Hansard record Wed 4th April 2012
Ms CLOVER MOORE (Sydney) [10.09 a.m.]: I move:
- (1) A select committee be appointed to inquire into companion animal welfare with the view to improving their welfare.
- (2) That the committee consider the following matters:
(a) The number and cause of companion animals arriving in NSW shelters and pounds each year and their outcome, such as whether they get re-homed, re-united or euthanased;
- (b) The breeding of companion animals;
- (c) The practices associated with the sale of companion animals including from pet shops, markets, pounds, shelters, online, classifieds, or to the overseas market;
- (d) Mandatory desexing, including prior to sale;
- (e) The effectiveness and enforcement of the Department of Primary Industries’ companion animal policies, standards and guidelines;
- (f) The effectiveness of the Companion Animals Act and its application by local government;
- (g) The effectiveness of micro-chipping;
- (h) The treatment of companion animals travelling by airplane;
- (i) The impact of pet bans in accommodation including apartments, strata, retirement villages, and rental properties;
- (j) The impact of pet bans on public transport;
- (k) The existence and effectiveness of education programs on responsible pet ownership, including the importance of desexing;
- (l) Data collection by government and non-government agencies to inform and monitor companion animal welfare; and
- (m) Any other matter relevant to improving companion animal welfare.
- (3) That the committee consist of six members as follows:
(a) Ms Clover Moore, who shall be Chair of the committee;
- (b) Three Government members; and
- (c) Two non-Government members.
- (4) That the members be nominated in writing to the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly by the relevant party leaders within seven calendar days of the passing of this resolution.
- (5) That at any meeting of the committee four members shall constitute a quorum.
This is a very significant issue. Animals are live, sentient beings. Pets give unconditional love and companionship. Pets teach us to care and nurture, encourage us to exercise and save the national health bill over $4 billion a year. How could a civilised society allow around 60,000 cats and dogs to be destroyed every year in New South Wales? The Animals (Regulation of Sale) Bill 2008 I introduced would have stopped impulse buying of pets, resulting in fewer cats and dogs ending up in pounds and being destroyed. It also would have removed an outlet for cruel puppy farming and backyard breeding. My bill was rejected even though companion animal welfare is seriously inadequately addressed. During debate on the Animals (Regulation of Sale) Bill the then Opposition, now the Government, called for more information and moved to defer the vote to establish a select committee to inquire into companion animal welfare. This motion now calls for that select committee to be established.
Thousands of people across New South Wales support this initiative. An open, transparent and independent inquiry is a vital opportunity for Parliament to improve the welfare of companion animals. The RSPCA has seized from puppy farms thousands of dogs in appalling conditions. These mass breeding facilities churn out puppies en masse while thousands of healthy animals are destroyed every year. The Pet Industry Association’s recent claim that it will sell puppies only from accredited puppies is welcomed, but there is no independent oversight or enforcement of the sale of pets, and many pet shops are not association members. Puppy farms will continue to sell pets through classified advertisements, at markets and overseas.
While most registered breeders are responsible, concerns have been expressed that some dog breeds have exaggerated physical features, such as overly large eyes or head, that cause breathing, walking, eye, skin, hip and back problems, and a lifetime of pain. Professor Paul McGreevy of the University of Sydney Veterinary Science Faculty, who worked on the BBC documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed, expressed such concern that a parliamentary inquiry was held in the United Kingdom. The New South Wales Parliament should consider mandatory desexing of animals. Unwanted litters account for a significant number of animals in pounds and shelters. A non-desexed female cat and her offspring can produce 420,000 cats in seven years, yet cats can be desexed as young as eight weeks. Non-desexed animals are more likely to show antisocial behaviours, get into fights or escape from their surroundings.
Many abandoned pets are not microchipped, including some from pet shops, despite legal requirements. Often the details for microchipped pets are out of date, making it difficult to link impounded animals with owners. Education is essential to achieve responsible pet ownership. The City of Sydney companion animal policy focuses on education and provides for free microchipping, dog obedience training, subsidised desexing and pet taxis for low-income earners. Not all councils do this and animal welfare charities do not have the resources to run large education programs on pet welfare. Governments should run statewide education campaigns to ensure a consistent message about animal welfare and care. Stray cats are vulnerable to attacks from dogs and people as well as health issues from lack of food, water and veterinary care, but councils have no rights or legal support to protect stray and feral cats as they are not defined in law. We need animal law reform to help councils rehouse stray cats and protect them from harm.
