Auditor-General slams failure to oversee RSPCA Queensland

The State Government department in charge of overseeing the RSPCA’s operations had not been proactive or effective in its oversight of the animal welfare body, a critical Auditor-General’s report has found.

Nov 30, 2021, updated Nov 30, 2021
Photo: Berkay Gumusten/Unsplash

Photo: Berkay Gumusten/Unsplash

Tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, the 33-page report details a lack of accountability, a failure to establish codes of practice for the animal types the RSPCA Queensland regulates, no structured processes for complaints about inspectors and no conflict of interest procedures.

The report is also critical of the fact there is no transparent process in place for approval of fees for animal care paid by owners whose animals have been seized.

The Auditor-General’s report comes on the back of recent claims where the Queensland RSPCA was accused of targeting certain pet shops and breeders, charging exorbitant fees for animal care and telling anyone who complains about them to “take it to court”.

Those claims were included in a dossier of allegations, compiled by State MP Robbie Katter, after his office received a litany of complaints. The document was handed to the State Government for action but they are not part of the Auditor-General’s probe.

Katter highlighted one case where a man’s dog was with the RSPCA for seven months and the cost of care and board was $42,000.

The audit office was asked, in July 2020, to conduct an audit on the delivery of animal welfare services and the enforcement of the Animal Care and Protection Act 2001 and the Animal Care and Protection Regulation 2012.

The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and the RSPCA Queensland deliver animal welfare services.

The report found that the department’s engagement with RSPCA needs improvement and that the department had not been proactive in overseeing and supporting the RSPCA in exercising its powers.

Frameworks should be strengthened to give the department better oversight of RSPCA inspectors and ensure enforcement approaches are consistent across the State.

The report makes the point that under the act, RSPCA inspectors are not accountable to the department and are appointed without conditions for an indefinite term.

There is also criticism of the fact there is no monitoring of the animal welfare body’s process for prioritising animal welfare complaints to ensure they align with guidelines.

“The department has not established compulsory and/or voluntary codes of practice for most of the animal types that RSPCA Queensland regulates – this introduces subjectivity in interpreting compliance requirements,” the report notes.

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There is also no structured process to share information on complaints about RSPCA inspectors or outcomes of complaints.

In addition, there is criticism of the fact that the department has no oversight of the provision for handling conflicts of interest.

RSPCA relies largely on donations and sponsors to fund the investigation and prosecution activities. For the last financial year inspector expenses were $4.6 million, of which the department contributed $500,000.

“The department has not required RSPCA Queensland to report on how it is managing its conflicts of interest in light of its reliance on funding sources outside of the department’s contribution.”

In relation to fees, the report notes that there is no requirement in the regulations for the department to approve a schedule of reasonable fees or to make them publicly available.

“The department has not ensured a transparent process is in place for approving a schedule of recovery costs, their escalation rates or oversee their use as part of negotiated outcomes.”

The Auditor-General recommends that the legislation be amended and require a fee schedule for reasonable cost recovery be approved and made public and that there be oversight of inspector recommendations for prosecutions.

The report also recommends that the department step up its oversight of the RSPCA and actively monitor the outcome of complaints and about investigations and inspectors.

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