It gives me great pleasure to rise to speak on the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment Bill 2015. As previous speakers have indicated, animals play a vital role in our society. They are extremely important companions to many in our community, particularly the elderly, but many children also take great pleasure in learning about pets in the family home. They are also a vital economic driver for our state, and I think it is a mark of a decent society that we condemn cruelty to animals. I note that this bill does have bipartisan support. I also note that at the very least our constituents expect that bipartisan support on an issue such as this.
This bill has several elements. One is in response to community condemnation of cruelty in the greyhound industry. As Mr Ondarchie mentioned in his contribution, I do not think there is one person who saw the ABC Four Corners program that captured horrific footage of live baiting in the greyhound industry who would not have felt sick to the stomach about what was going on. It was astounding that people could behave in such a cruel and callous manner to animals they were in charge of, yet we saw what they were doing. I believe the community outrage in the days and weeks after that program was palpable and completely warranted. I believe the Minister for Agriculture, Ms Pulford, was very prompt in her response. It was very pleasing to see the minister and the Attorney-General commission independent investigations into live baiting in the greyhound industry.
The racing integrity commissioner, Mr Sal Perna, undertook an investigation of industry participants, and the chief veterinary officer of Victoria, Dr Charles Milne, conducted a broad investigation into allegations of animal cruelty in the greyhound racing industry. Both reports were publicly released on 11 June this year. In total there were 68 recommendations and all those recommendations have been accepted by this government.
This bill marks the first in a raft of legislative changes as a direct response to the scandalous behaviour that we saw from some rogue operators in the greyhound industry, and more comprehensive legislation will come before this Parliament in due course.
In relation to what this bill does in respect of penalties, there is an increase in penalties, tougher enforcement powers and greater protection for vulnerable animals. Financial penalties for luring, baiting and blooding will be doubled under the changes, increasing fines to up to $75 835 or up to two years imprisonment, and this will bring it into line with the maximum penalty for aggravated cruelty. The bill strengthens inspector powers to provide entry onto properties where it is reasonably believed that animal fighting, baiting, blooding or luring is occurring and for the seizure of those animals that are found at such events.
Amendments are made regarding participation, the keeping of animals for use in blooding and luring, and seizure and disposal powers. The bill improves the courts’ capacity to make control orders that disqualify someone from or place conditions on animal ownership following a finding of guilt and improves inspectors powers to monitor compliance of such orders. The bill increases penalties for offences with cruelty and aggravated cruelty elements in order to align them with other maximum penalties under the act. Courts currently have the power to impose banning orders for serious offences. This bill removes the reference to ‘serious offences’ to allow courts greater discretion to impose control orders and bans.
This legislation 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 a proper process to follow up to make sure that those orders were being enforced. This bill puts in place a process where these people can be properly 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 make sure the orders are being complied with. This is a common-sense reform. It should be noted that Greyhound Racing Victoria and the RSPCA support these amendments.
The bill is a sensible response to outrageous behaviour that all decent people rightly condemn and it is a good first step in keeping the greyhound racing industry to the standards that the vast majority of participants adhere to and expect others to adhere to as well.
The bill also deals with animal research and teaching. In moving into that area I think it is important that we recognise that insulin, many vaccines, antibiotics, transplant anti-rejection drugs and many cancer drugs have been developed with animal research. There are rigid ethics around the use of animals for science and teaching. Most of the animals used in Victoria are mice, with others being fruit flies and zebra fish. This bill reduces the regulatory burden on animal research and teaching establishments through improved licensing and cost recovery mechanisms.
It establishes an Animals in Research and Teaching Welfare Fund into which fees will be paid for monitoring and reporting on compliance by animal research and teaching establishments. The bill will improve compliance, monitoring and enforcement by authorised officers.
The proposed amendments clarify the existing powers of authorised officers to enter and inspect licensed premises and to investigate suspected unlicensed animal research, under search warrants if necessary. If non-compliance is found, a new improved notice to comply will enable authorised officers to compel licence-holders to comply with licence conditions. It will also introduce — and I think this is really important — a ‘fit and proper person’ test for licence applicants. Finally, the bill provides for adverse publicity orders to be made in relation to animal research and teaching establishments.
One other aspect that I am not sure has been covered by other speakers is an amendment that deals with large-scale emergency situations. It allows for emergency seizure powers to enable the immediate seizure and disposal of animals where there is a large-scale animal welfare emergency. While the current powers are adequate in the majority of cases, they have proven to be inadequate where there is an animal welfare emergency on a large scale or where there are complex ownership issues surrounding the animals or difficulties in locating the owners.
These amendments arise out of a case that was covered by the media a few years ago known as the Tip Top Poultry case. There was a complex financial structure, and the owners ran into financial difficulty. We had a situation where the chickens were actually eating each other. They were not being fed because the owners said they could not afford to feed them. The Department of Primary Industries had to feed over 800 000 chickens because the legal ownership of them was in doubt and the courts had to sort it out. Earlier this year the owner pleaded guilty to that cruelty. A ministerial authorisation for the seizure and disposal of animals either immediately or after a specified period will assist in avoiding any future animal welfare emergencies of this nature. This includes the ability to hold seized animals at the premises while arrangements are being made. This is particularly important when there are thousands of animals involved.
The bill also makes other amendments, such as providing for greater powers for inspectors when they are inspecting livestock. In particular, the owner of the livestock is required to muster the livestock for the inspector to inspect. There will also be a prohibition on the spaying of animals unless it is done by a vet. The mind boggles that there would need to be provision for an offence such as this, but the depravity of a few must be covered and it is consistent with the government’s intention that there be no place in a civilised society for cruelty to animals. The existing law on calves has also been extended to all animals by creating new provisions that make it an offence to sell, purchase or convey animals that are unfit due to injury or disease.
We rely on animals in so many ways, and at the very least we need to be looking after them. From having a cat or dog at home, to developing life-saving drugs, to feeding and clothing us, animals are inextricably interwoven into all of our lives. A legislative framework that leaves no doubt that cruelty to animals is unacceptable in our community is a marker of a decent society, so I am very pleased that this bill has bipartisan support.
We all acknowledge that cruelty to animals is unacceptable. It is a great responsibility to be in charge of an animal’s welfare. The vast majority of people in our society treat this responsibility with the respect it deserves. These laws will not affect those people. They will, however, leave no doubt in the minds of the tiny minority of people who have no regard for the welfare of animals or, even worse, take pleasure in the suffering of animals in their charge that their behaviour is unacceptable and they will be punished. That is what our community expects, and I commend this bill to the house.