15 December 2021
Let's be clear. Achieving the highest standard of protection for rodeo animals in Australia wasn't the Queensland Government's primary aim in developing its first ever Rodeo Code of Practice. The new Code is heavily biased towards the rodeo industry with calf roping remaining legal and still no requirement for an on-site vet, as two of the more obvious examples. The state government's dealings with stakeholders throughout the process were conducted in a manner that aligned closely with the government's strong financial support of rodeos. The animals are the ones who will pay the price for this government's unwillingness to put these cowboys offside, a stance we can only assume they have adopted for political reasons. And when Queensland holds the most rodeos of any Australian state, this weak Code is a big disappointment.
Very little went in favour of the animals throughout the process. The rodeo industry was over-represented and there were also unexpected and undeclared connections to the rodeo industry from other quarters which we later learned of.
Calf Roping and Lack of Public Consultation
It was public outrage about calf roping that we understand was one of the driving factors which lead to the government finally agreeing to the development of a Rodeo Code during 2019. All up, when we tally the number of emails sent to state MPs, the Minister and the Premier, along with 60 000 petition signatures presented to them, the state government has received around 100 000 calls for calf roping to be banned. It was fully aware of the high level of public opposition.
In May 2019, we were advised that the draft Rodeo Code would be opened up to public consultation once finalised. However, by September the government's advice suddenly changed. We were then told that because the government felt they had consulted so widely with animal protection groups, public consultation may no longer be necessary. A report would be sent to the Office of Best Practice Regulation for an opinion around the need for public consultation. Its advice was expected in early 2020.
The state government knew by the end of 2019 that all five 'welfare' stakeholder groups - The Australian Veterinary Association, RSPCA Qld, Animal Welfare League Qld, Animals Australia and ALQ - were 'officially' and publicly opposed to calf roping, and would not compromise on their position that a prohibition was needed.
However, the government ultimately chose to ignore these unanimous views of the animal protection stakeholders, despite having declared their participation in the process as the reason why no public consultation was required! The hideous event of calf roping will continue. The state Government's backwards decision on calf roping makes no sense at all on animal protection grounds. Even a leading rodeo industry figure told us we were on the right track in trying to get a ban but of course he wasn't brave enough to speak out.
No vet required at Queensland rodeos
Vet attendance was initially stated as a ‘key consideration’ of the Rodeo Code. Yet the government's firm position that all Queensland communities should be able to continue holding their rodeos meant the issue of a mandatory vet was quickly off the discussion table.
A mandatory Animal Welfare Officer was then proposed. Initially it was thought that this person would be able to administer pain relief to cattle and horses but this was later discovered could not happen because of Queensland Health restrictions on pain relief drugs. Despite this finding, the state government refused to re-examine the issue of a mandatory vet. One assumes there will continue to be many, if not most, Queensland rodeos held without an onsite vet. No pain relief will be on offer to injured animals at these rodeos.
Lack of oversight of injuries and deaths
Animal protection advocates argued for stronger rodeo animal welfare along the lines of Victoria’s regulations. But it seems that Queensland governments aren't fans of so-called red tape. The state Department of Agriculture did not wish to take on the responsibility of direct oversight of injuries and deaths at rodeos. Each rodeo industry body is merely required to record these and keep them for 2 years.
Overall there are multiple areas of concern with Queensland's new Rodeo Code. The bottom line of course is that every event relies on animals being made fearful and stressed in order to 'perform'. This is a sport that we totally condemn as brutal and exploitative of animals.
The process of developing this Code revealed the government's lack of genuine interest in rodeo animal protection. Its frequent talk of being tough on animal welfare doesn't align in the slightest with the disappointingly low bar it has set with this Code. The industry will be laughing. However, the fight against this industry built around animal exploitation will continue on many fronts. They don't deserve their unqualified support from the government and ugly truths will continue to be revealed. One day hopefully soon the rodeo cowboys won't be laughing at all.