Agriculture

Second Reading - Domestic Animals Amendment (Puppy Farms and Pet Shops Bill) 2016

Wednesday 29th November 2017

Second reading

Debate resumed from 12 October 2016; motion of Ms ALLAN (Minister for Public Transport).

Government amendments circulated by Ms ALLAN (Minister for Public Transport) under standing orders.

Mr WALSH (Murray Plains) (12:00:26) — I rise to speak on the Domestic Animals Amendment (Puppy Farms and Pet Shops) Bill 2016. It is interesting that we are now nearly at the end of 2017 and we are finally debating this bill. This bill was actually introduced into the Assembly on 11 October 2016. What I find rather challenging for all the tens of thousands of dog owners across Victoria is that this bill has been sitting around now for over 12 months with a lot of people very, very unhappy with the original bill, and with 24 hours notice there are 30 pages of amendments.

I just think it is very poor form on behalf of the government, particularly on behalf of the Minister for Agriculture and the department, that we have a bill before the house that has been sitting around now for well over 12 months. There was an upper house parliamentary inquiry into this bill that effectively said — amongst other things, which I will come back to — that the bill should be withdrawn and a whole new process started because the legislation was that flawed. As those who have been in this place for very long would know, you cannot fix bad legislation by amending it. You actually have to start again to get the legislation correct, and what we are finding today, with 24 hours notice, is that we have got 30 pages of amendments to an already very, very poor bill.

One of the core faults with the bill right at the start was that the second‑reading speech, at the time it was delivered, said that this legislation was effectively only going to affect 90 dog owners around Victoria. As it has turned out, it is affecting thousands and thousands of dog owners around Victoria. The opposition to this bill has been relentless over the last 12 months or so, and I am surprised that the government has not accepted the recommendations of the upper house to actually scrap the bill and start again with a genuine community consultation process rather than bring in 30 pages of amendments at the last minute to what is already a very, very poor bill.

After the bill was introduced in October 2016 — and, as I said, there was huge opposition to the bill and the impacts it was going to have just on mum‑and‑dad dog owners — the upper house Standing Committee on Economy and Infrastructure self‑referenced an inquiry into this bill. It took evidence, held meetings and finally reported on 6 December. I was going to spend some of my time today actually talking about that particular report. If you actually read the ‘Chair’s foreword’ for a start — the committee was very ably chaired by the member in the other place Josh Morris — in one paragraph he writes:

There are many other issues that were raised with the committee that are discussed in the body of the report, one of the most significant of which was the lack of scientific evidence for the 10 fertile female limit on breeders.

I think that is where a lot of the opposition to this current legislation, even as amended, shows that having an arbitrary number around the number of breeding females in any legislation is just that: it is an arbitrary number and does not deliver any further enhancement of animal welfare outcomes. Recommendation 7 of the report said:

That the government abandon the 10 fertile female limit proposed in the Domestic Animals Amendment (Puppy Farms and Pet Shops) Bill 2016.

And then there was substantial evidence to back that up from the people who actually presented to the committee. The general points that were recorded in that report were:

No clear scientific reason has been established to reduce the number of fertile female dogs in breeding establishments to 10

No correlation between the number of dogs in an establishment and the health and welfare of those dogs

If implemented, the bill will lead to a reduction in the supply of pet dogs in Victoria and in particular, popular crossbred family‑friendly dogs

The bill may lead to a significant reduction in the supply of livestock working dogs in Victoria and may have consequences for farmers and the agriculture industry

If implemented, the bill may lead to an increase in the cost of pet and livestock working dogs in Victoria.

In the overview it also talked about local government’s role in this:

Enforcing this legislation would be overly burdensome for local government as the responsible authority

Local government will require additional funding to facilitate enforcement.

Further, the report said:

Enforcement of existing regulations and codes of practice should be sufficient to ensure —

welfare outcomes. There is nothing in this bill and there is nothing that the government has done since this whole process started that is about ensuring better animal welfare outcomes. This is all about a political fix for a political problem that the minister found herself in after the last election. It is not about actually delivering better animal welfare outcomes at all.

