On 31 October 2010 Auckland Council inherited a policy from the legacy Auckland City Council that prohibited rodeo events on council land in the former Auckland City area. The ban was not a bylaw, it was a resolution of the whole Council led by John Banks. Because it was not a bylaw, it was unclear if and how it would be carried over into the new Auckland Council.
Council limited in its ability to make bylaws about animal welfare
The Animal Welfare Act 1999 delegates the power to make bylaws to local government but only insofar as they relate to the keeping of animals, for example the number of beehives one can have on a property in the city limits, dog owner regulations and so on. There are no bylaws concerning animals used in events on council land because the Local Government Act 2002 does not provide the council with the power to make bylaws about animal welfare. The welfare of animals is provided for under the Animal Welfare Act 1999 and Animal Welfare (Rodeos) Code of Welfare 2003 and is administered by central government agencies and, bizarrely, the SPCA, a private charity.
2014 consideration of the rodeo ban by the Regulations and Bylaw Review Committee
I was informed that the rodeo ban policy has been superseded by the new Auckland Council Events Policy 2013 which was adopted by the Regional Development and Operations Committee on 16 May 2013 (RDO/2013/73). At a bylaw review workshop with councillors on 20 May 2014, Councillor Cathy Casey raised concerns about protecting the welfare of animals used in entertainment events on council land, including rodeos.
There is currently one rodeo event in Auckland held annually at the Warkworth Showgrounds. This event is under the jurisdiction of the Rodney Local Board. It came to my attention the night before the meeting of the Regulations and Bylaw Review Committee on 22 July that they would be accepting a recommendation that would effectively negate this statement.
Having only heard the night before that this item of business would be discussed at the meeting of the 22nd, I had to ask for the indulgence of the Committee Chair, Councillor Calum Penrose, to allow me to speak. He didn’t have to but to his credit he allowed me a 5-minute address to the committee for which I am grateful. He also allowed two submitters from the audience, Lynne Charlton and Jill Latham, who both spoke passionately on behalf of the animals who suffer in rodeos for ‘entertainment’.
The Committee was unmoved by these submissions, a number of the Councillors expressing the view that animal welfare was not the business of local government. They passed the following resolution:
That the Regulatory and Bylaws Committee:
a) note that the Local Government Act 2002 does not provide council with the power to make bylaws about animal welfare;
b) note that decisions on the use of council land are delegated to local boards for local parks, and governing body for regional parks;
c) confirm that no additional measures beyond the Auckland Council Events Policy 2013 apply to events held on council owned or controlled land.
A matter to which decision makers ‘must have regard’
It seemed that we would have to go to the Arts, Events and Culture committee to attempt to have the ban introduced into the Events Policy. However, further enquiries by Councillor Cathy Casey and myself elicited a legal opinion from Council that the Events Policy only sets out who is responsible for making the decision in respect to events on public land. In this regard local boards make decisions on local events on Council-owed land and the Governing Body for regional events. The decision made by the former Auckland City Council should be a factor considered in making these decisions, i.e. they ‘must have regard’ to it but it is not binding.
What does this mean in practice? When an application is made for landowner consent of the Governing Body (the 20 councillors if it is in a regional facility) or the relevant local board (if it is in a local facility), they will be advised by a council officer that they must consider in their deliberations the fact that the old Auckland City Council passed a resolution to ban rodeo events on council land. This should be minuted and/or in the decision report made to that meeting. The decision makers may then disregard that and vote to allow the event anyway. The only possibility of review is if they can be shown not to have given due consideration to the previous ban. This could be obtained through a LGOIMA (Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987) request or through any other evidence – such as, for example, absence of the matter to be had regard to in the decision report. However, the likely remedy is that the decision maker is asked to re-consider the approval in light of that fact. They will most likely vote the same way again.
So, a small win in that the ban was not totally disregarded but unfortunately not a ban on this barbaric practice.
Is a ban possible in future?
I suggest that a ban is possible. Although there is clear legal guidance that bylaws on animal welfare banning rodeo (as distinct from keeping of animals) cannot be made by Council, I see no reason why Auckland Council’s Governing Body could not resolve to ban the practice as did Auckland City Council.
This would require a public conversation on the matter and a clear reading as to the mood of the public on whether animal cruelty for entertainment is acceptable. That would be a good thing. I believe that the majority of Aucklanders would be appalled by the level of cruelty that is part and parcel of rodeo. There was no such conversation or consultation around the decisions discussed above; I would not consider the views of a relatively small group of mostly conservative councillors to give an accurate indication of where public opinion stands on rodeo. It is exciting to see increasing media interest in rodeo and the cruelty that is inherent in it. It is high time that there was a proper public discussion of whether rodeo is acceptable in Auckland and that elected representatives make their decisions accordingly.