Animal Welfare (Companion Animals) Amendment Bill

Introduction and Second Reading of Animal Welfare (Companion Animals) Amendment Bill

Introduction and First Reading

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK ( 15:57 :35 ): Obtained leave and introduced a bill for an act to Animal Welfare Act 1985. Read a first time.

Second Reading

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK ( 15:58 :32 ): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

It is probably a bit of a no-brainer to say that most people universally like animals. Australia has high levels of ownership of pets, and the figures from the select committee, which I will refer to extensively and which reported in the House of Assembly last year, found that nationally 36 per cent of households have dogs and 23 per cent have cats. South Australians are great pet owners and we are fortunate to have many dedicated breeders who operate best practice to provide healthy animals that bring joy to their owners. We also have some fantastic shelters in the state that look after animals, improve their health, microchip them and so forth, and provide them to people who are looking to adopt. South Australians are, however, rightly concerned about exploitation and neglect of animals by unscrupulous individuals, and it is important that our laws reflect this.

While there has been a lot of publicity about puppy farms and hoarding, I find it personally remarkable that some households still do not undertake basic health, welfare and prevention practices for their pets, such as desexing, vaccinations and microchipping. I am hopeful that new laws will improve community understanding so that these become standard practice within our state. I have at times been accused of being Dr Eleanor Abernathy MD JD, otherwise known as the crazy cat lady from The Simpsons, but we only have two cats in our house and we do not throw them at people.

There are a disturbing number of animals euthanased in our shelters, and this is something that certainly struck me when I first became the shadow minister for the environment some years ago. Large animal shelters, such as the Animal Welfare League, can receive, on average, 20 dogs and 100 cats a day. Some of the euthanasia rates have been 80 per cent of cats, because they cannot find homes. The RSPCA rates, I note from the report in 2011-12, were 21 per cent of dogs and 54 per cent of cats, which is still, I think, far too high.

There is an issue with what is known as semi-owned animals: the typical stray that hangs around someone's house and gets fed but is not actually officially owned by someone, and some of those animals can be prolific breeders. In this, compulsory desexing is an important tool that I think would send a very strong message into the community to make sure they are doing the right thing.

There are also some unfortunate myths that proliferate throughout society, and you still hear them, such as that a cat is better behaved if it has had a litter. I do not think that has been thought through to its logical conclusion that hopefully the litter of kittens is wanted by enough households, because that would just see numbers increase exponentially.

In this whole issue that was brought to my attention by the shelters in particular several years ago, a number of options have crossed my mind, such as cat registration, but I think that has been found just to penalise the responsible owners. The history of the SA committee, as we have discussed today in question time, is that the Hon. Bob Such tabled a bill—the Animal Welfare (Companion Animals) Amendment Bill—on 1 November 2012. It was based to a degree on the Victorian model, which has since been amended, which regulated the breeding of companion animals for profit, and that profit angle has been changed in the Victorian legislation.

A committee was established in response to that and received input from 124 individuals, 34 organisations and 10 breeders. It reported in July 2013 with a series of recommendations. Both major parties committed to the implementation of the committee recommendation during this year's election. I would like to congratulate the members on their bipartisanship and for doing a great deal of groundwork, because people can come up with all sorts of ideas on things which sound good at the time but which in practice do not necessarily work. The terms of reference were:

(a)options for the regulation of welfare standards for breeding companion dogs and cats;

(b)adequacy of regulation of the source in relation to sales;

(c)whether a cooling off period should be provided;

(d)adequacy of the regulation of pet shops; and

(e)considering registration, microchipping and desexing.

The report did a comparison of interstate laws, which I would commend people to read for themselves. It also looked at what the laws in this state are, obviously. There are three instruments that govern companion animals in South Australia: we have the Animal Welfare Act, the Dog and Cat Management Act, and an instrument known as the South Australian Code of Practice for the Care and Management of Animals in the Pet Trade, which I will refer to subsequently as the pet trade code, but there are some fairly clear gaps in all those instruments.

As noted by the committee, the breeding of companion animals is largely unregulated in South Australia. There are existing general provisions in the Animal Welfare Act in section 13 regarding ill treatment of animals. The Animal Welfare Regulations require breeders to comply with the pet trade code, which applies to people selling animals for profit and animals held for the short term—which I note would only apply to newly-acquired animals or very young animals, so clearly it is missing quite a few gaps. I note that a review of that code was established in 2009, which reported in July 2010. It is referred to in Appendix 1 of the report, which has not been progressed.

