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Where the parties stand on animal welfare

Cat MacLennan looks at where the political parties stand on animal policies ahead of the election, using a questionnaire to mark and rank them so voters can can take it into account when casting their ballots

Progress on animal issues has stalled over the past three years, with no significant initiatives to improve the lives of animals in Aotearoa.

Animal Agenda Aotearoa surveys registered political parties prior to each election about their animal policies. This year we sent our questionnaire to the 14 parties registered by the Electoral Commission on May 14, 2020. The table sets out their responses to our questionnaire, and marks and ranks them so voters can take animal policies into account when deciding how to cast their ballots in the election.

Labour’s lack of action on animal issues has perhaps been the most disappointing. Before the 2014 election, Labour’s then-animal spokesperson committed the party to introducing a Minister for Animal Welfare and supported both the abolition of factory farming and a ban on the most harmful aspects of rodeo.

However, once the party came to power, it swiftly went back on those undertakings. In 2020, it no longer supports either phasing out intensive farming or outlawing rodeo’s cruellest practices. The lack of action on rodeos is particularly disappointing, given that the Government’s own animal welfare advisory committee produced a report in May 2018 stating that every rodeo event held in this country impacted on animals in ways raising minor to serious concerns. Steer wrestling and calf roping resulted in serious impacts on animals, while other events produced moderate concerns, and only barrel racing fell into the minor concerns category.

Labour did, in 2017, take the historic step of appointing an Associate Minister of Agriculture with responsibility for animal welfare - the first time there had been such a position in this country. However, after Minister Meka Whaitiri lost her portfolios, no replacement minister with responsibility for animal welfare was appointed and Labour no longer supports a separate animal portfolio.

The closest Labour came to taking a significant step on behalf of animals during this term was the announcement by Minister for Primary Industries Damien O’Connor in June 2019 that the Government was reviewing live exports, and a conditional ban on the live export of cattle was under consideration. The announcement followed years of footage showing the gross suffering of animals exported live from Australia, New Zealand and other countries.

O’Connor’s announcement held out hope that the Government would put a marker in the ground to end the prolonged suffering of animals transported long distances to ports, held in yards, loaded onto ships to spend weeks at sea, and then unloaded in destination countries to endure further horror before being slaughtered.

However, the review has ground to a halt and no further developments are expected prior to the election.

On the plus side for Labour, it was pleasing to see O’Connor immediately state that 2018 pictures of cows kept in appalling conditions under the guise of “winter grazing” were unacceptable, and swiftly set up a taskforce to recommend improvements.

National has received consistently low scores for its animal policies. In 2014, its score from Animal Agenda Aotearoa was 1 out of 10. In 2017, it was 4.5 out of 20, and this year it is 2.75. The main issue for which it has received marks has been its opposition to the surgical mutilation of animals.

National prioritises retaining farmer support and promoting primary sector exports over animal welfare. This is a short-term view, as international publicity about the ill-treatment and neglect of animals is harmful to this country’s reputation and damaging to sales of New Zealand products.

The Greens received a mark of 19.5 out of 20 for their response to Animal Agenda Aotearoa this year, and 18.5 in 2017. They are the first party to unveil a specific animal policy for this year’s election and it is pleasing to see they now support a ban on greyhound racing, something they did not back in 2017.

However, although the Greens have good animal policies, what has been lacking is them giving priority to acting to get some of these policies implemented.

New Zealand First answered the animal election survey in 2014 and 2017, but has not provided a response this year. In 2017, the party supported a ban on live exports of animals, apart from racehorses. Such a policy would have been a significant advance for animals, if it had been implemented.

The ACT Party has not completed the survey in 2014, 2017 or 2020.

Sustainable New Zealand received the top score in 2020 for its response to the Animal Agenda Aotearoa questionnaire – 19.5. The Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party also scored well, with a mark of 16.5. However, neither party will make it into Parliament after the election.

More detailed information about the parties’ animal policies can be found on the Animal Agenda Aotearoa 2020 website.

Cat MacLennan is the convenor of Animal Agenda Aotearoa.

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