Last year two of my constituents lost their beloved French bulldog Kransky, who died at Sydney Airport from heat exhaustion while waiting to board a plane. Animal protection groups have told me similar stories. Parliament should investigate whether the Companion Animal Transport Agencies Code is sufficient to prevent a similar fate for other pets. Parliament should assess all animal welfare codes and policies to determine if they meet expectations. Code reviews are regularly overdue and often support industry interests over animal welfare needs. Shelters and pound practices vary greatly and good models need to be identified as benchmarks. The term “free to a good home”, for example, creates problems particularly for cats, with non-desexed cats having kittens and thereby adding to the number of unwanted pets.
The City of Sydney has a partnership with the low-kill Sutherland Shire Animal Shelter, where only dangerous or seriously sick animals are euthanased. Healthy animals remain at the shelter until they are rehoused, microchipped and desexed. New South Wales should aim to become a pet no-kill State. Blanket bans on pets in apartments, retirement villages and rental properties force many people to give up their beloved companions at a difficult time of their life. Apartments and retirement villages in New York, London and Paris generally allow pets. Similar bans on public transport make it difficult for people with pets to get to a vet or visit a friend, particularly if a low-income person does not have access to a private car. CityRail imposes a complete ban on pets being allowed on trains, but the State Transit Authority allows pets to travel on buses at the discretion of the driver. However, sometimes public housing tenants who are able to get to a vet cannot return home because they are prevented from taking their pet on the bus.
In cities such as San Francisco, Berlin, Paris and London it is normal for people to take their pets on public transport. The terms of reference for the committee I propose would include the collection of comprehensive data on pet sales, pound and shelter numbers to trace the origin of pets to assess any under-reporting. The Government set up the Companion Animals Taskforce in response to lobbying for this inquiry. A taskforce cannot replace an inquiry because it has strong industry representation and does not hold public meetings. With a taskforce we do not know what is happening. Many members in this place have said they are animal lovers, and I guess many of them will talk about their pets. Those who really care about animals will support this motion so that the Parliament can gain an understanding of the problems associated with companion animal welfare and make informed recommendations on this important issue. This motion is about establishing an inquiry, understanding the issue and getting to the facts. It also is about the Parliament making the right decision. Respect and compassion for animals are essential to a humane and just society. I commend the motion.
Mr DONALD PAGE (Ballina—Minister for Local Government, and Minister for the North Coast) [10.16 a.m.]: Let me first acknowledge the longstanding genuine interest of the member for Sydney in companion animal welfare issues. In the time we have been together in this Parliament, which is 24 years now—
Ms Clover Moore: That is coming to an end quite soon, it is said.
Mr DONALD PAGE: We will see. That is the member’s choice. Over that time the member for Sydney has consistently demonstrated a very keen interest and concern about companion animal welfare. I thank her also for her comments on her motion, many of which have validity. Certainly, when I became the Minister for Local Government—I had not been involved in this area—and was briefed about the number of dogs and cats being euthanased, mostly in this State’s pounds, I was saddened and very concerned. For example, animals euthanased between 1 July 2010 and 30 June 2011 totalled 13,661 dogs and 17,991 cats. These figures are disturbing indeed. As a result I met with the Minister for Primary Industries, who has responsibility under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, to see what the Government could do to try to address these issues. We agreed to put together a taskforce to investigate and address these and other issues facing the companion animal industry. In saying that, whilst I am very empathetic to the concern of the member for Sydney, we will not support the motion because a taskforce has been established, which is chaired by the very capable member for Charlestown, who is a veterinarian and has been doing great work with the taskforce.
The taskforce will provide advice on key companion animal issues and, in particular, on strategies to reduce the rate of companion animal euthanasia. As I said, the taskforce is chaired by the member for Charlestown, who is a veterinarian with vast experience and knowledge relating to companion animals. I am pleased that he agreed to chair the taskforce, as is the Minister for Primary Industries. The taskforce comprises representatives of the following organisations: the Australian Companion Animal Council, the Australian Institute of Local Government Rangers, the RSPCA New South Wales, Animal Welfare League NSW, Pet Industry Association Australia, Dogs NSW, Australian Veterinary Association, Cat Protection Society, and the Local Government and Shires Associations New South Wales.