As you go through the report, it keeps talking about the fact that the 10 fertile female limit should be replaced rather than having that arbitrary number. Local government has obviously a huge involvement in the management of dogs here in Victoria. In the submissions from councils:

In answers to questions on notice taken at a committee hearing councils have expressed frustration regarding the doubling of the payment to the Treasurer from $10 to $20 for each domestic animal business registration. The MAV believes that given the need for them to achieve full cost recovery for domestic animal management duties this additional revenue for the state will be another cost to breeders.

A significant concern expressed by the Wellington Shire Council is that dog breeding will in fact become more difficult to monitor with dog breeders ‘going underground’ rather than paying extra fees.

Increasing annual registration fees is not without risk. One possible negative outcome of the proposed amendments and increased fees is the likelihood that some dog breeders will go underground. If that was to occur, we would quickly lose the ability to effectively monitor their activities.

Banksia Park Puppies is probably the pre‑eminent breeding establishment in Victoria and probably Australia, if not the world, and I have personally been down to Banksia Park Puppies. They do a fantastic job and actually spend a lot of resources and a lot of time employing employees, employing students after school and employing people with disabilities to come and actually play with and socialise all the dogs that they have.

They do a fantastic job at Banksia Park in making sure that the dogs are really cared for. The thing that I found most interesting when I went there was the fact that, after a dog has five litters, they are rehomed. They said to me that the work they put in in the first six months of the dog’s life to socialise it is so critical to how those dogs are rehomed after they have had their five litters. They do that work and they do it outstandingly. This legislation is going to put these people out of business, a business that employs something like 30 people just out of Sale. It has a wages bill of nearly $1 million, and they are going to be out of business because of this legislation. It is most likely that they are going to be forced to go interstate to breed dogs to send back here to Victoria, and that will increase the cost of pups to someone who wants to have a pup.

The Pet Industry Association of Australia commented to the committee that the current code of practice in Victoria is one of the strongest ones in the country, if not in many countries. If it has not been enforced, it is because the RSPCA is under‑resourced and councils are under‑resourced, so there is a need to put money into the enforcement side of things no matter what goes through. If it is not enforced, it is irrelevant. It does not change a thing. Enforcement for us is a key word in everything that is going forward. The legislation that is before us today does not deliver on those sorts of things at all.

The Australian Veterinary Association made a submission to the committee, and their comment was that if the code of practice was being adhered to now we would have no problem. Councils just do not have the resources to monitor and enforce the code of practice now. The only thing that this legislation is going to do with the cap is drive out professionals. You are going to get more and more micro backyard breeders who are going to be harder to detect. The word ‘microbreeder’ is actually mentioned in the amendments as one of the definitions of breeding categories. Although the comment about microbreeders was not aimed at that, because at that time they did not know that there was going to be a term for microbreeders, it is the whole point of this legislation. It is not going to deliver better animal welfare outcomes. It will force more red tape onto the people who already do the right thing, but it is not going to solve the issue of unregistered breeders and underground trade, particularly in pups.

If you look at the number of dogs that are registered in Victoria and if you go to local government reports about dog registrations, something like 40 per cent of dogs in most local government areas are not registered. Those sorts of people will not be picked up by this legislation, and there is no way of picking them up over that time. If you think about Dogs Victoria members, they are now going to have four different lots of registration to do. They have to register with the Australian National Kennel Council for their breed society, and they are then going to have to register with local government. They are going to have to register their microchip number with their microchip provider, which is usually a private operator, and they are now going to have to register with the pet exchange register as well. That is four lots of red tape that legal breeders are going to have to comply with, but an illegal breeder — some of the 40 to 50 per cent of dogs that are not registered — are going to go about their business as they currently are. They are going to sell their dogs in the underground networks, they are not going to be on a pet register and they are not going to have to go through all this hassle over that time.

Recommendation 3 of the upper house report said that a new enforcement and compliance strategy needs to be developed alongside the new bill that details the roles of the RSPCA and local councils in these areas. That has not been done as part of this legislation. If you are going to deliver an animal welfare outcome, the first thing you should do is make sure you are enforcing the existing regulations rather than dreaming up new red tape for those businesses.

