Second Reading - Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
6 October 2015
Mr WALSH (Murray Plains) — I rise to make the lead contribution on behalf of the Liberal‑Nationals coalition on the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment Bill 2015. The legislation has been amended quite a few times, Acting Speaker, as you would well know, and usually with support from both sides of the house, because it is an important part of Victoria’s legal fabric. The opposition supports the amendments that are being put forward today in this bill. I would like to think we had a strong track record in initiating and supporting measures that improve animal welfare in Victoria when we were in government, and we are pleased to see that this government is continuing the previous coalition government’s reform in this area.
As I said, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 is a key part of the animal welfare legislation in Victoria. It is colloquially known as the POCTA act, so I will describe it as that as I go through my contribution. The purpose of the POCTA act is to prevent cruelty to animals, obviously, encourage considerate treatment of animals and improve the level of community awareness about the prevention of cruelty to animals. That part of the role is also very important; it is important that people understand what the expectations are around the treatment of animals. As I said, the legislation has been amended many times over the years. As a result of the support of both sides of the house over that journey Victorians can have great confidence that our state has in place good animal welfare laws that are modern and robust and that meet community expectations, which I think is also very important.
The POCTA act regulates both domestic animal industries and commercial animal industries. I might spend a moment talking about the commercial animal industries. The Victorian economy benefits from quite significant commercial animal industries, which are both a major supplier of protein for our diet and significant export industries as well, principally in the form of beef, sheep meat, chicken meat and, more for domestic consumption, eggs. One of the standout sectors is the dairy industry. About 86 per cent of Australia’s dairy production is carried out in Victoria, so it is a key part of our economy and of the fabric of quite a few of our country communities.
We also have a live export industry out of Victoria, something that the opposition supports, particularly the export of genetics in the dairy industry. Dairy heifers are exported to overseas countries so they can improve the genetic material in their dairy herds and increase the supply of milk, particularly for infants in those countries. The export of dairy heifers has been a successful industry developed particularly into Asia, including Indonesia and China. As we all know, there has been a long history of the export of sheep from Portland, particularly to the Middle East, again to meet a particular market there.
Animal welfare is at the forefront of both those sectors in what they do in exporting dairy heifers and sheep from south‑west Victoria. Overseas countries look to us, along with our food regulations, which is among the best in the world, for some of the standards around animal welfare in these industries. I think we can be very proud of that. There are also significant animal industries in horseracing, both in gallops and in trots, and also in the greyhound industry, and I will come back to some of the changes that affect the greyhound industry.
The POCTA act also regulates the domestic animal industry. The two big ones for most people are cats and dogs. One of the key things around those industries, apart from the fact that they are large industries in the services that are provided to people who have pets, is that it is about people’s wellbeing and welfare. For a lot of people, their pets are their company. They are what keeps them going each day. A lot of people have a dog just to make sure that they go for a walk in the morning, because the dog wants to go for a walk, and all those sorts of things. The pet industry is important from a regulatory point of view and from an animal welfare point of view, but it is also an important industry in terms of the companionship it provides people who have pets. The overwhelming majority of people do the right thing. Occasionally under this legislation the department will come across people who are hoarders of pets, and that becomes a real issue for both the department and for that person. Again, the pet industry is very important in Victoria for the reasons I have set out.
We also have a sector in Victoria where animals are used by scientific and teaching organisations. We need to bear in mind that there are some strict ethical issues around the use of animals in those circumstances, but a lot of the advances we have seen in medical science that have benefited the human race have come through this process. We need to bear in mind the benefits for us as a population as well. As I said, there is a high expectation that we will treat animals well and that anyone who mistreats animals will be held to account and will face significant penalties, which is what this bill provides in some areas. As I said, it is important to keep the animal welfare legislation up to date to meet community expectations.
The bill makes a number of amendments across a range of sections of the act. Some I will talk about; others are probably more minor in nature but are equally as important. The one I want to talk about, firstly, is the change for greater powers to deal with large‑scale animal welfare emergencies. This was an issue that arose when I was Minister for Agriculture and Food Security in the last Parliament, when a major chicken broiler producer ran into financial trouble and could not feed his chickens. There were significant legal challenges around that case as to who actually owned those chickens. At that time the department could not go in and see those chickens because of a dispute around ownership. As members may know, often contract feeders of birds do not own the birds; they just feed the birds to a certain weight gain. The birds are then on‑sold and the contract feeders are paid on performance. In that case the department could not go in and seize those birds. It was an unfortunate and distressing situation, and it cost the department over $1 million to feed the birds through that time until the legal issues were resolved.
The bill makes some amendments to the POCTA act so that those issues will not arise again and the department will be able to go in and seize such animals and make sure they are treated humanely into the future. That change is a very good one. As I said, it was a significant cost to the department to work through that case, and the amount was not recoverable. I place on the record my thanks to the department on how its officers handled that very difficult situation.
