Statutes Amendment (Animal Welfare Reforms) Bill

Bills, In Parliament, Speeches

Introduction and First Reading 

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (15:56): Obtained leave and introduced a bill for an act to amend the Animal Welfare Act 1985, the Dog and Cat Management Act 1995 and the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935. Read a first time. 

Second Reading 

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (15:57): I move: 

That this bill be now read a second time. 

I rise today to introduce this bill. While it is being brought forward today by the Greens, I would not necessarily call it a Greens’ bill. It is the product of many years of work, advocacy and campaigning by many people. Particular organisations that I would like to thank for the work behind this bill are Mia Aukland of the Paw Project and the RSPCA, in particular, for their direct input into this bill before us today. I also thank the Animal Welfare League for the feedback given and the conversations had in terms of areas of animal welfare reform that form the bill that we now have in the council. 

This bill responds to the overwhelming public demand for the humane and accountable treatment of animals. It seeks to reverse the sanctioned cruelty of our woefully inadequate minimum animal welfare standards that sometimes prevail. Importantly, it also seeks to improve transparency and accountability when it comes to animal welfare. I am informed by many in this sector that South Australia has some of the weakest animal welfare laws in the country. This is simply unacceptable. 

That is why I rise today to introduce a bill that amends the Animal Welfare Act 1985, the Dog and Cat Management Act 1995 and the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935. This bill covers a range of important animal welfare reforms. Our laws are out of date and out of step with community expectations, and the task of updating them is a significant one. I will note that it is one that has been undertaken by the previous Weatherill government and former minister Hunter, as well as the then shadow minister Michelle Lensink and now minister in a different area of governance, but it is still an area where we have some long way to go. 

Our laws, where suffering and cruelty prevail while we delay, are simply unacceptable. This bill is modelled on the principles of what is called in some jurisdictions a companion animal protection act. Here we have referred to it as smart sheltering. It is also informed by the direct work and experience of the RSPCA of South Australia when it comes to their enforcement of our state’s Animal Welfare Act. 

The bill before us tackles a raft of issues that I have identified as the most pressing in this area. Predominantly, this particular bill will focus on reducing the number of cats and dogs that are needlessly euthanased in our rescues or shelters to as close to zero as possible; creating a code of practice and licensing requirements for animals in those shelters, in rehousing services and in rescues; providing the RSPCA with the stronger avenues they need for inspection, enforcement and prosecution under our current act, enabling better proactive action to be taken in preventing animal cruelty; and creating special provisions that relate to the greyhound racing industry in particular, outlining reporting requirements and making them subject to freedom of information requests. 

I think it is an excellent reflection on South Australia that our community has demonstrated time and again strong support for animal welfare, as well as strong support for those organisations that assist and aid animals, but also time and again we have seen that our laws just are not strong enough or consistent enough to ensure the safety of animals that should be seen as in our care and that we can effectively prevent and indeed punish animal cruelty as it occurs or before it occurs. 

In comparison to other states our act is quite weak in those protections it affords animals in South Australia. In fact, in many ways saying that it offers protection to the animals is almost unfair. It offers the possibility of prosecution against the perpetrators but not too much more. Even then, records show that the perpetrators of animal cruelty rarely face serious penalties commensurate with their actions. Our laws need to focus more on preventing that cruelty rather than waiting for that harm to actually happen and then taking action. Even in cases of the most brutal acts of animal cruelty, however, we know that the RSPCA has never managed to secure a maximum penalty—a four-year gaol term or a $50,000 fine—and this simply is not good enough. 

With that in mind, this bill adopts the RSPCA’s recommendations for animal welfare law reform. These amendments include but are not limited to protecting RSPCA inspectors by adding them to the list of occupations in section 5AA(1)(c) of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935. This would make any assault on an inspector an aggravated offence. 

The bill provides RSPCA inspectors with the ability to enter property and vehicles to seize evidence. It establishes animal cruelty intervention orders and interim court orders to prevent that animal cruelty, similar to other states, and this allows for proactive orders to be made so that a court can intervene before an animal cruelty issue arises. It also allows a court to make prohibition orders during the course of a prosecution as a proactive means of cruelty prevention, providing for penalties as well for breaches of interstate prohibition orders. 

It is vital that we update our laws in South Australia so that animal rescue and rehousing services that provide that much-needed aid to our animals provide consistent quality care and that they are accountable and transparent in their practices. While I know that the RSPCA does publish publicly their statistics on the animals they receive, the number that are reclaimed, the number that are re-homed and those currently in their care, as well as those transferred and the number euthanised at both a state and a national level, many other organisations do not do this. They do not have that level of transparency. That lack of transparency and accountability is not only disappointing but it is also counter-productive. It is disappointing because without this information there is no way to tell if an organisation is actually doing a good job or not, although of course I recognise as well, with those raw statistics, that is never the whole story. 