What you are likely to find is that with the dates stipulated for these changes commercial operations are going to close in Victoria, and they are going to have to shut down by 2020. They are going to have to phase down their numbers of dogs by 2020. Recommendation 5 of the report says that a longer time frame for transition to the new bill should be implemented to allow local councils sufficient time to manage the transition appropriately. You are going to find these commercial operations are going to have to shut down quickly, and they are going to have to find some way to rehome all their dogs, which is going to be a challenge for them. Again the time frames are very, very short. Why did the government not adopt the recommendation of this report, withdraw the legislation, go back and have a proper community and industry consultation process? I would have thought that for something that is as complex as this and as controversial as this it would have been a very good idea to include an exposure draft in the process. It could have gone out so that industry and the community could see how it would actually affect them rather than moving 30 pages of amendments to this legislation at the last minute.

What you find, particularly for Dogs Victoria members, for which there is some exemption for applicable organisation status, is that the reporting framework in this legislation does not marry up with how Dogs Victoria work as far as compliance with their membership. If someone is taken off the register, as I understand it, they have to report to the department within seven days. Dogs Victoria have an appeal process. Yes, they may take someone off the register, but that person or that business has seven days in which to appeal that process. If they do appeal, Dogs Victoria under their code have 21 days to form an appeal panel and then there have to be appeal hearings about whether those people should or should not be taken off the register. Because there has effectively been no consultation on how this legislation has been drafted, you find that Dogs Victoria’s rules for their own membership, which is about compliance, do not marry up with this legislation, which puts them in a rather difficult situation when it comes to how they are going to manage this whole process.

I would like to spend a bit of time on the 10 female dog limit. Currently, as this report says, dog breeding businesses in Victoria range in size from three to 300 fertile female dogs. As discussed, it says in the bill that to improve animal welfare the number of fertile female dogs is to be reduced to 10. To many of those consulted by the committee, this appears to be an arbitrary number and is a major point of contention in the bill. I think that is probably the understatement of the whole report. As I said, the minister in her second‑reading speech said:

According to the scientific literature, large‑scale, commercial, dog breeding establishments, can fail to provide sufficient socialisation and enrichment to ensure the mental wellbeing of their breeding dogs. These dogs suffer from behavioural problems, poor socialisation and bonding with humans.

But that was not the evidence that was presented to the committee. The minister also said that the advice was based on advice from the RSPCA. The RSPCA actually gave evidence at the hearings that said that that was not the case, that it is an arbitrary number and there is no scientific evidence to back that up. The RSPCA suggested that to the committee. I think it is fair to say that there is no evidence to show that the number of fertile female animals has a significant bearing on the welfare outcome. What really matters is the manner in which you care for those animals and how you look after their psychological, physical and social wellbeing. That is the nub of this whole debate.

This legislation uses some arbitrary numbers. There is an existing code that most of industry is saying is the toughest code in Australia, if not in most of the countries in the world. It should be about making sure that code is enforced rather than putting arbitrary numbers in this legislation. I think the minister was rather mischievous in saying that it was based on advice from the RSPCA, when the RSPCA CEO, Liz Walker, appeared at the committee hearings and said that was not the case and that there was no evidence to prove that the 10 limit had any particular meaning.

The Australian Veterinary Association, in their evidence to the committee, said poor animal welfare in regard to breeding can happen whether you have one fertile female or many fertile females in a particular business. Animal welfare is not dictated by the number of dogs a person has; it is more dictated by the attitude of the animal owner or the people in charge of looking after those animals. It is about making sure that the code is enforced, rather than having a particular number in a particular place.

Dr Doug Black, a registered veterinarian with 38 years experience, said:

Certainly the first thing that I have an issue with is definitely that maximum of 10 breeding females. I just see that as I have just heard that it has really been a figure that has been plucked out of the sky. To me it makes no sense that someone breeding nine animals is more likely to comply with animal welfare conditions than someone breeding 11.

Dr Rohan Hart said something similar:

… I would like to just point out that a review in New South Wales —

this was a parliamentary review in New South Wales —

came to the conclusion that the number 10 had no basis or impact on management on a property, so in other words management can be good or bad and is not controlled by any number, let alone the number 10.