The bill also makes some changes, which the opposition supports, around new offences and increased penalties for fighting, baiting, blooding and luring animals. This comes out of the investigation into live baiting in the greyhound industry. The greyhound industry is a good industry for the majority of people who do the right thing in that industry; however, there were some people who did not do the right thing. The bill provides new offences and greater powers for entry to properties where fighting, baiting, blooding or luring is suspected. It alters the definition of ‘aggravated cruelty’ to clarify that there can be multiple acts of cruelty rather than one single action, and it increases the penalties relating to fighting, baiting, blooding and luring so that they align with other maximum penalties for cruelty and aggravated cruelty offences under the act. Anyone who does the wrong thing will be found out, and they will face significant penalties into the future. The greyhound industry has a good track record of trying to look after itself, but there were obviously a few bad apples in the barrel.
As minister I had the opportunity to go to the greyhound adoption centre at Seymour, a facility to which money was allocated by the then racing minister, the former Premier. What I had not been aware of until I visited the centre is the fact that greyhounds actually make great pets. Although they may run fast, basically they are lazy animals. They do a short bit of running fast, but they like to sleep a lot of the time. For those people who want a more relaxed pet, apparently a greyhound is a very good pet to have.
Mr Noonan interjected.
Mr WALSH — I will choose to not pick up the interjection by the Minister for Police, who is being very unkind.
As I said, the opposition supports these changes to the greyhound industry, and the shadow Minister for Racing may make further comments on that in his contribution. It sends a clear message to those who do the wrong thing that they will be caught and they will be punished.
The bill also provides new powers to give the courts a greater range of options when dealing animal cruelty issues. I could not make this contribution without saying that I would hope the courts actually use the new powers to impose the higher penalties they are being given. We in this place modernise legislation to try to deal with community concerns about particular issues. Some would be unkind enough to say that the courts do not necessarily follow that process by enforcing the penalties we set out in legislation when they make rulings. I hope the courts take note of the increased penalties and apply those where they see fit.
The ownership bans of up to 10 years for serious offences were introduced by the previous government. The bill proposes to take away the reference to ‘serious offence’ and make it just ‘offence’. It gives the courts more power to impose bans and creates the opportunity to consider cumulative issues in determining the mistreatment and abuse of animals into the future. That is important, and I hope the courts use these powers they are being given to send a clear message to those who do not treat animals well and to make sure that is well publicised so that people do not reoffend in the future.
This legislation also improves banning orders. There have been banning orders in the past, but the bill introduces a new element where the courts can order monitoring of compliance with banning orders. In the past banning orders have been put in place for people who mistreat animals. However, there was not necessarily the process to follow them up to make sure they were being enforced. This bill puts in place a process where these people can be monitored. Instead of inspectors having to go back to the courts to apply for an order to do inspections to make sure banning orders are being complied with, the courts will be allowed to authorise the monitoring of control orders so that inspectors can go and make sure the orders are being complied with. This is common sense, and the opposition welcomes it as part of the changes to the legislation. It gives a clear signal to the community that banning orders are serious and will be enforced into the future.
As I said in my introduction, the bill makes changes to the legislation around the use of animals for teaching and research purposes. This is a touchy, ethical issue for some people, but I reinforce that a lot of the advances we see in medical science come through this process of animals being used for research work. I do not think we should discount the benefits to mankind from undertaking the work that has been done in that area.
The changes the bill makes to the POCTA act around this area include modernising the licence and fee structure regulations; establishing the Animals in Research and Teaching Welfare Fund, which all paid fees for monitoring and reporting on compliance by animal research and teaching establishments will be paid into; improving enforcement powers for the regulation of scientific procedures; and providing for adverse publicity orders to be made in relation to animal research and teaching establishments. The changes will provide modernisation to that part of the act.
The bill also makes other amendments such as providing for greater powers to inspectors when they are inspecting livestock, particularly around the fact that an owner of livestock needs to muster the livestock for the inspector at the time; the prohibition of spaying of animals unless done by a vet; and creating new provisions that make it an offence to sell, purchase or convey animals that are unfit due to injury or disease, an extension of offences that currently apply only to bobby calves.
As I said at the start of my contribution, the Liberal‑Nationals coalition will be supporting this legislation. I believe we have a very strong track record in government with the changes we made over the four years we were in government in Victoria. A lot of those changes were around the domestic animal industry, particularly with the work we did with the RSPCA to bolster the legislative powers it had and money it was allocated to clamp down on illegal puppy farms. There was huge community concern around illegal farms which created adverse publicity at that time, and justifiably so due to the way some of those puppy farms were operating. The increased powers the RSPCA was given has led to some substantial prosecutions, but also the additional money they were given allowed them to build the infrastructure to make large‑scale seizures of animals from illegal puppy farms and buy the motor vehicles and trailers to transport those animals when they were seized.
My reading of the budget is that the RSPCA has lost about $1 million of what we promised it in comparison with what the current government is giving it. We put in place a very strong mandatory code of practice around cat and dog breeding facilities. That had over 100 prescriptions around veterinary checks, retirement plans, housing, nutrition, exercise, socialisation and particularly staffing ratios. There was a mandatory code around how many staff were required for the number of animals at a particular establishment. We also listened to community concerns and put in place the five‑litter ban on female breeding dogs in that code.
