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Spirit of Tasmania - Deaths of Polo Ponies

29 August 2018

Ms O'CONNOR question to MINISTER FOR PRIMARY INDUSTRIES AND WATER, Ms COURTNEY

It is now seven months to the day since 16 prized polo ponies died on the Spirit of Tasmania. We have asked you repeated questions about this tragedy and why it is taking so long for the animal welfare investigation into these deaths to be completed. In parliament previously, and in Estimates, you have refused to shed light on the subject or to respond meaningfully to the resignation of Dr Malcolm Caulfield from your animal welfare advisory committee in part over lengthy delays in animal welfare investigations like this one.

Now that TT-Line is being sued by the owners of these ponies, will you take this opportunity to update the House on the progress and results of DPIPWE's investigation? Tasmanians who care about animal welfare want to know what happened aboard the Spirit that resulted in the deaths of these beautiful animals.

 

ANSWER

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for her question. I make it clear that I understand your angst about this situation. Many of us have participated in events where we see beautiful horses and animals participating. I know many of us around the Chamber have participated in the Barnbougle event. I understand the emotive nature of it.

However, I want to be clear that this investigation must be allowed to run its course. Information will only be released when it is appropriate to do so in line with confidentiality and legal requirements. All allegations of animal cruelty are taken seriously and the department's first priority is to ensure that any immediate animal welfare concerns are addressed followed by compliance investigations where an offence of legislation is suspected.

Biosecurity Tasmania and the RSPCA independently investigate animal welfare allegations for potential breaches of the Animal Welfare Act 1993. As was alluded to by the member for Franklin, I am aware of the reports of civil actions against the operators of the Spirit of Tasmania. Any civil action is separate to the animal welfare investigation being undertaken by the department.

Ms O'Connor - When will it be complete?

Ms COURTNEY - I will not be making any comments on that matter.

Ms O'CONNOR - Point of order, Madam Speaker. I asked when the investigation would be complete and if we could have an update on it. This is not a question that I am asking out of a personal concern for animals. This is coming from a constituency of great concern. When?

Madam SPEAKER - I ask the minister to proceed and answer the question.

Ms COURTNEY - Thank you, Madam Speaker. I understand your concern about this case. It is shared by many members of the community.

Ms O'Connor - Champagne at the polo is not an investigation.

Ms COURTNEY - Ms O'Connor, we are talking about a serious investigation here. We are talking about a number of animals that died. Making those types of comments is inappropriate. These types of investigations are done independently from my office.

Ms O'Connor - It is not done independently. It is done by DPIPWE.

Ms COURTNEY - For me to be able to influence that would be grossly inappropriate. For me to unreasonably expedite a thorough investigation and somehow impact on the results is completely inappropriate. I am not going to do anything that is going to jeopardise the investigation. I understand Ms O'Connor's concerns around this issue -

Ms O'Connor - Do not pretend to empathise with me.

Ms COURTNEY - I want to be clear that while the Government shares the community concern, it is appropriate that these investigations are undertaken in the appropriate manner. As has been articulated earlier, this is a complex matter across three jurisdictions and it is essential that this investigation occurs in an independent way and in an unbiased manner. Creating artificial deadlines is not appropriate.

Although this matter is being investigated, the department has provided information to the RSPCA and Equine Industry that the matter appears to be an isolated one. No ongoing concerns have been identified in relation to the movement of horses or other livestock across Bass Strait in line with Animal Welfare Regulations.