ban is uncertain. From my conversations with other members, it appears there are a wide variety of views on this issue in the Labor Party—just as there is, I assume, in the Government party room. It is a matter of record that as a Minister I opposed a campaign to stop the Stardust circus from owning Arna, the elephant. Years later, the elephant was involved in an incident at the circus when one of its handlers was killed. The circus then made the decision to give the elephant to a zoo, which I believe was the Western Plains Zoo. The many reviews carried out indicated that the circus was looking after the elephant well. The animal had been with the circus for years. I understand the circus was an organisation registered in Queensland.
The role of the circus has changed much since I was a child and attended circuses. Ashtons Circus often came to the Fairfield area and was greatly supported. This form of entertainment has declined but circuses still get great support when they come to town, especially in rural towns. While there may be varying views on this issue I would be more inclined to support a continual improvement in and regulation of how animals are treated rather than just an outright ban. Circus owners have invested substantial resources in their animals and they employ many people who love the lifestyle. I hope that any moves to further legislate in this area are done with full consultation and contributions from those in circuses, and a political position is not taken on whether exotic animals of any kind can be part of the circus.
The Minister raised the issue of exhibited animals. Changes in that regard are being worked through by State governments through ministerial council meetings. Those meetings have made recommendations and ultimately, after much debate, changes were made by many State governments and the Federal Government in relation to national standards for exhibited animals, the prevention of cruelty to animals and so on. I have already pointed out that some of the circuses involved are registered in other States. They travel from Queensland, northern parts of New South Wales, Victoria and other places. I believe that any changes to the involvement of animals of any type in a circus should be nationally regulated. If we are to move in that direction, which I think will probably happen eventually, I urge Ministers who are responsible for issues relating to animal cruelty and the management of circuses, zoos and so on to raise those matters through ministerial council meetings. By doing so, any changes to the law on whether an exotic animal can be used in a circus will be made on a national basis. I do not think it is workable, certainly on the east coast of Australia, if one State goes it alone.
Mr JAMIE PARKER
(Balmain) [6.32 p.m.]: On behalf of The Greens I speak in support of a statewide ban on exotic animals performing in circuses. The detailed issues in relation to the use of exotic animals in circuses have been covered very well by the member for Sydney, and I wholeheartedly support her comments. It is very disappointing that both the Opposition and the Government have said that they will not support this proposal.
All circus tricks are unnatural behaviour for animals. Therefore, animals must be trained with the use of bull hooks, whips, metal spikes, hotplates, electric prods and other devices. Animals learn to obey out of fear of punishment. Wild animals used by circuses include elephants, lions, tigers and monkeys, which spend almost their entire lives in chains, cooped up behind electric fences or in boxes—sometimes for up to 20 hours a day. Circus animals are intelligent and social, yet they are kept in close confinement in artificial social groups for long periods of time. They spend much of their lives being continually transported between circus venues and they suffer stress, pain, fear and loneliness.
Animal welfare organisations in New South Wales have done fantastic work lobbying on these issues. I commend them for their capacity to have 10,000 signatures brought to the House today. In particular, I mention Animals Asia, Animals Australia, the RSPCA, the Animal Welfare League, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the World Society for the Protection of Animals, Animal Liberation, the World League for the Protection of Animals, Voiceless, the Animal Societies Federation and many other organisations that are dedicated to protecting the welfare of animals.
The Greens share the view of the RSPCA that no circus, no matter how well managed, can provide an appropriate environment for wild animals. I respect the fact that the Minister came to address us in the House during this debate, but we heard the Minister say that the conditions in the existing regulations are strenuous enough to ensure that the standards defend animal welfare. We can see by the new evidence and by the issues that the member for Sydney, the petition and I have raised that that is simply not the case. Scientific studies show that animals require a high level of stimulation and when held in captivity they become stressed and bored, which often leads to abnormal repetitive behaviours, such as swaying and pacing.
In 2009 the Animal Welfare journal published a review of the suitability of wild animals to live in a travelling circus. The review found that species of non-domesticated animals that are commonly kept in circuses appear to be those least suited to life in a circus. Moreover, scientific studies show that circus life leads to stress, boredom and often results in the abnormal behaviour I mentioned. This is not a political issue; it is a practical issue. The new evidence, particularly the Animal Welfare journal's evidence, demonstrates that steps must be taken by this Government. I am very disappointed that we have had such a negative response from both the Opposition and the Government. But I am sure that will not stop those of us who are committed to animal welfare.
I am proud of the fact that many local councils have defended the welfare of animals. The Greens were very proud to have joined with many activists to support animal welfare groups and local residents who successfully lobbied councils to refuse to let circuses with wild exotic animals perform on land operated by the councils. I will continue to work to defend animal rights and promote animal welfare. This issue is the tip of the iceberg, as we saw with the live cattle export issue. There is a huge majority in our community who want more action on animal welfare. There is a whole range of animal welfare issues that governments need to address, such as the confinement of pigs in crates, puppy farming, many of the practices around farming chickens for meat and the banning of live exports.
We support the worldwide abolition of all cruel and inhumane treatment of animals used in sport, recreation or entertainment, such as steeplechasing, dogfighting, cockfighting, bear-baiting, bullfighting and other practices involving the killing or torture of animals. We need to undertake this ban to protect animal welfare. As Cirque de Soleil, Circus Oz and many other popular non-animal circuses have shown, the success, quality and economic viability of a circus does not require the use of animals. It is clear that there is an ever increasing majority of Australians who are committed to animal welfare. I call on the Government to take this matter seriously and review its opposition to the ban. I thank the member for Sydney and those who generated this petition.