Animal Welfare (Greyhound Training) Amendment Bill

Introduction and Second Reading of Animal Welfare (Greyhound Training) Amendment Bill

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK(16:19:55): Obtained leave and introduced a bill for an act to amend the Animal Welfare Act 1985. Read a first time.

Second Reading

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK(16:20:42): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

We are all aware of the horrific footage aired on the ABC Four Corners program recently. This bill is an attempt to respond to that matter. Essentially, it amends the Animal Welfare Act, which I will refer to consequently as 'the act', to assist in the detection of live baiting in the greyhound racing industry in South Australia by requiring that lure coursing, and in particular devices known as bull rings, be licensed.

The program was aired on Monday 9 February, showing greyhound trainers and industry figures using a range of animals as live bait. It can only be described as horrific. The footage taken from training tracks in Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales has led to over 70 individuals being implicated and the suspension of some 20 to 30 owners and trainers so far. The New South Wales board of greyhound racing was given its marching orders.

Since this time there has been widespread public outrage at how deep this practice may be entrenched within the industry. Understandably, questions are now being raised about how these individuals have been able to escape the system for such a long time undetected. Animal welfare advocates, including the RSPCA, believe the practice is entrenched and systemic in the industry.

That brings us to the question of South Australia, and questions have been raised about whether live baiting does, or could, occur locally. The advice of the two agencies which have some oversight of this, that is Greyhound Racing SA, indicated initially that they were completely shocked by the footage. They had no indications that this practice had been taking place in South Australia and have set forth trying to get to the bottom of whether it might take place in South Australia.

My sympathies go out to the many good and decent people who work in that industry who, unfortunately, have perhaps been tarred with the same brush as the malicious practices interstate. There are a number of people who are fanatical in their standards of animal welfare practices. Also, the RSPCA has no indication that the practice takes place in South Australia, and I understand that there is a cross-party working group which is looking into trying to find a way forth.

The history of the practice is that live baiting started to be phased out in the late 1920s when the mechanical hare, which was designed to simulate live prey, was used on a circular track. Later, the use of a squeaky toy was added to the lure. The use of live prey was made illegal in Australia in the 1980s, with the last event held in South Australia in 1985.

I understand that over the past two decades it has been reported that only two cases of live baiting have been pursued by industry stewards in Australia. Clearly, based on the footage that was aired, a lot more were taking place than we were aware of. It is time to restore confidence in the industry for the sake of all the honest and decent people who work in the industry and to establish a set of rules to ensure that this practice is not taking place in this state. The CEO of GRSA has been shocked; he stated that on air. He said on Radio Adelaide, in an interview on 18 February:

…we have no evidence of it occurring in South Australia…[our] processes, they're not dissimilar to those of the Eastern Seaboard, and if you'd asked them two or three weeks ago is this occurring in their states they would have said no.

He was also asked about whether there were rumours in the industry. He said:

…I've been in the industry…for 20 years…and I was stunned…

He also went on to say:

…we're not the body [GRSA] in this state that's empowered; we don't have special investigative powers of entry and so there are severe limitations on racing bodies to perform this monitoring...When we go on to property we typically have to give notification; we can't engage in sophisticated surveillance and we have to gather our evidence in a manner that satisfies the prosecutory requirements…

I think part of the problem is the interaction between the regulatory regime that exists under the GRSA and the interaction with the Animal Welfare Act and the RSPCA, as the body tasked with enforcing the Animal Welfare Act. In terms of the legislation, live baiting is illegal, as it would be considered an offence under section 13(1) of the act, attracting a gaol term of up to four years or a financial penalty of up to $50,000. Clause 13 of the Animal Welfare Act refers to ill treatment of animals, that is, subsection (1):

(1) If—

(a) a person ill treats an animal; and

(b) the ill treatment causes the death of, or serious harm to, the animal; and

(c) the person intends to cause, or is reckless about causing, the death of, or serious harm to, the animal,

the person is guilty of an offence.

As I said, the RSPCA is the authority for monitoring and enforcing the act. There are wide-ranging powers under the Animal Welfare Act for the collection of evidence. The RSPCA can enter property, seize animals and collect evidence in line with other authorised officer provisions under other acts of parliament, and these authorised officer powers are in clause 30 of the Animal Welfare Act.

Greyhound Racing SA has a code of practice for greyhound establishments, its latest version being June 2011. It is predominantly focused on standards for the welfare of greyhounds. There are 1.5 FTE GRSA stewards who undertake kennel and track inspections, and in South Australia there are approximately 300 premises and 350 trainers who are likely to receive a visit once every two years.

GRSA SA inspectors do not have the same powers under their code as the powers under the Animal Welfare Act. Stewards have the authority to inspect land, buildings or any fixed or movable structure that is under the control of any person who is licensed in their code. They cannot, however, undertake inspections on private property or where a person is not licensed. So, whilst this regulatory regime in South Australia mirrors that of interstate, the GRSA has stated that it has no evidence that live baiting occurs in South Australia, but it also cannot rule it out.

In practice, the RSPCA, or indeed South Australia Police, would need to be the authority required to catch out, if you like, this practice and subsequently prosecute such a practice, which relies on them receiving a tip off. We were approached by an individual, who I will not name, who advised the Liberal opposition that there are a few rogue elements who do practise live baiting, and that the way to stamp out this practice would be to license lure coursing and these tracks known as bullrings. For the sake of the record I will read the definition of 'bullring', as contained in the GRSA code, as follows:

Bullring—an enclosed circular training facility designed to train the greyhound to run. The specifications of a bullring vary in diameter but it is usually surrounded by a fence approximately 1 metre in height and uses the natural surface of the ground.

The bullring may have a pole in the centre, to which a rotating arm is attached which in turn may be use to trail a lure. The rotating arm may be motor powered.

These are the devices that we believe should be licensed and this will enable the authorities—and not just the GRSA, but also the RSPCA—to know where they are located, which will certainly assist in the detection of these practices.

The bill seeks to do several things. As well as requiring the device to be licensed, there is a penalty for having one of these devices and not having it licensed. That attracts a fine of $10,000 or imprisonment for one year. While there are general animal cruelty clauses in the Animal Welfare Act, this particular bill will also outline that live coursing will attract the same penalty as applies under that act—a $50,000 fine or imprisonment for up to four years. We believe that that will enable the collection of evidence and prosecution to be made a little bit simpler because in that case the prosecution does not need to prove animal cruelty but has a lower test of proving that live coursing was taking place.

A new penalty, which applies to anyone who supplies or sells an animal to another person knowing that the animal is to be used in this ghastly practice, will attract a maximum penalty of up to $20,000 or imprisonment for two years. The feedback that we have had from GRSA and the RSPCA has been positive. They are clearly looking at a range of other issues and in particular one of the matters that they need to determine is how the GRSA stewards will interact with the RSPCA to ensure that, if there are instances, evidence is collected properly and can be used effectively in prosecuting cases.

As we know, there have been cases in the past where there have been difficulties with prosecution under the Animal Welfare Act when certain matters have not been done properly and, for the sake of the animals and for community expectations, we want to make sure that the evidence cannot be thrown out of court but will actually be able to be tendered and used effectively.

The bill is being tabled today for consultation. I look forward to the recommendations that will arise out of the government, RSPCA and GRSA working group, but I think that licensing of lure coursing is important and needs to be put on the table and considered as part of any suite of reforms that the government and this parliament considers. I commend the bill to the house.