New developments in animal welfare
A significant development in the enforcement of animal welfare legislation has recently taken place with the Minister of Agriculture, Hon. Jim Sutton, announcing his decision to declare the Animal Welfare Institute of New Zealand (Inc). (AWINZ) to be an "approved organisation" under section 121 of the Animal Welfare Act 1999 (the Act).
This decision took effect today.
AWINZ is a charitable trust based in Auckland with animal welfare as its principal purpose. AWINZ initially intends to operate in conjunction with local authorities whereby suitably qualified animal control officers will be eligible to be appointed as animal welfare inspectors under the Act.
"This will give them significantly enhanced powers to deal with animal welfare problems on the spot without having to seek assistance from other organisations", said Mr Sutton. He said that dog control problems are often animal welfare problems and his decision will enable inspectors to take immediate action thereby significantly improving the welfare of the animals.
"Where inspectors feel that a situation is outside their area of expertise, I expect that they will seek appropriate advice from MAF" said Mr Sutton. "This is especially the case in rural areas or, in dealing with large animals or complex situations".
"I am confident that AWINZ and inspectors operating under its jurisdiction will have the necessary skills and knowledge of the law to carry out their duties fairly and impartially. Persons will only be considered for appointment as inspectors if they have successfully completed the NZQA National Certificate in Compliance and Regulatory Control (Animal Welfare)", said Mr Sutton. This training is now a standard requirement for all animal welfare inspectors. UNITEC Institute of Technology in Auckland has more than 120 students studying for this qualification, including many from the SPCA and MAF.
Mr Sutton said that the decision could, at times, result in AWINZ and the SPCA both receiving the same animal welfare complaints. He believed that any difficulties will be minimised as both the SPCA and AWINZ will enter into a formal memorandum of understanding with MAF about the treatment of complaints. In addition, AWINZ and the SPCA will be required to establish formal performance and technical standards to guide inspectors in the performance of their duties.
Mr Sutton noted that the Act gives the Director-General of MAF the power to direct inspectors in the exercise and performance of their powers. MAF will also establish a formal monitoring system and will audit the performance of AWINZ and inspectors.
Mr Sutton pointed out that the idea of local authority animal control officers also undertaking animal welfare work was tested in a pilot programme that MAF ran with the Waitakere City Council from 1995 to 1999. "Regular audits were made of this programme and it was found to work successfully", said Mr Sutton. Mr Sutton understood that many of the Waitakere City animal control inspectors who were part of that pilot programme would apply to become animal welfare inspectors. "I have received written support from the City Council and the inspectors for their new role" Mr Sutton said.
Fourteen officers of Waitakere City Animal Welfare Services and North Shore City Animal Care and Control have completed the UNITEC training programme and were presented with the first National Certificates in Compliance and Regulatory Control (Animal Welfare) by Labour MP, David Cunliffe, at last year's graduation. Mr Sutton said that he expects that applications will be made for their appointment as inspectors in the very near future.
Mr Sutton paid warm tribute to the work of the RNZSPCA and its inspectors and volunteers who played a major role in animal welfare enforcement work. He did not see any decrease in the work or public support for the SPCA. "Most of the country will not notice any difference", he said. I will continue to support the work of the SPCA in its animal welfare enforcement role and look forward to continuing the good relationship I have with the RNZSPCA.