The Dog and Cat Management Act does not recognise animals under the age of three months and is largely a management tool for councils, so it is not particularly useful in this context. For very young animals this is obviously a vulnerable time, for their health, immunity and so forth, so clearly some parts of the picture are missing, in a legal sense.

This bill pretty much lifts out the recommendations, except for the ones that are too difficult to address by legislation, such as minimum qualifications for pet shop staff. There was also a recommendation about advocating the use of the Found Pets app (or application). I note that there are a few sites on social media which are very active in a similar space: Lost Dogs of Adelaide on Twitter or on Facebook.

Within this bill a number of details have been left to the regulations which will require the government to advance them following the passage of the bill, assuming it gets up. In relation to term of reference A, which is options for the regulation of welfare standards for breeding companion dogs and animals, the first recommendation was to introduce an enforceable standard for the breeding of companion animals, which is new clause 5E and 5F of the bill, which establishes it under regulation. The government, in forming this regulation, must consult with what are known in the bill as prescribed peak bodies, including the RSPCA SA, the Animal Welfare League of SA, the Local Government of SA, Dogs SA, the Feline Association of SA, or any other organisation as defined by the regulations. I note that there probably would not be any other prescribed peak bodies but it has been left open just in case.

The committee recommended that the enforceable standard be based on the New South Wales code for breeding cats and dogs, with the insertion of the relevant provisions within the Dogs SA and Australian National Kennel Council codes, which are currently not legally enforceable, with the only penalty, if you like, for breaching them being exclusion from that organisation. The committee further recommended that the standard cover animals across the full spectrum of the breeding cycle, from puppies to post-breeding adults.

Further, the committee recommended that all breeders should be subject to random unannounced inspections. Its second recommendation was to introduce a licensing scheme for breeders, which is clause 15G, which states that a breeder's licence is required subject to a range of conditions; new clause 15H, which relates to revocations and the suspension of breeders' licences; and clause 15I, which makes it an offence to breed or mate companion animals without a breeder's licence. At page 22 of the report the recommendation was quite detailed, and I will read it for the record because I think it is important. It states:

The committee's preference is for every owner of an entire (not desexed) animal to be recognised as a breeder, and assigned a unique breeder licence number. The committee recognises that this detail would need to be the subject of consultation and regulatory impact assessment.

The committee recommends that the scheme would require people intending to purchase an animal for the purposes of breeding to acquire the licence before acquiring the animal.

Enforcement would occur through a combination of animal welfare inspections…and the committee's recommendation…that at the point of advertising or sale, a breeder licence number must be displayed.

The committee recommends the scheme contemplate the inclusion of provisions for temporary licences to cover owners whose animals incidentally become pregnant, or who wish to breed one time only, and consider a sliding scale of fees to reflect the varying scale of breeding operations.

The committee recommends that the scheme be integrated with existing animal registries to maintain the link between breeder licence numbers and microchip numbers of i

ndividual animals.

Such an initiative is only likely to be successful if done in concert with the introduction of a proper enforceable code of practice as a regulation of the Animal Welfare Act.

In relation to the second term of reference, which is adequacy of regulation of the source (in relation to sales), the committee noted that the source of animals is currently also unregulated. The Pet Trade Code only refers to animals that are available for trade or profit and only makes reference to the customer having their pet desexed after purchase and the need for dogs to have current vaccination certificates. Its concern with not being able to reunite unmicrochipped animals with their owners, the large number of surrenders to shelters and high euthanasia rates, poor breeding practices leading to defects led the committee to recommend that the breeder's licence number and the animal's microchip number be identified in advertising and at point of sale.

Clause 15K in the bill requires that companion animals must be desexed, with the regulations to prescribe the period in which this must take place and the maximum or minimum age at which this takes place. A person or prescribed companion animal may be exempted. Licenced breeders are exempt from this requirement.

On that note, I might discuss the issue of at what age animals should be desexed, because clearly people are buying puppies and kittens that are eight weeks of age. Traditionally, I think the veterinarian schools have recommended that animals not be desexed until they are six months of age, which makes the possibility of requiring desexed animals quite awkward. I would like to commend the Hon. Tammy Franks who last year organised the SA Companion Animals Shelter Seminar here in Parliament House, in which she brought a range of stakeholders together to discuss no kill.

