Abattoir Operations Monitoring - Question Without Notice

(2.15pm 23 Feburary 2012, Parliament House Sydney)

Ms CLOVER MOORE: My question is to the Minister for Primary Industries. Could mandatory closed-circuit television be introduced into abattoirs to stop grotesque acts of cruelty, given that the Hawkesbury abattoir was recently exposed for shocking animal cruelty and had been visited by enforcement bodies four times last year with no breaches found?

Ms KATRINA HODGKINSON: I thank the member for Sydney for her question. I want to say clearly and plainly: the New South Wales Government will not tolerate acts of animal cruelty. All abattoirs in New South Wales quite simply must comply with animal welfare requirements. This is not negotiable. This strong stance is supported by industry training programs and, where issues are suspected, strong regulatory powers for agencies such as the RSPCA. The New South Wales Food Authority also imposes strict conditions on licences to operate these facilities and checks compliance by conducting unannounced audits and inspections. I note that even those opposite have agreed that New South Wales Government agencies have been swift and targeted in their response to the recent incident at Wilberforce. In any industry there may be rogue operators. But I do not want to take any chances.

On Thursday 9 February the New South Wales Government became aware of a range of serious allegations against the Wilberforce-based abattoir. These allegations were disturbing and involved both hygiene concerns and the serious mistreatment of animals. On the very same day, my department acted decisively, meeting with Department of Primary Industries animal welfare staff and the RSPCA Chief Inspector. That day the abattoir's prescribed brands were seized. As abattoirs cannot sell their meat unless it is branded, these actions effectively prevent this abattoir from processing meat and committing any further breaches of operating requirements. The Wilberforce facility's operation is being examined further by the Food Authority to determine whether its licence should be suspended or cancelled. The abattoir is required to respond to these matters and will not be able to operate until the authority completes its investigation, with expert assistance from the Department of Primary Industries and the RSPCA, and makes its determination. The RSPCA has also commenced an investigation into this abattoir and will decide whether prosecution under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 is warranted after the investigation has concluded.

Following the incident I demanded that the New South Wales Food Authority ramp up its unannounced inspections and audits of domestic abattoirs in New South Wales so that consumers and farmers have confidence in the operation of domestic abattoirs across the State. The New South Wales Food Authority has sent a formal notice to all New South Wales domestic abattoirs, reminding them of their obligations and responsibilities in ensuring the humane treatment of animals.

The member for Sydney expressly asked about closed-circuit television operating in abattoirs. I have asked that the investigation being conducted by the RSPCA, the Department of Primary Industries and the New South Wales Food Authority also look at that matter. I want to have a very broad-scale investigation into the operations of small domestic abattoirs in particular. A review of 15 domestic abattoirs in New South Wales is being undertaken at this point following the breach at Wilberforce.

I want to assure the people of New South Wales that the New South Wales Government takes animal welfare very seriously. In fact, I want to update the House that in the past week alone eight unannounced inspections of the State's domestic abattoirs have occurred. The action to immediately shut down this facility demonstrates that the New South Wales Government will not hesitate in taking swift and decisive action when it comes to gross mistreatment of animals. The investigation of the Wilberforce abattoir is progressing and I will receive a full report upon its completion. I thank the House for its attention.