The taskforce terms of reference are sufficiently broad to cover the issues the member for Sydney has raised in her motion. The terms of reference state that the taskforce will inquire into: euthanasia rates and re-homing options for surrendered or abandoned companion animals; the breeding of companion animals including the practices of puppy farms—it is a disgrace what is happening there; the sale of companion animals; the microchipping and desexing of companion animals; current education programs on responsible pet ownership; and any other high-priority companion animal issues that become apparent to the taskforce during its investigation. In response to the comment by the member for Sydney about the problem with the taskforce being that it does not have public meetings, I am assured by the chair of the committee there will be public meetings as the taskforce goes about its work.
The taskforce is currently finalising the draft discussion, which will be available for public comment in coming months. All interested individuals, groups and organisations are encouraged to make a submission when the discussion paper is released. After taking into account feedback on the discussion paper the taskforce will prepare a report by the end of this year which will provide recommendations for consideration by the Minister for Primary Industries, and Minister for Small Business, Katrina Hodgkinson, and me as Minister for Local Government. Can I thank the chairman of the taskforce for the work he has done so far. I understand the draft discussion paper is ready to be presented. I thank the members of the taskforce, who have worked very hard, and also the two departments involved—Primary Industries and the Division of Local Government. I express my deep appreciation for the brilliant work of the officers from the two departments: Ross Burton, Angela Thompson and Vaughan Macdonald from Primary Industries and Janet Pengelly and Glen Colley from the Division of Local Government. The chairman of the taskforce has confirmed with me, as the responsible Minister, that these people have been nothing short of fantastic in the way they have contributed to the deliberations of the taskforce. We thank the members or the taskforce for their participation and the work they are doing.
I look forward to the discussion paper being made public and the community having their input into where we go from here. By the end of this year the recommendations will come forward from the taskforce for the Government to put into place. This is an issue of concern to me. I was raised on a cattle property, have been around dogs all my life and still own dogs. I am keen, as is the Minister for Primary Industries, to stop—I do not know that we can every stop—or reduce the number of unnecessary deaths that are occurring through euthanasia of our dog and cat populations. I look forward to the report coming back to the Government. Because of what we are doing as a Government we will reject the motion today but we appreciate very much the intentions of the member for Sydney in relation to raising these issues. The concerns of the member are shared by the Government.
Mrs BARBARA PERRY (Auburn) [10.23 a.m.]: I support the motion of the member for Sydney. It is a detailed, sensible motion. I acknowledge her work in this area for many years. The member is quite right, this is about a broad matter of respect for animals, how we treat our animals, and bearing in mind that thousands of animals, cats and dogs, are companions to many people in the State and across Australia. I acknowledge that the member for Marrickville, the Hon. Carmel Tebbutt, is in the House today. She has a keen interest in this issue. Many members on my side of the House have held a keen interest in the issue. As a former Minister for Local Government I am aware of the issues around companion animals and the high rate of euthanasia. The Minister will know that in my time I started some work around that issue. The high rates of pet euthanasia in New South Wales are horrific: more than 150,000 dogs and cats over the last five years have been euthanased in pounds across the State.
That is not to say that there is not a great amount of work going on with pet rescue shelters and the RSPCA. I note the work done over many years with regard to responsible pet ownership: the Safe Pets Out There [SPOT] program which appears to be a new program that is delivered in schools across the State. I think that has gone a long way to teaching young people about responsible pet ownership. Those young people are then teaching their parents. Despite all of that work it is clear that there still remains a great deal of concern around these issues that the member for Sydney raises. I am aware and clearly understand, having heard the Minister of the taskforce that is in play at present, but I am concerned about the following matters. The Companion Animals Act has not been reviewed for many years. It has been amended to include tougher dog laws with higher penalties, but I do think the Companion Animals Act needs to be reviewed to look at the broader issues that the member raised. The taskforce terms of reference do incorporate some of the concerns of the member for Sydney but they do not go into broader issues such as the impact of pet bans in accommodation including apartment, strata, retirement villages and rental properties, and the impact of pet bans on public transport. If we are going to look holistically at companion animals the issues on the agenda—those put by the member for Sydney and many animal welfare advocates—need to be looked at in a broad way. The Opposition will support the motion. I ask the Minister to elucidate how the public inquiry will work. A taskforce, from my recollection, is a little different: it reports publicly but does not necessarily take evidence publicly in the same way a parliamentary select committee would, with cross-examination possible.
An important person involved in animal welfare died yesterday. Kath Gazzard set up a project called Pets for Older People. That program was about rehousing pets for people who were socially isolated or needed to go to palliative care. I note her good work and I will speak of her another time. [Time expired.]
