4 Feb 2020

Govt backs down on promise to ban elements of rodeo

3:40 pm on 4 February 2020

The government has backed down on its promise to ban certain elements of rodeo.

Bull riding at the Warkworth Rodeo.

Bull riding at a Warkworth rodeo (file picture). Photo: RNZ / Paloma Migone

Prior to the 2017 election, Labour's animal welfare spokesperson Trevor Mallard said flank straps, electric prodders and calf roping would be banned, and if that meant the end of rodeo, so be it.

But nearly three years on, the Agriculture Minister, Damien O'Connor, says banning those things is off the table for now.

Green Party animal welfare spokesperson Gareth Hughes renewed calls last week for the government to deliver on its pre-election promise, and ban what he said are some of the most cruel elements of rodeo.

The Rodeo Cowboys Association president, Lyal Cocks, told Morning Report plans to ban flank straps are no longer on the agenda, following discussions between cowboys and the government.

"That's why they haven't taken them away," he said.

"They've looked at it, investigated, they've made other changes, but the flank strap is not an issue."

In a confusing statement, O'Connor appeared to corroborate Cocks' understanding that the government has had a change of heart.

"The government hasn't scrapped plans to address the use of flank straps and electric prodders," he said.

"While there are no plans to ban rodeos or further elements at this stage, I've made it clear that rodeo operators need to take animal welfare seriously."

He goes on to say rodeo operators have to follow animal welfare rules and the rodeo code closely, or risk further regulation.

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor, also Biosecurity Minister, Food Safety Minister, Rural Communities Minister, Trade and Export Growth Minister of State

Damien O'Connor said it was his job to balance concerns about animals in rodeos with the obvious support that rodeos continue to get from members of the public. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

O'Connor said the reason the government is not forging ahead with a ban on flank straps, electric prodders and more, is because an animal welfare watchdog does not think this is necessary.

"The National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee assessed welfare at rodeos as a whole, including assessing the current standards.

"It didn't recommend bans but pushed for the Rodeo Cowboy Association to establish a rodeo welfare committee, with independent members, to ensure improved monitoring and reporting."

The committee completed its report in 2018, but it is unclear if the new rodeo welfare committee is working and dealing with abuses as transparently as possible.

In 2018, at a Gisborne rodeo, a bull died after dislocating its left hind leg and a horse also died.

But documents obtained under the Official Information Act show the welfare advisory committee did not know about the horse's death until an article appeared online.

Cat MacLennan, a lawyer and the founder of Animal Agenda Aotearoa, said promises made by Trevor Mallard in 2017 have not been lived up to.

And she thinks the Labour Party is washing its hands of the rodeo debate.

"When he made these statements before the 2017 election, he was Labour's animal spokesperson, so he was authorised to speak for Labour and what he said then should have been binding.

"But because he became speaker, they've just basically pretended they haven't made these statements before the last election."

MacLennan said the Greens are the only political party that takes animal welfare seriously.

O'Connor said that was not the case.

"I can assure you I am committed to ensuring that New Zealand maintains its reputation for taking animal welfare seriously.

"I understand concerns about rodeos but it's my job to balance concerns about animals in rodeos with the obvious support that rodeos continue to get from members of the public who continue to attend each summer, and what this means for small rural communities."

O'Connor said the Ministry for Primary Industries is doing everything it can to ensure any rule breaches at rodeos are investigated quickly.

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