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Speech: Statutes Amendment (Animal Welfare Reforms) Bill 2020

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:17): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I rise today to introduce this bill, which I first introduced last year before parliament was prorogued. As I do so, I would like to once again emphasise that, while it is being brought forward before this place as a Greens' bill, I would not necessarily call it a Greens' bill. It is a product of many years of work, advocacy and campaigning by many people and organisations throughout South Australia and indeed well beyond. I would in particular like to thank Mia, the Paw Project and the RSPCA for their input into this bill as well as the Animal Welfare League for the conversations we have been able to have with them on this important area of animal welfare reform.

This bill responds to the overwhelming public demand for the humane and accountable treatment of animals and reverses the sanctioned cruelty of woefully inadequate minimum animal welfare standards. It also seeks to improve transparency and accountability. South Australia has some of the weakest animal welfare laws in the country. This is simply unacceptable and we need to address it. That is why today I introduce this bill that amends the Animal Welfare Act and the Dog and Cat Management Act.

This bill covers a range of important animal welfare law reforms because our laws are out of date and out of step with community expectations. Of course, the task of updating them is a significant one, but by delaying we also delay and prolong suffering and cruelty. This bill is modelled on the principles of what are known as the companion animal protection acts in America, or what we have come to term in South Australia as smart sheltering. It is also informed by the work and experience of the RSPCA when it comes to their enforcement of our local state Animal Welfare Act.

Much has been done, and I do acknowledge the work of the previous government, in particular former minister Hunter, who was in this place in his time as minister. But much more is still to be done. Credit where credit is due, former minister. Of course, this bill tackles a raft of issues that are still pressing in this area. It seeks to reduce the number of dogs and cats that are needlessly euthanased by rescues and shelters to as close to zero as possible. It creates a code of practice and licensing requirements for animal shelters, for rehousing services and for animal rescues. It enables better proactive action to be taken to prevent animal cruelty and it creates special provisions relating to the greyhound racing industry, outlining reporting requirements for them, and also importantly making them subject to freedom of information requests.

I think it is an excellent reflection on South Australians that our community has demonstrated time and time again in recent years its strong support for animal welfare, as well as organisations that assist and aid those animals. But time and time again, we have also seen that our laws just are not as strong or consistent enough to ensure that we can assure the safety of those animals in our care, those companion animals, and that we can effectively prevent, preferably, or punish animal cruelty where and as it occurs.

In comparison to other states, our Animal Welfare Act is quite weak in its protection, as it fails those animals in South Australia, I believe. In fact, in many ways, saying that it offers protection to animals is almost a misnomer. It offers the possibility of prosecution against perpetrators of animal cruelty but they themselves rarely face serious penalties that are certainly not commensurate with their actions.

Our laws do need to focus much more, not just on prosecution but on preventing cruelty rather than waiting for the harm to actually happen. Even in the cases of the most brutal act of animal cruelty in this state, we know that the RSPCA has never managed to secure the maximum penalty available under the act, that of a four-year gaol term or a $50,000 fine, and yet there have been some extraordinary levels of animal cruelty in this state. This simply is not good enough.

With that in mind, this bill does adopt the RSPCA's recommendations for animal welfare law reform, and I understand that they wrote to the minister early in this new term of the Marshall government. These amendments are in this bill and they include but are not limited to:

providing RSPCA inspectors with the ability to enter property and vehicles to seize evidence;

establishing animal cruelty intervention orders and interim court orders to prevent animal cruelty. Similar to other states, this allows for proactive orders to be made so that a court can intervene before the animal cruelty worsens or arises. It also allows a court to make prohibition orders during the course of a prosecution as a proactive means of cruelty prevention; and

providing for penalties for breaches of interstate prohibition orders.

We are in a federation and that is only as it should be. However, I am glad to note that—and I thank the Hon. Frank Pangallo for his work in this—one of the changes between the previous bill I introduced and this particular bill, given he moved a successful amendment to the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935, is that it now protects RSPCA inspectors by adding them to the list of occupations under section 5AA(1)(c). Assault on those inspectors is now an aggravated offence.

But it is also vital that we update our laws in South Australia so that animal rescues and rehousing services, rehoming services, provide consistent quality care and that they are accountable and transparent in their practices. While I know that the RSPCA publicly publishes its statistics on the animals it receives—and that includes the number that are reclaimed, the number that are rehomed, those that are currently in the RSPCA's care and those that are transferred, as well as the number euthanased at both a state and national level—other organisations entrusted with these practices do not do this.

That lack of transparency and accountability is not only disappointing, it is counterproductive. It is disappointing because, without this information, there is no way to tell if an organisation is actually doing a good job or not, though I recognise as well that raw statistics are never the whole story and that most organisations are doing very good jobs.

