The RSPCA is recognised as Australia’s leading authority on animal care and protection. This is largely due to its role in enforcing state and territory animal welfare legislation through the employment of approximately 100 RSPCA Inspectors nationwide. RSPCA Inspectors are appointed under state and territory law to investigate reports of animal cruelty and are afforded a range of statutory powers to do so. These powers are similar in nature to those afforded to the police and other law enforcement officers. In the course of investigating animal cruelty offences, Inspectors are empowered to:
- enter property;
- seize animals, and evidence of animal cruelty offences;
- issue animal welfare directions/notices;
- issue on-the-spot fines; and
- initiate prosecutions for breaches of animal welfare legislation.
To ensure these powers are exercised appropriately, RSPCA Inspectors are subject to many of the same accountability measures as those applying to other law enforcement officers. First, each Inspector is subject to the oversight of the state government department that has overall administrative responsibility for the relevant animal welfare Act. These government departments (usually the state Departments of Agriculture or Primary Industries) manage or oversee the appointment of Inspectors including training requirements and determining any conditions or qualifications to be placed on an Inspector’s appointment. Most also have the power to require certain reporting requirements in relation to the performance of the Inspectorate as a whole or as to individual Inspectors in particular cases, and to terminate an Inspector’s appointment.
Depending on the state or territory, RSPCA Inspectors may also be subject to Freedom of Information legislation that requires them to disclose certain information to the public, and Ombudsman legislation, which may subject them to certain investigations and require them to comply with certain directions. Finally, the performance of RSPCA Inspectors is subject to Parliamentary oversight and review. This will usually take the form of a Parliamentary inquiry into a particular matter or incident.