Michelle Lensink

SURVEILLANCE DEVICES (ANIMAL WELFARE) AMENDMENT BILL

Second Reading: Adjourned debate on second reading continued from 13 April 2016.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK ( 20:39 ): I rise to make some remarks on the second reading of this bill. The bill seeks to amend the Surveillance Devices Act, which was dealt with by the parliament last year. Among other things, that act provided for the prohibition of a person knowingly using, communicating or publishing information or material derived from the use of a surveillance device. This was in relation to privacy concerns. There are exceptions to this, such as if the use, communication or publication is made by media organisations and if the use, communication or publication is in the public interest. 

The bill before us amends that particular piece of legislation, and I note that there were clauses in the substantive act last year which provided a specific exemption to the general rule that such information or material relating to issues of animal welfare that is used, communicated to, or published by the RSPCA was to be treated as being in the public interest. The Law Society and the RSPCA themselves opposed this exemption at the time, I think, on the grounds of, among other things, resourcing. So, there were amendments to delete that reference, which the Liberal Party, at the time, supported. 

This particular bill proposes to do two things. Firstly, to provide an exemption from the prohibition in section 10 of the act upon the use, communication or publication of information or material derived from the use of a listening device or an optical surveillance device in circumstances where the device was used in the public interest if the information or material relates to issues of animal welfare; and secondly, creates a rebuttal presumption that the use of a listening device or optical surveillance device to obtain information or material relating to issues of animal welfare is in the public interest. 

I do not think there is any disagreement among honourable members that animal welfare concerns are in the public interest. I think there are probably disagreements about the means by which that is recognised in legislation. On that note, the Law Society submission of 8 April, which the mover of this bill has referred to, I think provides some qualified support for the bill in relation to the rebuttal, but I think is ambiguous, probably because it—with due respect to lawyers, they are often not as black and white as some of us are—notes that the common law recognises that issues regarding animal welfare are firmly entrenched in the public interest and that the courts have historically held the view that the concept of public interest cannot be exhaustively defined and must be flexible so that it would alter with the norms of society as it progresses. 

On that front, the issues that we have seen exposed, particularly through Four Corners, would certainly have met that test. I have also received correspondence directly from the RSPCA. In their opening paragraph they state that they support the bill moved by the Hon. Tammy Franks. The second sentence says, and I quote: 

By defining animal welfare specifically as being in the public interest, this bill will prevent the Surveillance Devices Act 2016 from effectively operating as an ag-gag piece of legislation . 

I disagree with that particular legal interpretation of the RSPCA. Certainly, I believe the interpretation of the Law Society to be the correct one, and the Liberal Party will therefore not be supporting the bill—sympathetic as we are—but we do not think the amendments to the act are necessary to genuinely protect animal welfare interests. 

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT ( 20:43 ): Dignity for Disability does support the bill. I will not make a particularly lengthy contribution, as I think I explained most of our reasons last time a similar bill was before us. I would say that—given that we have just had a Melbourne Cup, which I think was the first Melbourne Cup in, I think I am correct in saying, three years where no deaths of horses were reported—I think there is significant interest in animal welfare. 

I can also, in my mind at least, draw parallels between the recent focus that we have had, in no small part thanks to Dignity for Disability, on elder abuse and the discussion around whether or not it is in the public interest to have camera surveillance in aged care homes due to some abuse that has happened there. I think if we are interested in using camera and surveillance devices to protect human welfare then we should be interested in clarifying that they can be used to protect animal welfare as well. So, we will be supporting the bill. 

The council divided on the second reading: 

Ayes 4 

Noes 14 

Majority 10 

AYES 

Darley, J.A. 

Franks, T.A. (teller) 

Parnell, M.C. 

Vincent, K.L. 

 

 

     

 

NOES 

Brokenshire, R.L. (teller) 

Dawkins, J.S.L. 

Gago, G.E. 

Gazzola, J.M. 

Hood, D.G.E. 

Lee, J.S. 

Lensink, J.M.A. 

Lucas, R.I. 

Maher, K.J. 

Malinauskas, P. 

McLachlan, A.L. 

Ngo, T.T. 

Ridgway, D.W. 

Stephens, T.J. 

 

     

 

Second reading thus negatived. 

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