Legislative Council: Wednesday, November 30, 2022


Statutes Amendment (Animal Welfare Reforms) Bill

Introduction and First Reading

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (11:23): Obtained leave and introduced a bill for an act to amend the Animal Welfare Act 1985 and the Dog and Cat Management Act 1995. Read a first time.

Second Reading

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (11:24): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Indeed, I rise today to reintroduce this bill for a third time. While I move a second reading speech today, it will be familiar to those of you who have been in this parliament for some time that this is an issue that I have pursued for many years. I wish to pay tribute to the hard work, advocacy and campaigning by organisations and constituents alike. I particularly wish to note the hard work of an ICU nurse who is passionate about this issue, Mia Auckland, as well as the leadership of those such as Paul Stevenson, the current CEO of the RSPCA in South Australia, and the previous CE of the Animal Welfare League, Richard Mussell.

This bill is a result of public demand for the humane treatment of animals, particularly companion animals and cats and dogs, as well as greyhounds. It seeks to reverse the inadequate minimum welfare standards we currently have in this state when it comes to the treatment and care of those animals. Unfortunately, the cruelty and mistreatment of those animals is something that we are still seeing uncovered and continuing. We are capable with our laws, I believe, of ensuring that we have standards and codes of practice that ensure that those animals we believe are in the care of a rescue or a shelter, or are subject to use by an industry—often for profit—should actually have minimum standards of care and compassion.

South Australia, unfortunately, still has some of the weakest animal welfare laws in the country. I do look forward to that trend being reversed in coming years. It is, yet again, why I introduce this particular bill that seeks to amend the Animal Welfare Act and the Dog and Cat Management Act. This bill would bring our laws in South Australia into the 21st century and meet community expectations for animal welfare standards. I do believe our laws in South Australia are out of date. The longer we delay, the longer and more these animals that we purport to love will suffer.

This bill reflects the recommendations from the joint committee that I previously chaired and that reported back to the previous parliament in September 2021. I thank the members of that committee at the time. It was a joint house committee, and while I chaired it it had two members of the upper house and two members of the lower house, who are all still in the parliament, so I look forward to those continued conversations.

I thank the Hon. Dr Nicola Centofanti; the Hon. Dr Susan Close (now minister), member for Port Adelaide; and Dr Richard Harvey, member for Newland, who was previously on this committee. He is no longer with the parliament but I know he would certainly be someone who I would hope would support this quite eminently sensible proposition. That committee received 18 written submissions and heard evidence from 25 different witnesses. The report of that committee made 21 recommendations to improve the previous bill that I had introduced to this place.

The report supported the bill. It supported the aim of the bill, which primarily found favour with the committee in terms of its intention to reduce the number of dogs and cats needlessly euthanised by rescues and shelters; to create a code of practice and licensing requirements for animal rescues, shelters and rehousing organisations; and also to insert civil provisions to enable proactive actions that would better protect the welfare of companion animals, as well as greyhounds. It also creates special provisions in relation to the transparency around the reporting of data on greyhounds in our state, particularly through the auspices of Greyhound Racing SA.

While not everyone supported the bill, the overwhelming majority of those submissions and witnesses did. The committee worked hard to achieve what I would call some compromises to develop a consensus. I would not say that I got everything that I wanted out of that committee process in terms of requirements, for example, that Greyhound Racing SA comply with freedom of information laws in this state, but certainly a provision to ensure that they are more transparent with annual reporting of their statistics was that consensus compromise, which I think the community will be welcoming of.

This bill reflects those recommendations. The legislation will focus on preventing the number of euthanised cats and dogs that are suitable for rehousing from being destroyed and will create mandatory licensing and inspection requirements of certain animal shelters, as well as rehousing services and rescues, enabling better proactive action to be taken to prevent animal cruelty.

On that, I do note the input of the RSPCA, who are the key body in terms of the so-called prevention of cruelty to animals in this state. Unfortunately, the prevention aspect of it is not necessarily empowered by our laws, and often the cruelty has to already be well in train and occurring, and to have occurred, before the RSPCA can take action.

The bill also creates special provisions, as I noted, for reporting requirements relating to the greyhound industry. I note that those particular reporting requirements would, as I said, be in the form of an annual report lodged with the minister, which the minister would then need to table after a certain number of sitting days, I believe six days. That would detail the number of greyhounds raced, unraced, retired, imported, exported and adopted, as well as the number of registered greyhounds destroyed and the reasons for their destruction, including natural causes.

These transparency measures will ensure that we have the truth about how many greyhounds are killed in this industry each year and for what purposes they are killed—whether they die on track or whether they die of natural causes—and whether they are rehomed and how successful the rehoming and adoption program really is.

This actually requires the greyhound industry to make good on a promise that they made to this parliament many years ago now, in a press release in which they promised to provide this level of transparency. That press release, back under the Weatherill government, was in fact designed to stop a select committee of this council inquiring into those very figures. Those transparency measures however are, I believe, something that the community expects in this day and age and will strongly support.

I note and commend the good work of those who support greyhounds, in particular, and recognise their treatment, or in fact mistreatment, over a period of time, simply because they are deemed as profitable for some to participate in what is essentially an industry based on gambling. It is certainly a sad outcome, both for the dogs and often for those who suffer from gambling addictions and the like.

This bill, however, has its primary focus on shelters and rescues, and I do believe that it will reflect community standards as, time and time again, we have seen our laws fail to protect the very animals we believe are placed in care, the animals who are most vulnerable. In comparison to other states we have a long way to go, and this bill will hopefully get us there.

Many shelters do begin with good intentions. They intend to help the animals that come into their care, they intend to rehome them and they intend to treat them, but sometimes this is not what happens. Unregulated shelters and rescues can get overwhelmed; they can take on too much. The result, unfortunately, is that the animals suffer and are unsafe, and some needlessly die. A mandatory licensing and inspection process would limit the chances of a shelter or rescue deteriorating to the point where those animals are left to suffer and in fact would minimise the amount of times that the people who run those shelters end up in our courts.

The bill focuses on prevention. It focuses on providing standards and expectations. It will ensure that we avoid cruelty and neglect and that those matters are able to be addressed before they get to the point of those unfortunate outcomes and court cases.

With that, I look forward to conversations with members. I note that the committee was well aware, as we undertook our deliberations, that the Dog and Cat Management Act is currently, I believe, under review. I am interested to know how public that review will be and how extensive it will be.

I have had animal welfare advocates contact me because they have sought to make submissions to this long-awaited and anticipated Dog and Cat Management Act in review, but they have not been able to find hide nor hair (to make a pun) of information about how to make a submission, about how they can participate and how they can give input into this very important area that, as I say, has been long awaited and anticipated by many who care for animals. Indeed, this state relies on their care and compassion because they do a job that certainly could not be provided by government and is done largely by volunteers with the best of intentions who deserve the best possible laws in this state.

I look forward to that Dog and Cat Management Act being a very transparent process indeed, providing the same level of transparency that this bill will provide in this sector. With that, I commend the bill.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. I.K. Hunter.