Dog and Cat Management

 I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation a question relating to working dogs.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Working dogs. On 20 November last year, the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources held a workshop to discuss the development of a breeding code of practice for companion animals. These workshops were organised under the auspices of the animal welfare officers of DEWNR and aimed to fulfil a commitment of the Select Committee on Dogs and Cats as Companion Animals to 'introduce an enforceable standard for the breeding of companion dogs and cats'.

The select committee made a distinction between companion animals and working dogs, and members of that committee were of the understanding that the latter would not be captured by any regime. Meanwhile, the Dog and Cat Management Board oversees the administration and enforcement of the Dog and Cat Management Act, and I note in a report tabled in the House of Assembly on 30 October last year that the government was flagging changes to that act, 'scheduled for parliament in the first half of 2015'. My questions for the minister are:

  1. Was the workshop of 20 November, to which working dog breeders were invited, intended to cover working dogs, companion animals or both?
  2. What is the role of the Dog and Cat Management Board in this process?
  3. What is the nature of the amendments that the government has scheduled for the first half of 2015 and how far away are they?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) ( 14:33 :54 ): I thank the honourable member for her most important question. In the lead-up to the last election, the government outlined a clear vision for the next four years of government, as we all know. Our Let's Keep Building South Australia election platform included a number of commitments which will help to protect our animals, including dogs and cats. This government—

The Hon. T.A. Franks interjecting:

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: The Hon. Tammy Franks clearly didn't understand the outcome of the last election, Mr President. However—

The Hon. T.A. Franks interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: We don't need a debate, the Hon. Ms Franks. Can we let the minister answer his question?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: I think, Mr President, that it is usually the winners who get to define the history of the process.

The Hon. S.G. Wade: Rewrite it, apparently.

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Well, if it sounds better that way, sometimes it needs to be recast—

The Hon. M.C. Parnell: Revisionists.

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: —and things, of course, change, as the Hon. Mr Parnell claims across the chamber.

The PRESIDENT: Do you want to answer the question, minister?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Yes, I'm getting there, but I am, unfortunately, being incredibly diverted by the amusing interjections of the Hon. Mr Parnell. Unlike the federal Liberal government, this state government keeps it word, particularly in relation to election promises, and I am not sure how many election promises have now been broken by the federal Liberal government.

Members interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: I am interested in this answer. I think that it is important that we allow the minister to answer in silence.

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Thank you, Mr President. We will deliver on our election commitments and our vision to keep building South Australia and making it a strong and prosperous place for our community. As part of our plan to protect our animals, this government will introduce a new code of practice to ensure that pets have come from healthy and humane conditions. This code of practice will be developed in consultation with the community and industry and will target puppy farms and individuals who put profits before the welfare of the animals they breed.

The state government has long enjoyed a strong working relationship with the RSPCA and other animal welfare organisations, and they do a great job in protecting and advocating for the welfare of animals. To strengthen the invaluable role the RSPCA performs, the government has increased its annual funding. As we all know, it has gone up from something like $700,000 per year, from memory, to $1 million per year, indexed.

It is also very important that the community is provided with clear and accurate information regarding responsible pet ownership and animal welfare. There are many benefits to having animals desexed, and it is because of these benefits that the government has long promoted this practice to pet owners. Desexing improves a dog's behaviour through decreasing its potential to bite and it markedly reduces both cats' and dogs' wandering behaviour.

Through the Dog and Cat Management Board, the government continues to promote desexing to pet owners as a responsible measure in addressing pet behaviour and reducing the incidence of unwanted animals. The traceability of dogs and cats is critical to reducing the impounding and ultimately euthanasia rates of our companion animals, and microchipping is the easiest way of reuniting a lost dog or cat with their owner. In recognition of these things, the government will introduce mechanisms to ensure that cats and dogs sold through the commercial pet trade will be microchipped before being sold.

A 12-month education campaign will accompany these changes to ensure that pet shops, breeders and prospective owners understand the changes. In addition, the government has committed $200,000 to fund a business case to establish a single, publicly accessible database for all microchipped animals, which will include details of an animal's breeder, pet trader and/or owner. Not only will this mean that animals can be reunited with their owners faster but a publicly accessible database will also enable cases of aggressive behaviour or other health issues that might impact an animal to be traced back to the breeder or trader so that measures can be put in place to check that the puppies or kittens are not from a puppy farm or have been inappropriately bred.

This is a complicated policy area which invokes very often emotional responses. Our objective, however, remains to eliminate cruelty to dogs and cats and to reduce the numbers of unwanted animals being euthanased. We know, I think, that South Australians want welfare standards for the breeding of companion animals to be improved, and they know and we know that the majority of registered breeders in South Australia raise their animals in appropriate conditions and, in fact, love their animals.

We need to be careful and diligent as we proceed to these policy changes. We need to consult very broadly with the communities of interest before we introduce significant changes to this policy, because this is a policy area that touches many people. What we don't need is draft legislation that is rushed through without thorough consultation, and without thoroughly understanding the implications of that legislation. Our objective remains to eliminate cruelty to dogs and cats and to reduce the numbers of unwanted animals being euthanased.

In regard to working dogs, this is an area where we will be consulting with those industries with an interest in working dogs. On one level, it would be very difficult to leave out working dog breeders without some specific exemptions. That may be possible, and we will consult with industries about that, particularly the livestock industry and primary producers, I suppose, which would be the key stakeholders there.