There are, of course, many reasons why animals do have to be put down. Incurable medical conditions where the animal is suffering unendurably is the most obvious one. Unresolvable behavioural issues, such as aggression or biting, are others, but we should be doing everything we can to keep the number of euthanased animals to a minimum, and that is why this legislation that I introduce today is based on the philosophy of smart sheltering.

In some places, most notably the United States of America, this has been called 'no-kill'. In Queensland, it is called 'getting to zero'. Around the world, this has increasingly been something that communities are demanding of those who have care of our companion animals; however, redemption is key. While all shelters will have to sometimes put down irremediably ill and suffering animals, smart sheltering aims to provide a more holistic approach to the welfare of those animals that it is charged with the care of.

Ultimately, smart sheltering comes down to the principle of not killing healthy or treatable animals, and that is the approach that this legislation takes as well. Shelters should not be killing healthy animals because their holding period is over or because the shelter is full. Instead, under this legislation they must take all reasonable steps to reunite the animal or rehouse the animal and it can include offering it to other rescue services.

We know this is achievable because we do not have to look much further than our sister city of Austin, Texas, to see that it is so. The incredible impact of such legislation over there has been that Austin, Texas, is a no-kill city. In 2011, they moved that way and they are now able to save more than 90 per cent of their homeless or surrendered animals in any year.

Coming from this philosophy, this bill introduces new objects and principles into the Animal Welfare Act and it is these principles that I would like to focus on. 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. Prescribed organisations should make every effort and be supported to provide every dog and cat in their custody with individual consideration and care.

The Greens wish to make sure that our companion animals in this state are treated humanely and with respect for their individual needs. We also seek to make sure that they are not killed needlessly or arbitrarily but that they are also not held in an environment or in conditions that prolong their suffering (in those situations where an animal is suffering). It is difficult to strike this balance, but it is achievable and it can be helped to be achieved with this bill.

This bill outlines how dogs and cats cannot be euthanased simply because a holding period has expired or because the rehousing service they have ended up at does not have space to take them. Such services are required to provide adequate care, as well as to take all reasonable steps to provide the opportunity for adoption or fostering or to go to another rescue or shelter. Where an animal is irremediably suffering, there are strict conditions on how and why that animal can be killed, and services are required to record and report on the number of animals they euthanase.

To this extent, this bill also establishes the requirement for a code of practice to be created that provides for the quality of care for those cats and dogs in these prescribed organisations. Prescribed organisations under this bill are those that provide rescue and rehousing services. They will also now be required to have a licence to provide any of those services, with the intention being that this will ensure that these services are accountable and transparent in how they operate and that they will adhere to the minimum standards of care. Such organisations will also be required to report annually.

The facts and figures of what they will be required to report include the total number of dogs and cats surrendered or otherwise rescued by the licence holder, the total number of dogs and cats returned to their owners by the licence holder, the number of dogs and cats rehoused by that licence holder, the number of dogs or cats euthanased by or on behalf of the licence holder, including the reason for the administration of that, and the number of dogs or cats in the care of the licence holder on 31 July of that year. Any other information also required by the regulations may indeed be added under the code of practice.

This bill is heavily focused on ensuring transparency. Unless we count these animals, we cannot say that they really count. Unlike our current animal welfare laws, it does not forget greyhounds. Greyhounds are dogs. Currently, our laws do not treat them as such. I have spoken many times previously in this parliament about the need to keep Greyhound Racing SA to its word that they continue to publish figures as they promised, when forced indeed by this council with the threat of a select committee into their practices.

The legislation I put forward today extends transparency and accountability to the greyhound racing industry. To that end, what it requires of the greyhound industry is quite basic—that they lodge every year a report with the minister detailing the number of registered greyhounds destroyed, the approximate number of unregistered greyhounds destroyed and the methods used, and that these reports will be tabled in parliament.

It also, importantly, clarifies that Greyhound Racing SA are subject to the FOI Act. Mr President, I could go on at length about the number of FOI requests that I have put into this industry where they have refused to comply, saying that they are not subject to the act, and the conflicting legal advice at 20 paces that then ensues. This bill will clarify that they are indeed subject to the FOI Act. That transparency measure will ensure that we have the truth about what is going on with this industry and that healthy dogs are living long and healthy, enriched lives.

Ultimately, this bill is intended to be yet another step in the right direction towards modernising our animal welfare laws in South Australia. They do lag behind those of other states in this country, and as a state we really do need to focus on not just the prosecution of cruelty and strengthening that but, of course, the prevention of animal cruelty, so that it is in line with public expectations and, of course, because it is the right thing to do. Our animal welfare laws need to be able to be enforced properly, and they should be serving the very animals that they are supposed to protect. With that, I commend the bill to the council.

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