Local opposition also had some comments about the whole particular legislation. There are a number of findings in the report that indicate that a reduction in breeding to 10 female dogs has no link to improved welfare in animal breeding, that enforcement should be standard based on things such as physical, social and psychological factors rather than numbers and that the government should abandon the 10 fertile female limit as proposed in the legislation, as I have already talked about. The report notes in conclusion that in August 2015 the Joint Select Committee on Companion Animal Breeding Practices in New South Wales found:

… no evidence that the number of animals kept by breeders is in itself a factor which determines welfare outcomes of breeding animals.

There has been no argument, other than those based on ideology, that the numbers in this particular piece of legislation will have any outcome on animal welfare.

The other issue that has been canvassed quite widely is the availability of puppies and the increased costs. Matt Hams, who is the owner of Banksia, in his transcript of evidence said:

Victoria is one of the largest purchasers of puppies in the country. The demand is high in Victoria, so we certainly anticipate that there will be a flood of dogs coming in from New South Wales, which is currently under‑regulated or there is no enforceable code up there or they do not have a licensing system at least.

If you compare New South Wales with Victoria, Victoria has, as a lot of people have said, one of the strictest codes anywhere in the world as far as how these particular breeding establishments are managed. New South Wales does not, but what this legislation is going to do is force those breeders to move interstate and send their dogs to Victoria. I do not see how that necessarily delivers a better animal welfare outcome over time.

Mark Fraser, the chief executive officer of the Pet Industry Association of Australia, in his transcript of evidence said:

If this proposal were to go through, the demand for particular breeds of dogs will continue, but supply will significantly drop, and this will have several of its own adverse consequences, including increasing the cost of buying a puppy, leading to reduced pet ownership. We will see unwanted effects on the social, mental and physical wellbeing of Victorians, as the health values of owning a pet are well documented. It will push the breeding and sale of dogs further underground. There would be an increase in the purchase of puppies from interstate and a huge increase in the sale of puppies online, already impossible to regulate.

I think that is the other issue — how to actually regulate something when you are taking away the rules that are there at the particular time. Matt Hams in his evidence went on to say:

We anticipate the cost at least doubling in the next five to eight years. We have already seen dramatic increases in price over the last five years with the introduction of the other code and with people getting out of the market, as well as with an increase in demand.

As I understand it, when the code was introduced under the previous government here there were some high‑profile cases of puppy farms being closed down, as they should have been, as was intended under that code and as additional resources also at that time were made available to the RSPCA. They were then actually able to enforce that code more. I note with interest that the money that was allocated by the previous government to the RSPCA was more than the current government is allocating to them. The RSPCA were dudded by $1 million in the change of government process. I find it intriguing that they did not say anything at the time, but obviously they felt that it was not in their best interests to say anything about that if they wanted to continue to get government funding. So the previous code did make sure that establishments were closed down.

I know that in the case of Banksia Park they said, ‘We are happy to comply with this, but it will cost more money’, and they are spending that money to make sure they have the staff to comply with the current code. What Matt was saying is that the cost of a pup is going to double in the next five to eight years. We all know the benefits of owning a pet. Acting Speaker, your government has just announced legislation enabling people who are renters to have a pet. I find it interesting that on the one hand, for the seat of Northcote and the by‑election, we have got legislation to make sure that people who are renters can have a pet, but now we have got legislation saying that the cost of that pet is going to double — if you can actually find someone breeding. There seems to be a bit of a double standard in this particular debate over that particular issue.

Many stakeholders raised concerns that given the decline in the number of reputable domestic and commercial breeders, the bill may result in an increase in illegal puppy farms to capitalise on the increase in the price of puppies. The Pet Industry Association stated:

What we will have is the puppy farms that are already out there hiding under the blankets proliferate, and it will make things even harder. It would be impossible for animal welfare standards to rise. It would be impossible to regulate the amount of unknown breeders out there.

Banksia Park talked about those same issues. Someone who is legal and who is high profile will comply with whatever particular rules are there, but there will be an increase in the black market trade. Dogs Victoria said:

Unregistered backyard breeders, who for the most part do not meet existing regulations and rules, such as microchipping and vaccination laws, will continue to operate under the radar.

