Bill Shorten ; The Daily Telegraph ; August 24, 2011
IT’S every parent’s worst nightmare – standing there helpless as a vicious dog – a shark on legs – attacks and kills your child.
It happened last week in St Albans, a suburb in Melbourne’s northwest. Four-year-old Ayen Chol died after a neighbour’s dog ran across the road, chasing several children playing in the garden who fled inside the house, where Ayen was watching TV. The dog followed the children inside, attacking Ayen and several other family members in the living room.
Think about that for a second. Little Ayen, screaming as she clung desperately to her mother’s legs as she was attacked, as the owner of the animal reportedly stood by and did nothing. It’s an awful image to have in your head. An image that will stay with Ayen’s mother and family for the rest of their lives.
When I met the grieving family two days later one of their relatives came up to me and said: “In South Sudan, if a man’s dog kills another that man must answer for the murder of the victim.”
It doesn’t matter where you come from or how it is expressed, we all know people need to take responsibility for their actions.
The rioters in the UK chose to smash windows, loot shops and set fire to cars. They need to take responsibility for their behaviour. We expect the driver of a car who causes an accident to take responsibility for what they do. In the same way, owners of dangerous dogs need to take responsibility for the actions of their animals.
According to NSW government figures there were more than 750 dog attacks against people from May 1 to June 30 this year. In February this year a police officer in Bomaderry was attacked by a pitbull. A three year old in Taree was attacked in April last year. Every state reports similar attacks.
I have to admit, I don’t understand the attraction is of owning one of these dangerous dogs. When are we going to say enough is enough?
The federal government already bans the importation of dangerous dog breeds but all criminal and civil sanctions are set at a state level. Unfortunately, every state has different laws and penalties. I don’t believe the federal government should intervene in every local issue. That’s why we have state governments. But this is too important to sit on the sidelines. We need explicit criminal sanctions that force dangerous dog owners to take full responsibility for the actions of their animals.
There are three things that could make our children safer.
The first is to ban certain dangerous dogs completely. It took 35 deaths in Port Arthur to convince the federal government to ban semi-automatic weapons. How many children’s deaths from dog attacks does it take to make this a priority?
Secondly, for those dog owners who say “it’s not the dog’s fault”, I agree completely. If your dangerous dog attacks or kills someone, then in my view you should be criminally responsible and the penalty should be more than a slap on the wrist. We have culpable driving penalties, we should move to “culpable dangerous dog attack” penalties.
Finally, let’s not have different laws in different states. I’ve spoken to my colleague Attorney-General Robert McClelland and he will ask the states to do just that.
I’m a dog person. I grew up with dogs. Man’s best friend is as much a part of Australian backyard folklore as the Hills Hoist or barbecue. And it should always remain so.
But some animals are bred and trained to kill, and there should be no place in Australian backyards for these monsters.
The lives of children and the vulnerable should take precedence over the lives of dangerous animals.