MS TIERNEY (Western Victoria—Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education) (15:11): I thank members for their contributions today and look forward to seeing this legislation progress. This is important reform. It was a commitment of the Andrews Labor government prior to the 2018 election, and it is pleasing to see yet another commitment being delivered. As we have heard today, these reforms will assist vets and animal shelters to reunite lost pets with their owners more effectively, providing a more consistent, streamlined process for all involved.
Extensive consultation has been undertaken with stakeholders and with the broader Victorian community to inform the design of this bill, ensuring that the reforms retain or improve animal welfare, compliance, privacy and community safety standards. Importantly, vets were at the centre of this consultation to ensure that these reforms do not place an undue burden on the great work that they do. Mr Barton in his contribution raised his concerns for vets amid the high workloads that they face, the stressful nature of their work and the shortages the industry is experiencing. The government has been very mindful of these issues in developing these reforms, working with vets and their peak body, the Australian Veterinary Association. This scheme is voluntary for vets and not mandated in any way. If a veterinarian is unable to provide a lost pet reunion service, they do not have to provide this service and can simply refer members of the public to other participating vets, shelter facilities or council. Mr Barton also might be interested to know that the government has also added certificate IV in vet nursing as a free TAFE course.
In her contribution Ms Bath indicated that she had some questions about the detail of the bill, and I look forward to having those conversations with her. But in regard to the record-keeping and reporting requirements for participating vets, it is important to note that the local councils, as the primary regulators for domestic animal management, maintain oversight of animal movements within their municipality. The record-keeping and reporting details are to be drafted in consultation with stakeholders and will be prescribed in the Domestic Animals Regulations 2015. It will be a simple, supported process for all participating vets and shelters that will likely require the collection and reporting of information such as the name and phone number of persons handing in the lost pet, the date and time the animal was handed in, the pet’s microchip number, the name and phone number of the person collecting the pet, the owner’s address and details, and the date and time the pet was collected. The government has already commenced consultations with stakeholders to develop the supporting regulations, which will be finalised to align with the bill’s commencement on or before 1 October 2022.
To ensure pets are returned to their lawful owner the bill includes a process to ensure appropriate ownership verification. Shelters and participating vets must scan the pet for a microchip and make a reasonable effort to compare microchip information with council pet registration data. Shelters and participating vets must always request proof of ownership and be satisfied that the right person is collecting the pet. If the ownership is unclear, the pet must go to the council to determine the ownership.
I would also like to correct Ms Bath’s claims around the consultation on this bill. While Ms Bath claimed there was not sufficient consultation, I would refer her to the second-reading speech, which makes clear the extensive amount of consultation undertaken on this reform. All councils were offered the opportunity to participate in consultation on the bill, and in total 1066 submissions were received from councils, the community, vets, rescue groups and other stakeholders. The consultation on this important reform will continue with key stakeholders while we consider the necessary supporting regulatory changes, in particular with councils, vets and the Australian Veterinary Association, the RSPCA Victoria and Greyhound Racing Victoria.
Mr Atkinson raised the issue of assistance animals, and I am pleased to advise that the Victorian government is currently reviewing the issue of assistance dog regulation and recognition. The review is being conducted in accordance with the Absolutely Everyone: State Disability Plan 2017–2020. Action 23 of the plan proposes that the Victorian government review options for:
• defining assistance dogs within the Domestic Animals Act
• establishing a registration scheme for dogs trained through an approved organisation
• developing a ministerial approval scheme …
for assistance dogs. This review is underway, and I can also advise that a national working group has been established to develop national consistency for assistance animals in Australia.
Mr Bourman had indicated his interest in an amendment to require councils and other authorised officers to scan deceased cats and dogs for microchips and subsequently inform owners. The government thanks Mr Bourman for his proposal and his constructive approach in raising this matter with the government. While we are supportive of the principle and the intent behind Mr Bourman’s proposal, we do believe that it does require consultation with key groups to ensure that it can be designed so as to avoid any unintended consequences. Victoria’s 79 local government areas have a key role under the Domestic Animals Act 1994, and the government has sought to ensure that they have been thoroughly consulted in the development of this bill. The government would seek to ensure that councils are similarly given the opportunity of consultation before implementing further changes such as those as proposed by Mr Bourman.
The government also notes that the existing Domestic Animals Act provisions do enable councils to contact the owner of a deceased pet. The Domestic Animals Act requires councils to develop a domestic animal management plan every four years in consultation with their local community. These plans are reviewed annually, and residents are able to raise service needs through the DAMP process, enabling councils to tailor their animal management services to address community needs. The notification of owners of dead cats and dogs collected by councils could be incorporated into these plans.
In addition, it should be noted that all pets should be responsibly confined to their owner’s property. If outside the owners’ properties, they must be wearing a council registration tag. Responsible owners will ensure their pets are always wearing a tag when off their property. In the circumstances of a pet escaping or wandering and being unfortunate enough to be killed, registration tags provide a mechanism to identify and notify the owner. Council staff could collect the tag or tag’s information and pass the details on to local law officers to search a council’s pet registration database and notify the owner. Some metropolitan councils already use council tags or microchips to notify owners of deceased pets. This type of service depends on the domestic animal management plan, policies, priorities, time, resources and community needs of the specific council.
Mandating that all councils must scan for a microchip on all deceased pets without adequate stakeholder consultation may result in unintended consequences. Some of the factors that require further consideration include the scope of any changes, as councils are only responsible for collecting dead pets on council property; the ability to locate a microchip on a deceased pet; impacts on other domestic animal management services for living pets due to reprioritisation of efforts; obviously the costs, both financial and resourcing, of councils; and of course there are safety risks for staff handling dead animals in places like busy roads et cetera. Noting these considerations, the government will undertake to consult with councils and other stakeholders and subsequently implement Mr Bourman’s proposal this year. With that I commend this bill to the house and look forward to our conversation in committee.
Motion agreed to.
Read second time.