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MT 19 October 2014

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maltatoday, SUNDAY, 19 OCTOBER 2014 Opinion 20 D oes anyone remember the last time the Parliamentary Secretary for Animal Rights actually said or did anything to safeguard the rights of animals in this country? Reason I ask is that he's been reported in the press a lot of late… and in all cases, Roderick Galdes has spoken out only to defend those leisure or commercial human activities that involve killing or capturing the same animals he is supposedly sworn to protect. One recent example was last week, when Galdes headed a delegation to Brussels to demand higher national quotas for bluefin tuna. A fine example of animal rights protection in action, don't you think? Mediterranean population levels of bluefin tuna had only just registered a slight improvement, after commercial overfishing had driven the species to the brink of stocks collapse. And the only reason this scenario was averted was because of a recovery plan that involved lowering the national quotas of countries that fish for bluefin tuna. Yet no sooner is it announced that the species is no longer at imminent risk, than out pops Roderick Galdes, Malta's parliamentary secretary for animal rights, to demand that our national quota is reconfigured to the same levels that had caused the threat of extinction in the first place. What does that tell us about his (and, by extension, his government's) commitment to protect animals? And what does it tell us about the 'rights' of these animals, exactly? Clearly, Roderick Galdes is of the opinion that the Mediterranean bluefin tuna has a 'right' to be caught in greater numbers. It is in the species' own interest to be commercially exploited to the maximum level possible. How else to explain the fact that our parliamentary secretary for animal rights is so blatantly asking for more of these animals to be killed? Well, actually there is another explanation. Roderick Galdes is also the parliamentary secretary for fisheries… and this was the hat he chose to wear on this particular occasion. And here is where the problem swims into view. It is after all, legitimate for the junior minister responsible for fisheries to represent the interests of the Maltese tuna industry at European level. One can argue that his approach is short-sighted and will ultimately cause more problems for the same industry in the long term (for very obvious reasons, too: if the species is once again allowed to be overfished, it will go straight back to its endangered status… and apart from the tuna itself, nobody will be harder hit by this than the people who make a living fishing for it commercially.) But that's just a divergence of opinion as to what constitutes the real interests of the fisheries sector. In the shorter term, nobody can really argue that the parliamentary secretary for fisheries had no right to represent that sector at all. He might not be doing his job very effectively – in fact, all he is doing is acting as a mouthpiece for the Malta federation of aquaculture - but he is still technically doing his job. The trouble is that it's the only part of his job that seems to even remotely interest him. At what point in his career has Roderick Galdes ever worn the other hat that also came with his portfolio? The one labelled 'animal rights'… which also involves fighting on behalf of wildlife against the voracious greed of humans who never look beyond their own immediate interests? By my count: never. The 'animal rights' hat is in fact still hanging on its hat-stand in the ministry lobby. He has never even tried it on. And if he ever does, and pauses to admire his ref lection in a mirror… well, he might notice what anyone outside that ministry can see from a million miles off. It doesn't fit. And it can't ever be made to fit, either, when the man supposed to be wearing it also wears two other completely incompatible items of political headgear at the same time. Because fisheries is not the only one of Galdes' other political hats. He is also the parliamentary secretary for agriculture. He represents the interests of an industry which is locked in permanent conf lict with the entire animal rights sector, mostly on account of such issues as battery farms, transportation of livestock, abattoir standards, pesticides and many more. Wearing all three hats simultaneously is very clearly out of the question. You would have to somehow represent the interests of both farmers and farmyard animals, fishermen and fish, hunters and birds, and so on. Even a small child would immediately identify that as an impossibility; yet nobody in government seems capable of even noticing such a conspicuous conf lict of roles. Does Galdes himself see it? No, of course not. You can't see how silly a hat looks on you if you've never even worn it. And this is precisely why he stolidly refuses to ever make any statement – still less devise any policies or draw up any laws – in his other, virtually non- existent capacity. He knows that if he ever does start speaking out in favour of animal rights in this country, he will immediately fall foul of the powerful lobbies whose interests weigh in at the opposite end of the spectrum. So he has made a conscious effort to forget entirely that any other part of his job description even exists. And here another problem comes into play. Only this time it f lies, not swims, into the picture. When it comes to fisheries and agriculture, Galdes does at least have an excuse. No one can deny that those two sectors are his own direct political responsibility. They came with the title of his secretariat: he was given those hats to wear, and therefore has every right to wear them. But hunting and trapping? How on earth did Galdes come to view hunting and trapping as part of his parliamentary remit? How does he configure the definitions of 'fisheries, agriculture and animal rights' to make them also include the interests of a lobby group that very clearly doesn't fit into any of those categories, and which is diametrically opposed to at least one of them? This time I don't have any answers. There is no visible excuse at all. Hunting is to Galdes' portfolio what offshore banking is to the ministry of culture, arts and sport. We'd all be scratching our heads in bewilderment if the arts and culture ministry was suddenly entrusted with policy- making responsibilities in the financial services sector. Why should we not scratch our heads when the man responsible for agriculture and fisheries (and especially animal rights) draws up national legislation on hunting and trapping? And that's before even looking at the legislation he drew up. Heard the one about the parliamentary Raphael Vassallo The European Wild Birds Directive does not permit trapping of wild finches at any time of the year. Arguments involving numbers in autumn or spring are irrelevant… Roderick Galdes

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