Mr ANDREW CORNWELL (Charlestown) [10.27 a.m.]: In May 2011 the member for Sydney gave notice of a motion regarding the establishment of a companion animal inquiry. While I appreciate the member’s longstanding interest in the area, the motion is not supported. The Government does not support this motion because it has been superseded by the Government’s proactive approach in the area. In the middle of last year the Minister for Local Government, the Hon. Don Page, and the Minister for Primary Industries, the Hon. Katrina Hodgkinson, established the companion animal taskforce. The taskforce met through the second half of last year and into this year to produce a discussion paper that examines the matters the member for Sydney has raised in her motion.
A select parliamentary committee is not required because the Government has already acted in the area and therefore paragraph (1) of the motion cannot be supported. This motion should not be supported because the terms of reference for the companion animal taskforce are sufficiently broad to cover all of the areas of concern raised by the member for Sydney. The taskforce has examined all issues relating to euthanasia rates and unacceptable breeding practices such as puppy farming. I can assure the House and the member for Sydney that all of the issues covered at items (a) through to (m) in paragraph (2) of the motion have been considered by the companion animal taskforce. This Government is acting in a complete and comprehensive manner that is not offered by the motion put forward by the member for Sydney.
Paragraph (3) of the motion deals with the make-up of the committee. The member suggested that she should chair the committee that would consist of three Government members and two non-Government members. This part of the motion cannot be supported because the make-up of the Companion Animal Task Force is superior to the suggestions made by the member for Sydney. As opposed to having six politicians considering matters of this importance, the task force has a cross-section of stakeholders who have come together to produce a discussion paper that is comprehensive and groundbreaking. On the task force we have the RSPCA, which brings with it some 130 years of corporate knowledge in the area. We have the Animal Welfare League, which brings in excess of 50 years at the coalface. We have the Cat Protection Society, which brings in excess of 50 years experience. We have the Australian Veterinary Association, which represents a profession with more than a century of animal welfare as its core business.
The task force also has members who represent dog breeders and industry who not only bring corporate knowledge but also a passion for animals and a genuine desire to improve outcomes for companion animals. We have representatives from local government and council rangers, the people who deal with some of the heartbreaking situations that unwanted companion animals face. And, finally, we have been supported by the fabulous departmental staff from the Department of Local Government and the Department of Primary Industries. Whereas the make-up of the committee suggested by the member for Sydney may offer opinion, the Companion Animal Task Force offers expertise. Therefore, paragraph (3) of the motion should not be supported.
The member for Sydney has demonstrated passion, and I commend her for that. But the motion cannot be supported because, thanks to the leadership of Minister Page and Minister Hodgkinson, the Government has taken the lead in this area. Our brief is broader, the make-up of our task force is superior to that suggested by the member, and our work is virtually complete. The discussion paper is due to be released in the first half of this year; and, in line with our commitment, it will be. I thank all members of the task force for their expertise and their desire to improve outcomes for companion animals. The member for Auburn raised a number of other issues. I assure the member that we have taken an holistic approach. We will have public consultation once the discussion paper is released, because that is exactly what it is designed to do—to promote comment. We are seeking input from the public. Once that process is complete, we will be taking further recommendations to the Minister. I have appreciated the opportunity to debate the motion. But we have taken the lead, and therefore cannot support it.
Mr JAMIE PARKER (Balmain) [10.31 a.m.]: I thank all members who have contributed to this debate. I trust they do so genuinely and honestly, because some issues remain about lack of openness and involvement of the public in the process to date. But I take on board the genuine comments by the chair and the Minister, who claim that the situation is “under control”. This is an important issue—a critical issue, in fact—because one of the points raised constantly by the member for Sydney over the 20 years or so she has been a member of this place is the inadequacy of action on animal welfare. I welcome the contributions of members of the Labor Party on this issue; unfortunately, there was not significant action on this matter during its term in government. We trust that this Government will take some positive steps because, as a local councillor of almost 14 years and mayor for several years, I have been very concerned about the level of euthanasia of companion animals. As another member discussed, the department released in August last year the numbers: 150,000 dogs and cats euthanased in pounds over the past five years. That is absolutely unacceptable. It is a disgrace.
The number of animals euthanased in pounds can be easily remedied. A range of steps can be taken. We have heard some of those today, but they include issues that have been raised, for example, in the Australian Capital Territory, in a bill that is before its Legislative Assembly outlining some possible reforms. The bill, introduced by The Greens, has been discussed with other parties in good faith. The bill proposes introducing mandatory licences for cat and dog breeders to ensure they meet proper standards of animal welfare; banning the sale of cats and dogs from stores and markets, with some limited exceptions; introducing additional requirements on the sale of animals; providing basic care information to all buyers; banning the display of animals in store windows; making it an offence to sell animals to children; restricting advertising; introducing a system of traceability; and mandating desexing of cats and dogs at sale—as part of a whole range of strengthening of animal cruelty provisions in the Australian Capital Territory. I encourage the chair of the task force to examine that proposal to see whether it will provide some useful information.
