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Animal Welfare Act Issues

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 30 June 2021

Tags: Animal Welfare, Legislation

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, I want to say before I get to my substantive contribution what a delight it is as someone who has been here for quite a while to see all our newly elected members just take off flying. From Ms Finlay, the member for Bass who has just sat down, to Mr Winter, the member for Franklin, to my colleague the Independent member for Clark, Ms Johnston, it is just a delight to watch and I wanted to put that on the record.

Mr Speaker, I wanted to talk today about animal welfare and the pressing need for the Government to fulfil its commitment to deliver the second tranche of reforms to the Animal Welfare Act. We had the situation in 2014-15 where we had a promise from government to deliver on the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee's recommendations to strengthen the Animal Welfare Act. What we got from the then minister was a bill which is in fact part of this Government's modus operandi where they do the easy part of legislative reform and promise more substantive reform later, and we are seeing it in relation to changes to the Guardianship Act. At that time in 2015 what we got from the then Minister for Primary Industries and now Deputy Premier was a piece of legislation which tinkered with the Animal Welfare Act, increased some penalties and put in a couple of extra clauses, but the substantive reform, the recommendations made by the Animal Welfare Committee, have not been delivered.

The reason that this is so timely now is because of an awful story that was in the Mercury last week about the death of a dog in Sandy Bay. I am sure many members of this House have pets. I am sure many members have a dog they love and would agree that having a dog or dogs in your life is such a blessing. When I go home after a hard day in parliament, there are Rocky and Frankie, and it does not matter how I had been that day, the joy they greet me with, is part of what sustains me in this job. It is always hard to understand how people can be cruel to animals or hurt a dog, but this is the story. I read from the Mercury:

The death of a dog at Sandy Bay this week has prompted calls for stronger animal welfare laws with revelations RSPCA inspectors have attended the property in question several times in recent months to investigate complaints of mistreatment. RSPCA Tasmania Chief Executive Jan Davis said its inspectors had been left devastated by the news after the dog, a german shepherd, was found dead on Tuesday.

Tasmania Police said it was aware of the incident and attended the scene but said the RSPCA was the lead agency for cases of animal cruelty.

The cause of the dog's death is not known. Ms Davis confirmed inspectors had attended the property on multiple occasions, culminating in an infringement notice being issued in March to the dog's owner. As a result, the dog's owner had been convicted of an animal cruelty offence. Ms Davis says:

Our inspectors have returned to the property on a number of occasions since March in an attempt to ensure the dog's safety. However, the legislation only permits our inspectors to seize a dog under certain very limited circumstances. Unfortunately, we have been unable to meet the required burden of proof to remove the dog from this environment.

The story goes on:

A nearby resident said she had held fears for the dog for several months and even approached the dog's owner herself and offered to help but she said the owner declined. The resident said her partner had seen the dog hung out of a bedroom window on Tuesday afternoon and saw that it was no longer alive and called the RSPCA. He is very traumatised, she said.

It is not good enough. We know that our animal welfare laws need strengthening. The Animal Welfare Advisory Committee has on it members of the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association. Farmers are represented on AWAC. As we know, Dr Malcolm Wells, who was the vet advising AWAC, resigned in about 2016-17 in dismay over the way AWAC was being marginalised by government and the fact that our Government had not delivered on reforms to the Animal Welfare Act.

The community expects this parliament to make sure that the laws we have in place to protect animals are robust. Where weaknesses have been identified, the strong community expectation is that we will address those deficiencies. It is now six years since the then minister for primary industries promised the second tranche of reforms to the Animal Welfare Act. We heard nothing from government during the election campaign on animal welfare. That said, we also did not hear anything from the Labor Party on animal welfare. Our constituents, our communities expect us to do the right thing by animals, whether they be domestic or wild.

We have robust recommendations from AWAC. We had the buy-in of farmers through the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association and we have a strong community will, evidenced by support, for example, for a ban on greyhound racing and an end to battery hen farming. There is a strong community will to make sure that Tasmania has the strongest animal welfare laws in the country. They are not strong enough clearly, because RSPCA, which is the statutory body to prevent cruelty to animals, or to protect animals who are subject to cruelty and neglect, does not have the power to do that.

It is entirely arguable that if the RSPCA had been given those powers, as was promised by the previous government, that dog in Sandy Bay would still be alive. It is not good enough. We are calling on the current minister for Primary Industries, Mr Barnett, to take this issue up, to understand that we have a responsibility in this place to give voice to the voiceless and to make sure that our laws on animal welfare are robust. It is clear from the RSPCA's own advice that our Animal Welfare Act is not robust enough.

I do not know what the blockage is but it needs to be addressed. This is a Government that makes much of meeting its promises. It has promised to fix up the Animal Welfare Act. It has failed to do so and we call on them to do it urgently.