One of the things that has been raised around the dog limit is making sure a breeding establishment actually has sufficient genetic diversity to ensure they can maintain the quality of their dogs. Dr Rohan Hart said:

So my concern for the dog population is if we force pure breeding because they are close to the only dogs available, that we actually make weaker the genetic stock of the dog population, rather than encouraging —

crossbreeds.

He continued:

All the designer crossbred dogs are actually really good genetically for the dog population.

Some of these breeders — like Banksia, who do breed crossbreeds because that is what people want, particularly those dogs that do not shed hair — will be forced out of business or we will have to go interstate to buy those particular dogs. I cannot see anything in this legislation that delivers increased animal welfare outcomes. As I said, it is just a political fix for a political problem for the minister. I have already spoken about it, but if you actually put additional resources into enforcing the current code we would deliver a far better animal welfare outcome into the future. That was reinforced by quite a few of the people who gave evidence to the committee.

In conclusion the committee believes that this legislation should be withdrawn and should go out to a genuine community consultation, and that new legislation should be introduced. To achieve that I would like to circulate a reasoned amendment that goes to that particular effect. In line with what the upper house committee recommended, and the government chose not to do, I move:

That all the words after ‘That’ be omitted with the view of inserting in their place the words:

‘(a)  this house refuses to read this bill a second time until a thorough, transparent public consultation phase is conducted; and

(b)   this bill be withdrawn and redrafted, following the consultation phase, into a form which —

(i)    is based on animal welfare assessments and outcomes and not arbitrary animal number limits; and

(ii)   improves regulation for sale of puppies and kittens without creating risk of pet black markets or restricting an individual’s ability to acquire an affordable family pet of choice.’

If the government would do that, both houses could work together to achieve a good outcome for pet ownership in Victoria, from both an animal welfare point of view and being able to access an affordable family pet cheaply.

I can see what this bill delivers for the minister in the sense that it does solve a political problem where there was a commitment to clamp down on illegal puppy farms here in Victoria. If you want to clamp down on illegal puppy farms here in Victoria, the best way to do that is to provide the resources to both the department and the RSPCA to make sure that the current code can be enforced, because as has been said in the evidence to the committee, as has been said by industry and as has been said by most of the stakeholders, the current code that is there to manage breeding establishments is definitely the strictest in Australia, if not one of the strictest in the world, and that is what should be enforced. Actually putting arbitrary numbers on these businesses does not necessarily deliver a better animal welfare outcome.

One of the key things from a commercial breeder’s point of view is that microbreeders, which are those who have one to two female dogs, are not required under this bill to register as a domestic animal business or meet the code of practice at all. There can be poor animal welfare outcomes for dogs that are owned in an establishment with one or two females. Establishments with three to 10 female dogs do have to register if they are not part of Dogs Victoria. I have already talked about the challenges that Dogs Victoria will have in enforcing their own regulations, given they are not marrying up time wise with this.

I would like to finish off by speaking about businesses with between 11 and 50 female dogs. They will have to meet a higher standard that is not yet determined. These businesses have an uncertainty about what is going to be required of them by the chief vet and the minister for their continuing to operate into the future. They will then get a licence for one year. At the end of that one year they can then get a licence for three years. That is not certainty if you are running a business like that in which you have a large number of employees and a big capital investment. If I was a banker here in Victoria and one of those businesses came to me seeking finance, I would say ‘What’s your certainty about operating in the future?’. They would have to look at me, if they were telling the truth, and say, ‘Well, we actually operate at the discretion of the chief vet and the minister’. I would google to research the history of this debate and see that there is a huge amount of uncertainty because the current minister is about politics, not about outcomes. So as a banker I would be very worried about lending the money. Then I would ask, ‘If you do get it, how long have you got it for?’. They would reply, ‘I’ve only got it for the first 12 months, and then I may get it for three years after that’.

There is absolutely no certainty in this legislation for those larger breeding establishments. I think the minister has a very clear agenda that she is going to squeeze them out of business one way or the other. If there are approvals, they will not get money to operate their business. This is a double‑edged sword for those businesses. They will not survive this legislation and this minister, because she has a political agenda to make sure they are gone, even though there is this possible opportunity for them to run in the future. We ask the government to support the reasoned amendment.

 

Together we can make a difference

Help build a better Murray Plains

Get Involved
Created with NationBuilder