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TT-Line – Polo Pony Deaths


Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 8 December 2020

Tags: TT-Line, Horse Racing, Animal Welfare

Ms O'CONNOR - I would like to talk about the death of 16 polo ponies on the Spirit of Tasmania in January 2018 on a voyage from Devonport to Victoria. I preface this question in full knowledge that it is a matter that is before the courts, after the lawyer for the TT-Line unsuccessfully argued that it should not be heard, or that the TT-Line wasn't criminally responsible and should not be charged.

If we can just for a moment put aside the ongoing court case, and in the absence of having seen the autopsy report; but the report of the autopsy report from the trainer, is that the horses suffocated. Have any changes been made to the way animals are transported on the Spirit of Tasmania since January 2018?

Mr GRAINGER - I would like to clarify one thing: who said the horses passed away on the ship?

Ms O'CONNOR - The media reports said the horses suffocated; and Mr Williams, the former world cup polo player, said he found the animals dead when he opened the float he was driving at a property in regional Victoria - so that is what we have.

Mr GRAINGER - Unless someone has information that we are not aware of, and we get very annoyed about this, because there are assumptions being made, which have not been proven. We have had no direct information from anyone of any authority to say that those animals passed away on the ship.

Ms O'CONNOR - Is that not in the charges that were brought by Biosecurity Tasmania?

Mr GRAINGER - There are charges and media reports; but I will say it again, no one in authority has provided us with evidence that the animals passed away on the ships. I can't be straighter than that, Ms O'Connor. We get annoyed with the damage that has been done to our brand. I will say it for the third time: no-one has determined that those animals passed away on our ships.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thanks for that clarification, Mr Grainger. The question was, has anything changed in the way animals are transported on the Spirit, notwithstanding your statement, and the fact that there are ongoing court proceedings?

Mr GRAINGER - The answer to the question is, yes, there have been some changes made on the advice of some relevant authorities. People need to understand that we are carrying animals every single day; we know the number of horses we carry every single day, and we are still the preferred carrier of horses across Bass Strait.

We can't go into the detail because of the court proceedings, as you are aware and you have just described. But, yes, there have been some minor - we would class them as minor - changes made to how we report - not necessarily how we carry. The ships have not changed, and we have not changed any of the ship-specific areas on the vehicle decks; for example, they are still the same fans, still the same air flows, things like that. We have changed our reporting.

Ms O'CONNOR - Can I get an understanding for the committee of what that change in reporting is? Can we confirm that there have been no changes to the way animals are carried in physical terms; there have been no changes to ventilation or anything like that, but the reporting has changed. Maybe you could share with the committee a little bit about what that looks like?

Mr DWYER - I can certainly pick that up. As we inspect cargo that is coming on to the ship, if we have any concerns for different types of animals, whether that be camels, alpacas or anything, we immediately ring Biosecurity Tasmania and seek some advice on the process.

Ms O'CONNOR - Can I follow up on that? Are those checks undertaken by people with veterinary qualifications? Who looks at the animals before they come on the vessel?

Mr DWYER - We are not checking the animals. The sort of checks we would do is to make sure there is only one horse in one stall, for example. That's really it, in relation to that.

Most of the people who are carrying horses, you need to remember - and I need to be really careful about what I say, as you will appreciate - are professional horse carriers. They look after their horses better than they look after other people, potentially, so they are very professional in what they do. I'll even go back to DPIPWE, which put out a release when this happened and it was a once-off isolated incident and there were no concerns for carriage of horses on the TT Line. It was an absolute once-off.

Ms O'CONNOR - Or indeed any animals would be the question; because there are a lot of people who will put on their dog or their cat.

Mr DWYER - Regarding dogs and cats, we are continually looking at our processes and we've worked with the Chief Vet in Tasmania and we've worked with the RSPCA. We have put a different brand and new style of kennels on the vessels for cats and dogs, for example. We are always looking at the best way to improve those sort of things for our passengers.

Ms O'CONNOR - Do you have data available on the number of animals that perish on any given - the thing is again, I am not pointing to the company for this but is it possible? Do you want me to put that on notice, minister?

Mr DWYER - If you are happy to take it on notice, we can certainly provide that.

Mr GRAINGER - No one cares more about the welfare of animals on our ships than we do, but we are getting a bit sick and tired of the commentary that's associated with this issue. We really are. We went through it the year before, and as I said we're doing everything we can do to make sure these incidents don't happen. When I watch the evening news and read the newspaper and see these reports about horses dying on our ships - no one has actually validated those comments.

 

Ms O'CONNOR - It is a difficult topic, but I am going to go back to the polo ponies. I understand, Mr Grainger, how uncomfortable it must be for the TT board. I hear that. No one wants to be accused of not caring about animals. I don't believe that's the case for TT Line.

With the allegation that the ponies died on the vessel, it's the owner, I think Mr Williams, who says he has seen a copy of the autopsy report. The autopsy report, he says, confirms the animals died on the vessel. So that is where that information has come from.

Mr GRAINGER - He can say whatever he wants. We have seen the autopsy report as well.

Ms O'CONNOR - So you have seen the autopsy report? That was my second question. The board, or TT Line management, has seen the autopsy report which, I understand, would be the foundation for Biosecurity Tasmania laying charges, so is it your contention - and I know we have to be careful here because it's before the courts - that the autopsy report does not confirm the animals died on the vessel?

Mr GRAINGER - I'm not going there. I will just repeat what I said earlier on: that is, no-one has advised the company officially that those animals passed away on our ships, no one.

Ms O'CONNOR - Including, presumably, whoever undertook the autopsy, and I guess it is not their role to advise management; they're just doing a service of undertaking an autopsy.

Has there been any communication? I gather it's a bit tense at the moment between Biosecurity Tasmania and TT-Line at some level over the ponies and the charges, but has there been ongoing work with DPIPWE or Biosecurity Tasmania around how animals are transported? Are you still talking to each other about that?

Mr DWYER - Absolutely, every day. Biosecurity are on our property and report every day. There's no bad feeling or awkward feeling between us. We'll let the lawyers sort out the court - I'll refrain from using -

Ms O'CONNOR - The process.

Mr DWYER - Yes.

Ms O'CONNOR - Is there any understanding from the board's point of view on what the time frame of the court process is likely to be?

Mr DWYER - I'm sorry, I don't know.