The keynote speaker was a veterinarian from the Pennsylvania in the US, Dr Michael Moyer. He was a fascinating person to listen to. He spoke about the fact that, in the US, they are desexing animals at quite young ages—six weeks in some instances—and that it probably requires a change to the training in Australia of our veterinarians to undertake this practice. The RSPCA, which has a number of policies, is actually advocating for earlier desexing of animals, and so I think there is some significant shift to supporting that practice, which I think has to be a good thing if we are to fulfil the commitment that, when animals are adopted by their new owners, the vaccination, microchipping and desexing is all done at the same time, rather than having a rather loose commitment that someone may desex their animal down the track and then not get around to doing it.

New clause 15L makes it illegal to buy or sell companion animals unless they are bred according to the laws. Clause 15M makes it illegal to sell an animal unless it is vaccinated, wormed and microchipped. Term of reference (c) was whether a cooling-off period should be provided. The committee noted that the SA Pet Trade Code requires the proprietor to supply the new owner with a range of information about care and welfare matters for the new pet but is silent on returning the animal. Rather than adopt interstate practices which allow animals to be returned, or within seven days for health reasons, the committee stated:

The committee considers a better solution is to have the cooling off period after formally giving notice of intention to purchase an animal and before actually taking possession. This minimises the stress on the animal itself and allows the purchaser time to properly reflect on the appropriateness of the decision to purchase a pet. This is the procedure employed by the rescue groups and members of pedigree clubs.

The committee recommended a cooling-off period, with an exemption for organisations and breeders who have what they describe as a 'self-imposed cooling-off period', such as Dogs SA or members of ANKC and shelters because they already provide a matching service.

New clause 15N provides a cooling-off period for 10 days, so that the seller must take the animal back within 24 hours. Term of reference (d) was the adequacy of the regulation of pet shops. They often come under fire, and I think they probably do vary greatly in the manner in which they treat animals. I am sure some are excellent, but some are probably quite dodgy. Someone rang me after this story was released and told me about one that I should quietly go and have a look at. But the committee did not think there was any value in preventing people from selling through pet shops, and if these measures are taken up that will take care of that.

I note that there is a proliferation of sales online through websites and the classified advertising, and a dedicated place such as a pet shop potentially is better than what people may be doing through those facilities. Term of reference (e) was to consider registration, micro-chipping and desexing, which is clearly one of the recommendations. The euthanasia rates alone are one of the reasons why we must surely take up some greater regulation. The Dog and Cat Management Board's estimate was that the cost to councils in regard to issues arising from unmicrochipped dogs was in excess of $1.33 million in the 2011-12 financial year, because thousands of dogs are impounded every year and a large number are not returned home.

In that same period 47.7 per cent, so less than 50 per cent, of dogs were reclaimed, and only 3 per cent of cats were reclaimed. The Dog and Cat Management Board notes that the voluntary desexing rate for dogs appears to have stopped at about 66 per cent and not gone further. I note that they made comments in relation to cat owners. They say that there are two categories of cats: some are truly feral and have no contact with humans; some are urban cats or part-owned cats; but, by and large, most cats are owned by someone, well looked after, microchipped and desexed. The estimate (because cats are not registered it can only be an estimate), is that it is probably in the 80 to 90 per cent range.

The other term of reference, which is fairly standard in all committees, is quote 'any other matter', and a number of recommendations were made in relation to further education. I note that the Dog and Cat Management Board runs a number of programs to assist people to understand how to ensure their pets are healthy, do not become a nuisance or pest to other people, and so forth, and I commend them for that work.

In relation to consultation, I have formally written to—and I note that this bill is out for consultation, so I am seeking input, and if there are particular clauses people think should be amended then we would like to hear from them—the RSPCA SA, the Animal Welfare League, the Australian Veterinary Association, the two associations that are responsible for the purebred animals, Dogs SA and the Feline Association of SA. I note through their submissions to the committee that both support more regulation of the Local Government Association of SA. The member for Fisher, the Hon. Bob Such, was very pleased to know that something was finally being done on this issue.

The Hon. T.A. Franks: Hear, hear!