The code introduced compulsory animal health plans which had to be signed off by a vet and also put in place a fit and proper person test for people who owned or managed dog or cat‑breeding facilities. We also gave the RSPCA the ability to inspect pet shops and introduced a requirement for pet shops to keep detailed records on the sources of the dogs and cats they had for sale. This is an important part of putting traceability into the system so that those pet shops have to prove they have obtained their pets from a licensed and complying breeding establishment. That is important in stamping out illegal operations. If they do not have a market for those animals, they will not survive into the future. We also put in place a ban on wire cages at breeding establishments, a ban on euthanasia by blunt force trauma and a requirement that dogs and cats be euthanased humanely. There have been some major changes in that area.
When we left government, aggravated cruelty carried a fine of $72 500 or up to two years in jail — a major penalty. We also drastically increased the penalty for running an illegal puppy farm from $1195 to $24 208 for individuals and up to $88 566 for a body corporate, and that sends an important message. People quite often hide behind the corporate structure, but this means that the corporate structure is roped in and fined appropriately. The major increase in fines is a key thing. Fines have increased from $1200 fines which had been in place for over a decade to nearly $25 000 and $88 000 for a body corporate. As I have also mentioned, we put in place a ban of up to 10 years for people owning animals.
A lot of things happened, and we are seeing more things happen here now, and that is one of the reasons we are supporting this legislation. We also tightened up the requirements on applicable organisations to ensure that all dogs and cats were bred ethically. There were definitions around applicable organisations where there was a concern that members of those organisations were slipping around the rules, so to speak. This tightens things up. I know DogsVictoria had a serious look at its membership base to make sure that members of DogsVictoria who had an exemption for an increased number of breeding females were doing the right thing into the future.
No contribution to a debate on this legislation and the domestic animal industries would be complete without talking about the education programs that are in place, such as the We are Family program which many people would be aware of. It is for when younger couples with a pet dog, which has been the centre of attention in their household, bring home a new baby, their first child. There is an issue with making sure that the family understands the risk of the dog with the baby and that the dog is socialised to understand the importance of that baby coming into the household. The We are Family program, funded from dog licence money, is an important program for people having their first child. The other great program is the Responsible Pet Ownership program which goes to schools. It is run by the Bureau of Animal Welfare and teaches children how to interact with dogs. You may interact quite well with your own pet which knows you very well, but when you go onto the street or into public places and there are other dogs, you need to be more mindful about how those dogs will react to you, rather than the one that you know so very well at home.
Another thing we introduced as a government was the Animal Welfare Fund. It allocated $1.6 million in grants to small volunteer‑based organisations that provide services for abandoned, lost and sick animals. One of the fortunate things you get to do as a minister is go around and give out grants on behalf of the Victorian taxpayers. Those trips I took and visits I made to give money to the volunteer organisations that provide those services were some of the more pleasant duties I had as a minister, because those people really do care about what they do. Although the grants may not have been huge, they made a major difference to the services provided by those groups.
Over the coalition’s four years in government we put in place a lot of legislative and regulatory changes and the funding to back those up and help stamp out cruel and illegal breeding establishments in this state, something that probably had not been done in a decade. Good things were done and good things will continue to be done, which is why we are supporting this legislation. The review of the code of practice for pet shops is something that will be done, and I commend that happening. That will complement the work that was done around the mandatory code of practice for breeding establishments into the future. No‑one likes to see illegal, cruel animal operations, and this will help stamp those out into the future.
I put on the record my thankyou to the departmental officers who did a lot of the work on the consultation around the code for breeding establishments and in developing the enforcement regime that made sure that there was a crackdown on illegal puppy farms over the four years we were in government. In the press recently there was a case at Pyramid Hill where a family was taken to court and faced quite significant fines — something like $205 000 in fines — and a 10‑year ownership ban for what it was doing with an illegal breeding establishment. I commend the Loddon Shire Council by‑laws officers, the RSPCA and the department involved in that case. It took a number of years to track those people down, but I believe the changes that we made to the law gave the RSPCA the powers and the financial resources to do that and led to that conviction. That will serve as a reminder to people right across Victoria to make sure that they do the right thing into the future.
I finish by saying that the Minister for Agriculture has a very important role to carry out regarding this legislation, as we have talked about, but she also has a role to support those breeding establishments that do comply with the law — and there are many of them. They perform a very important role in society in providing the pets people want to have. People may want a particular breed or type of dog that may not be available through an animal shelter or an adoption program. They provide a service that is necessary. It is important for the minister in future to make sure that she backs up those businesses that are doing the right thing. As I have said, there are many that do the right thing. If she or any member of this house has the opportunity to go to one of those very well run breeding establishments, they will see that they have in place all the rules and everything that is necessary to make sure that they comply with the mandatory code — the socialisation programs, the nutritional programs, the exercise programs and the staffing ratios to make sure those animals are well looked after — because it is their business and it is in their best interests to make sure they do it well. To finish, I remind the minister that she should clamp down on those people who are being cruel to animals and those who are not doing the right thing, but that as a minister of the Crown she also has a responsibility to stick up for those who are doing the right thing.
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