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VDL RTI Error Response to Minister

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 1 August 2019

Tags: Whistleblowers, VDL Dairy, Right to Information

Animal Welfare RTI Adjournment: O'Connor, 1 August, 2019


Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise in response to a statement the Minister for Primary Industries and Water made on indulgence in this House a short time ago. It is really important that I respond to the information the minister laid on the table. I also inform the House that I have spoken to the secretary of the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment about information contained in a right to information document we received on the Monday. I acknowledge that conversation with the head of the agency and a statement put out by the department that makes it clear that DPIPWE has been informed that some information released in a right to information decision may not have related to the Van Diemen's Land Company. I now, for the purposes of Hansard, read from the statement -

The department has conducted an investigation and determined that some information was inadvertently released in the RTI decision that did not relate to the Van Dairy Group. The department has therefore issued an amended RTI decision in relation to this matter.

The department apologises to Van Dairy Group and the RTI applicant for the error and the department reiterates that all the complaints made in the original RTI, as released by the department, were followed up by experienced biosecurity inspectors and no evidence of breaches of the Animal Welfare Act were found.

It was important to place that statement on the record and to make it clear the Greens do not hold any grudge against the right to information officer who made this decision and who, it would appear, has released information that contained allegations of animal cruelty that did not relate to the VDL Dairy Group.

What we now know, from the right to information material that has been reissued, is that there were three specific complaints that related to the VDL Dairy Group that were contained in the right to information documents we now have, as of only a short time ago. I want to be really clear that I am sure there is someone in the agency who feels bad now but it is not their fault. We are dealing with an under-resourced agency, an agency that has one right to information officer at the moment, who is dealing with a large volume of RTI requests. In some ways, it is one of the most controversial agencies in government.

I also want to make it clear that we stand by many of the concerns we have raised about allegations of animal cruelty at the Van Diemen's Land property, or the VDL Dairy property, and in the dairy industry, more broadly. While the complaint that alleges eye gouging, breaking of cows' tails, the illegal injection of substances to induce birth, a cow being killed by slitting its throat, show cows being picked up by hay forks through their bodies, still kicking, et cetera, et cetera, in gruesome detail, and while that complaint does not relate specifically to the Van Dairy company, it certainly relates to a company that is operating as a dairy in north-west Tasmania. I understand from information provided to me by the secretary that dairy has since changed hands but it raises a broader issue about the currently compromised capacity of our state to thoroughly investigate animal neglect and cruelty under the Animal Welfare Act of 1993.

We do not have an independent animal welfare inspectorate and we do not have an animal welfare commissioner, as we should, and we do not yet have, which we need, a dedicated animal welfare enforcement division within Tasmania Police. We have a sequence of complaints that have been made about the dairy industry, three of them relate to them Van Diemen's Land group of dairies. One of them relates to another dairy, which is apparently close to Van Diemen's Land's dairy, but it points to problems within the dairy sector and how it deals with calves, the birth of calves born only to ensure the cow can continue to produce milk and what happens to those calves.

After we asked the original question of Mr Barnett, a person who had worked Van Diemen's Land dairy group of companies for the past three years got in touch with us - and I believe has also spoken to journalists - and made statements I asked about in our question of yesterday. They continue to raise concerns about the way animals are treated at dairies in the north-west and, in his case, at the Van Diemen's Land dairy. We did make sure that Biosecurity Tasmania had that whistleblower's name and contact details, as we should. We will continue to peruse concerns about animal welfare within the dairy industry. We remind the House that 20 senior staff at Van Diemen's Land dairy wrote to the dairy's owner on the 27 June this year to seek indemnity from prosecution under the Animal Welfare Act of 1993 because they are so concerned.

I thank Mr Whittington for providing us with the updated information. I also accept his apology on behalf of the agency. I encourage him not to be too cross with the right to information officer because that person is doing their job as best they can in difficult and underresourced circumstances. We should not allow this mistaken right to information content to let us forget that serious allegations have been made about the practises of dairy farms on the north-west coast, that a whistleblower has come forward alleging animal cruelty at Van Diemen's Land dairy property and that 27 staff have written to the owner of the Van Diemen's Land dairy company, really concerned about the welfare of animals. I encourage the minister, who is also probably a bit grumpy about this week, not to seek retribution and to ensure the right to information section of his department is properly resourced.