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: 'Hear, hear,' says the Hon. Tammy Franks. She deserves some commendation; although I have not formally written to her, she will receive the bill, of course. Mia McKenzie from The PAW Project I think I met first at the Hon. Tammy Franks' conference last year.

The Hon. T.A. Franks: At the Companion Animal Shelter Summit.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: At the Companion Animal Shelter Summit—thank you for that reminder of the title. Paws & Claws Adoptions on Magill Road at Stepney I recommend to members—I love that place. It is quite unique, with lots of cats lounging around, very relaxed. It is quite different from—

The Hon. D.W. Ridgway: Cool cats.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Cool cats; well, they are very chilled. I have to say if people turned up to where I live and saw my cats—well, they would not see the cats, because they would bolt. But, these cats lounge around on lounges. My husband donated a piece of his old bachelor furniture that I was quite keen to see moved on, and they love it. It is a chaise, and they lounge on that.

I would like to commend Miriam Schiller, who is an amazing volunteer. They run these desexing clinics through there, they have a café and they have a microchipping day, and they do this all with volunteers. They are truly to be commended for their work. I have also written to Remporter Kennels and the Law Society of South Australia.

So far, I have received some preliminary responses from the RSPCA, who were very quick off the mark. They are very supportive of implementation of the committee r

ecommendations, particularly breeder licensing, but they are concerned that the breeder licensing scheme must be done in a certain manner so that there is no way that the regulation can be circumvented.

They cite that there has been some experiences interstate where that may have taken place. In particular, they also say that there should be user-pays system in relation to that, physical inspection of breeders, no exemptions from the code of practice, independent drafting of codes of practice, a fit and proper persons test for holders of breeders licences, and the ability to revoke or suspend licences.

The Australian Veterinary Association supports licensing and microchipping but has some concerns about mandatory desexing because they say it will prevent pet owners from having the occasional litter.

I now refer to the clauses of the bill. I have described most of them already, but there are some new definitions, such as 'prescribed companion animal', 'prescribed peak body', a definition of 'purchase', 'sell' and 'seller', and 'owners' who are either the last registered owner of a dog or the last person recorded through the microchip him, or whomever is habitually the apparent owner.

There is new clause 15D, whereby the minister may approve an animal welfare organisation; 15E and 15F, which relate to codes of practice for breeding; 15G—breeders licences are required subject to a range of conditions; 15H—revocations and suspension of breeders' licences; 15I—offence to breed or mate companion animals without a breeder's licence; 15K—companion animals to be desexed (with the regulation standing order prescribe the period in which this must take place and the maximum or minimum age at which this must take place); 15L—illegal to buy or sell companion animals unless they are bred according to laws; 15M—illegal to sell an animal unless it is vaccinated, worked and microchipped; 15N—cooling off period for 10 days; and 15Q—exemptions, such as for shelters, where the minister can exempt them from selling an animal that is being bred in a puppy farm, because clearly they are the ones who would be involved in fostering and rehoming them.

The penalties are set at $10,000 generally. I note that in the existing act the penalties range from $2,500 to $50,000, and it is a matter of whether that penalty is sufficient or whether it needs to be increased, and whether there should be some expiable offences. There are also some changes to the evidence provisions and exemption for working dogs due to the animal husbandry section within the current legislation.

I have to say I was a little bit disappointed at the minister during question time today—I mean, I am most days, because he is kind of churlish and arrogant, and it is almost as if someone has taken away his lolly or something. But, to put on a bit of a performance like that is just—this was a bipartisan committee, as the Hon. Tammy Franks reminded us in question time today. It was in response to the concerns that were brought to the parliament by the member for Fisher, and I think that the committee worked very effectively together. We have been waiting for some time.

The minister has had more than enough time to do something about this, given that the committee reported in July last year. I do not think that the issues are particularly contentious. There may be differences of opinion in the community over aspects of the licensing and at what age and whether desexing should be compulsory, but I would have thought that it was the job of I will not say a re-elected government but a re-formed government to just get on with things, and we have not seen that. Then when a member of the opposition gets off their backside and gets a bill drafted, we just get mud thrown at us. I hope that is not the future way forward for this debate, because I do not think that it is particularly useful to anyone or to any animal, for that matter. With those comments, I commend the bill to the house.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. J.M. Gazzola.