MS TIERNEY (Western Victoria—Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education) (15:59): I thank members for their contributions today and indeed during the previous parliamentary sitting on this important legislation. I would also like to acknowledge the work of the Economy and Infrastructure Committee, which recommended the measures in this legislation in their report on the inquiry into the impact of animal rights activism on Victorian agriculture.
As members have noted in their contribution, this legislation implements recommendations 4 and 5 of that report. We know that farmers work incredibly hard to protect their stock from biosecurity risks which threaten the health and wellbeing of animals, and this legislation will deter behaviours that jeopardise that work. In contributions and in public commentary, members of the opposition I believe have made some erroneous assertions as to the penalties contained in this bill. The fact is that the on-the-spot fines contained in this bill will be the toughest of their kind anywhere in Australia.
Penalties in this bill include an on-the-spot fine of $1272 for an individual, which compares to $1000 in New South Wales and $600 in Queensland. In addition, Victoria will be the only state to implement on-the-spot fines for corporations, which will be set at $8178. Additional higher penalties will be able to be imposed through the courts.
The opposition also erroneously claimed that the bill will not apply to leased waterfrontages. In fact farmers on leased Crown land will be able to implement a biosecurity plan on that land. The amendment moved by Ms Bath will affect the licensed, not leased, Crown land. Licensed Crown waterfrontages are public land. These waterfrontages are public assets for the recreational use and enjoyment of Victorians. Crown waterfrontage licences do not provide an exclusive right or use by the licensee. The recreational use by the public is permitted as provided by the Land Act 1958. Rather than limiting the actions of animal activists, the effects of Ms Bath’s amendment would be to restrict access to this public land for recreational users such as fishers.
Mr Meddick in his fairly detailed contribution raised his concerns just prior to me getting to my feet, so I have no intention of going through that, but suffice to say that Mr Meddick, particularly through his amendments, is seeking to quash the bill.
Agriculture Victoria continues to progress the implementation and the engagement on all 14 recommendations of the committee’s report, which were supported in full or in principle by the government, and as I said in my opening remarks this bill deals with recommendations 4 and 5 of the report.
Animal welfare is a priority of this government, and the Victorian community expects that we do do the right thing by animals in our industries, our communities and our homes. The welfare of all animals in Victoria, including livestock, is protected by the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Regulations 2019 and codes of practice. People who fail to protect the welfare of their animals as required by law can face jail or heavy fines and be disqualified or have conditions placed to restrict them from owning animals. While the POCTA act has served Victoria well, the Victorian government is modernising the legislation to provide greater clarity about how people must care for their animals. A new, modern act will support our animal-based sectors to maintain community trust in how they operate. This new act will also implement a number of recommendations from the report.
Mr Meddick has proposed an amendment to allow an exemption from the requirements of a biosecurity plan for any person concerned about animal welfare. The amendment is not required to protect animal welfare. An exemption is already provided in the bill for appropriate authorities to enter a premises pursuant to the powers conferred by other acts, including those authorised under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986. For example, section 23 of the act already permits inspectors, including Agriculture Victoria inspectors, Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals inspectors and Victoria Police, to enter premises to secure the welfare of animals in certain situations, and powers under this section are not affected by this bill.
As Dr Cumming noted, agriculture is important to the Victorian economy and supports many thousands of Victorian jobs. Dr Cumming also raised animals used in research, and I would briefly note for Dr Cumming that aspects of this issue were recently examined by the government’s task force on rehoming pets, chaired by Mr Meddick. For Dr Cumming’s information, holders of scientific procedures premises licences and similar licences in Victoria are required to submit an annual report on animal use in accordance with the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Regulations 2019.
Animal Welfare Victoria reports on the number of animals used for science each year in Victoria, and these reports are published online. The annual statistics from these reports guide policy and compliance programs and inform the community about the nature and the purpose of animals used for science in Victoria. It is clear to anyone who is watching this debate that there are polarising views or extremely different views held in this chamber, and I do look forward to going through a number of issues that will be put by those proponents at the conclusion of the cleaning break.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Melhem): I ask Mr Meddick to formally move his reasoned amendment.