There are often many reasons why animals are put down: incurable medical conditions, where the animal is suffering unendurably is of course one and unresolvable behavioural issues such as aggression or biting is another. However, we should be doing everything we can to keep the number of euthanised animals to a minimum. That is why the legislation I bring before you today is based on the philosophy of smart sheltering. In some jurisdictions this philosophy has been called no-kill, although that does not mean that no animal is euthanised; it is somewhat of a misnomer. 

While all shelters will have to sometimes put down those irremediably ill and suffering animals, smart sheltering aims to provide a more holistic approach to the welfare of our companion animals. Ultimately, smart sheltering comes down to the principle of not killing healthy or treatable animals, and it is this approach that this bill takes. Shelters should not be killing healthy animals just because the holding period is over or because the shelter is full. Indeed, under this legislation they must take all reasonable steps to rehouse the animal in question, and that can include offering it to other rescue services, and we know that this is achievable. We do not have to look much further than our sister city, Austin, Texas, to see the incredible effect of such legislation. They became a no-kill city in 2011 and they are now able to save more than 90 per cent of homeless or surrendered animals each year. 

Coming from that philosophy, this bill introduces new objects and principles into the act, and it is on these principles that I now focus in particular. No dog or cat should be killed if it can be safely placed in a suitable home; dogs and cats in rehousing facilities require proper shelter, care, nutrition and exercise; dogs and cats in rehousing facilities require enrichment and interaction; dogs and cats in rehousing facilities require proper veterinary care; and prescribed organisations should make every effort and be supported to provide every dog and cat in their custody with individual considered care. 

The Greens want to make sure that all animals are treated humanely and with respect to their individual needs. We want to make sure that they are not killed needlessly or arbitrarily but also that they are not held in conditions that prolong their suffering. In those situations, where an animal is suffering, it is of course a difficult balance to strike, but I believe that this is what is achieved by this bill. It outlines how cats and dogs cannot be euthanised simply because a holding period has expired or because the rehousing service that they have ended up in cannot take them. Such services are required to provide adequate care as well as to take all reasonable steps to provide the opportunity for adoption, fostering or being taken to another shelter. 

Where an animal is irremediably suffering, there are strict conditions on how and why that animal can be then killed, and services are required to record and report on that number. To this extent, the bill also establishes a requirement for a code of practice to be created that provides for the quality of care for those dogs and cats in those prescribed organisations. The prescribed organisations under this bill, those that provide rescue in rehousing services, will now also be required to have a licence to provide any of those services, with the intention behind this being to ensure that these services are accountable and transparent in how they operate and that they adhere to minimum standards of care. 

Such organisations will also be required to report annually, and those annual reports will be required to provide information about the total number of dogs and cats surrendered or otherwise rescued by the licence holder, the number of dogs and cats returned to their owners by the licence holder, the number of dogs and cats rehoused by the licence holder, the number of dogs and cats euthanised by or on behalf of the licence holder (including the reason for the administration of that euthanasia) and the number of dogs and cats in the care of the licence holder on 31 July of that year, as well as any other information required by the regulations under that code of practice. 

This bill unashamedly requires transparency. Unlike our current animal welfare laws, it does not forget the greyhounds. Greyhounds are dogs too. I have spoken previously in this council about my intention to introduce legislation that will keep Greyhound Racing SA to its word and that it continues to publish figures as they promised. 

The legislation I put forward today extends that transparency and accountability to the greyhound racing industry. To that end, it will also require the following of the greyhound racing industry: lodging annual reports with the minister, detailing the number of registered greyhounds destroyed, approximate numbers of unregistered greyhounds destroyed and the methods used, tabling of these reports in parliament and that Greyhound Racing SA be subject to the FOI Act. 

I refer members of this council to my previous contributions in various pieces of animal welfare legislation where greyhound racing has contended that they are no longer subject to FOI and that this is an area of some legal dispute; certainly disputed by the legal advice that I have previously brought to this place. 

Such transparency measures will ensure that we have the truth about how dogs are killed each year because of the greyhound racing industry and how many of those dogs are healthy and could live healthy, long lives. Ultimately, the bill is intended to be a step in the right direction towards modernising our animal welfare laws, where they lag far behind those of other states in some areas. We need to reprioritise the prevention of animal cruelty so that it is in line with community and public expectation and because it is also the right thing to do. 

Our animal welfare laws need to be able to be enforced properly. The RSPCA is begging for our help to ensure that that is possible and to better serve the animals that these laws are already intended to protect. Again, I commend the previous work of the former minister, Ian Hunter, and the former shadow minister, Michelle Lensink, in these areas and say that they took steps in the right direction, but this is another step that we, as a council, can now take under this new government. With that, I commend the bill to the council. 

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. T.J. Stephens.