I support the motion moved by the member for Sydney because concerns are held about the make-up of the task force. As a solution, it is considered inferior to a select committee. Many members will have seen the newspaper article that generated a great deal of consternation about this issue, because the make-up of the task force is of significant concern. The Herald Sun of 7 March this year carried a report about the pet industry group president posing with a dead cat. That does not generate support and encourage people to think the industry representatives—who make money by selling companion animals—will have the best interests of animal welfare in mind. The article in the Herald Sun was very disturbing for many people; it caused a lot of concern in the community. People contacted my office and said, “Are these the people looking at animal welfare in the community?”
Genuine concern has been generated because the minutes of meetings of the task force are not available to the public, and there have not been public discussions. Those are legitimate concerns—not political or tactical concerns designed to attack the Government, but genuine concerns about the type of outcome that will come from this task force. The question is: If the industry is running this task force, what kind of an outcome will we get? So, of course, people are waiting with bated breath to see what happens with the submissions and comments on the discussion paper that will be distributed by the Government. I conclude by saying that animal welfare needs to be the focus of all issues. Animal welfare needs to be at the heart of a just and humane society, and that is why The Greens support the motion. We look forward to the Government’s discussion paper so that we can respond to it.
Ms CLOVER MOORE (Sydney) [10.36 a.m.], in reply: I thank members for their contributions to the debate. I am pleased that the Minister has said he finds the facts disturbing and believes the task force will address the issues; and that the chair of the task force assures us that that will be done. But I have to say that I have raised the issue of animal welfare continually over the years, and the Parliament has failed to respond. I find that failure distressing. We are known as the country that has the highest number of pets per person, and we are known as the country where the family pet is a national characteristic. Yet, compared with other countries, our treatment of pets is quite appalling. Successive governments and this House have failed absolutely to address the issue when I have raised it.
I say again that animals are live, sentient beings; they suffer both physical and psychological pain. Defending animal welfare should be a very important part of what we do. I believe the majority of people in New South Wales expect us to do that. There has been an absolute failure in this place to do so up till now. The Government says it will achieve reform through the task force. I welcome the fact that the task force has been set up because that is better than nothing. But we do not know what the task force has done; it has not held any public hearings, and its minutes have not been made public. We are assured that it is getting on with the job. That is great, but we are keen to see what job it is getting on with, given the absolute lack of commitment to this area by government and opposition till now.
The task force includes members of the Pet Industry Association of Australia, the Australian Veterinary Association of Australia and the Australian Companion Animal Council. These are not animal welfare bodies; they represent industry interests. I share the fears and concerns of animal protection groups that the task force will produce recommendations that reflect industry interests and not animal welfare goals. That is why I wanted the inquiry. I believe—and fear, given my past experience in this place and the past experience of the people of New South Wales—that animal welfare needs will be watered down because of industry influence. That is what has happened time and time again. That is why I proposed an inquiry. In fact, I proposed the inquiry when the Coalition said in opposition that it agreed with the proposals in my bill but could not support the bill because it was going to have an inquiry when in government. But when I put forward the proposal for that inquiry now the Coalition is in government, it says the task force will deal with it.
I hope the task force does deal with it and that the task force has as its main goal improving the welfare of companion animals, because that has simply not been the case in this place.
I am sorry that the Government has not honoured its commitment to conduct an inquiry. Once the information was collected and presented it would be up to the Government to decide whether to accept the inquiry’s recommendations. But the Government has gone down the task force route, and I hope some benefits will come from that. I respect the RSPCA, which I work with closely at the City of Sydney, and I have worked with Tim Vasudeva of the Animal Welfare League and Katrina Vesk of the Cat Protection Society on animal welfare issues for a very long time. But I believe they are going to be very much up against industry bodies that have opposed outright regulation in the pet industry.
Question—That the motion be agreed to—put.
The House divided.
Mr R. C. Williams
Mr J. D. Williams
|Ms Cherie Burton
Ms Noreen Hay
|Mr Mike Baird
Mr Garry Edwards
|Mr Nathan Rees||Mr Geoff Provest|
Question resolved in the negative.