Ms O'CONNOR question to MINISTER for PRIMARY INDUSTRIES and WATER, Mr BARNETT
Yesterday in response to our question about a series of detailed alarming allegations of animal cruelty and neglect at the VDL dairy, you confirmed we were misled at the Estimates table when the Director of Biosecurity Tasmania said he was unaware of cruelty allegations against VDL, when in fact RTI documents confirmed he was and you should have been as well, given their seriousness and the fact this is Australia's largest dairy. Following media reports of our question and your answer yesterday, another former VDL staff member contacted our office who stated, and is prepared to swear, that he has witnessed cows' tails being broken as a matter of routine, watched as hoses have been shoved inside cows that have just given birth to fill their uteruses with water or air, seen calves starved to death, hundreds of bull calves shot because they are too small, and other shocking details of cruelty which I will spare the House for now. This is on top of a series of allegations of cruelty dating back to March 2016 and the letter in June from 20 senior staff seeking indemnity from prosecution under the Animal Welfare Act. Will you commit to ensuring Biosecurity Tasmania conducts a series of unannounced visits to each of VDL's 12 dairies at Woolnorth as a matter of urgency?
Madam Speaker, I thank the member for her question. As I said yesterday, our Government takes animal welfare seriously. Compliance with our state's animal welfare laws is a top priority and it must be implemented accordingly, and it will be. I make it very clear that under our Government we increased the penalties for aggravated cruelty to up to five -
Ms O'Connor - You lifted the ban on 1080 and removed the Treasurer's Instructions on cruelty-free eggs.
Madam SPEAKER - Order, Ms O'Connor.
Mr BARNETT - Thank you, Madam Speaker. We increased the penalties for aggravated animal cruelty to up to five years. We strengthened the penalties across the board to send a strong message and to increase deterrents against acts of animal cruelty. I thank the now Deputy Premier and minister for primary industries and water at the time for his leadership and the strong support from this Government for those measures. We have also improved the powers of animal welfare officer.
Ms O'CONNOR - Point of order, Madam Speaker, under standing order 45, relevance. I asked the minister if he will commit to ensuring that there is a series of unannounced visits to each of VDL's 12 dairies.
Madam SPEAKER - As you know, that is not a point of order, but I would like the minister to try to be more focused.
Mr BARNETT - Thank you, Madam Speaker, it was a very lengthy question and I am trying to address each aspect of it and put it into some context. The member for Clark asked a whole range of questions and made a certain number of allegations that should be based on fact.
Regarding improving the power of animal welfare officers, we have increased their accountability and professional standards. I make it clear that Biosecurity Tasmania does an important job and I have confidence in Biosecurity Tasmania.
I make it clear that allegations of animal cruelty are treated very seriously and they need to be acted on appropriately. As I indicated yesterday, there was a whole range of visits to VDL regarding animal welfare concerns that were expressed. There were complaints made, each complaint was taken very seriously, and all complaints made in relation to the VDL property were followed up by experienced biosecurity inspectors - that is the advice I received - as they are with allegations of serious animal welfare in any location in Tasmania. No compliance action was required in any of these cases; that is the advice I have received. Regarding those further allegations the member has made today, based on the advice I have just received through the member for Clark, of course I will take it on board. I do appreciate -
Ms O'Connor - There needs to be a series of unannounced visits to each of those farms.
Madam SPEAKER - Order. I ask Ms O'Connor to take this off line afterwards with the minister.
Mr BARNETT - Madam Speaker, I am trying to make it very clear that I take very seriously the allegation that has been made through the member for Clark. Of course I will take it on board and follow it up with Biosecurity Tasmania.
Ms O'CONNOR - Point of order, Madam Speaker. Could you ask the minister to answer the question as to whether or not he will commit to ensuring a series of unannounced visits to each of VDL's 12 dairies?
Madam SPEAKER - Ms O'Connor, I am sure he did, so it is not a point of order. I am positive he did and I hope the minister might talk to you later.
Mr BARNETT - Madam Speaker, to make it very clear, I am taking this matter very seriously. The allegation has been made. I will take it on board and discuss it with Biosecurity Tasmania. They do a good job, I have confidence in them, and I will be following up on this matter.