Dr MEHREEN FARUQI (22:40:08): On behalf of The Greens I speak in debate on the Companion Animals and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2018. The Greens will be supporting this bill. We do so because while we are disappointed at the limitations of this bill and we are not convinced that it will eradicate puppy factories in this State and in many ways it represents a missed opportunity, it is at least a step forward. This bill can be described at best as lukewarm. The long title of this bill is to enact some recommendations of the companion animals inquiry, which is all good. But this bill entirely misses the mark by not introducing a breeder licensing scheme, as recommended by the inquiry and the preceding Companion Animals Taskforce.
Puppy farms are a scourge. They are an ongoing blight on this State. Dogs are suffering and continue to suffer. They are locked away in cages, used as breeding machines and denied medical treatment. They are denied socialisation and are denied the chance to live natural lives. Their litters are taken away from them time and time again and too early, in most cases sold for thousands of dollars each to unwitting, or perhaps wilfully ignorant, purchasers. At the other end, thousands of dogs are euthanased in pounds across the State because they have been abandoned or their owners have been forced to surrender them through circumstances, such as the inability of many tenants to secure pet-friendly accommodation.
Three years ago, this House and the Legislative Assembly established the Joint Select Committee on Companion Animal Breeding Practices in New South Wales to inquire into and report on companion animal breeding practices. When this inquiry was announced, I and many others called it a tactic to delay meaningful action on these serious issues, and sadly we appear to have been somewhat vindicated. Three years on we get this bill that is fundamentally weak and does not meet community expectations that we will shut down puppy farms. That inquiry was prompted by investigations carried out by animal welfare group Oscar’s Law and reporting by Eamonn Duff of Fairfax, which showed the horrible and cruel conditions of many puppy farms, especially in northern New South Wales. Those photos were haunting—puppies wedged in wall cavities, dogs living inside old portable water containers, floors littered with faeces and urine, and water that was filthy and green.
Just in case anyone should think that these factories have somehow stopped since then, consider that just a month or so ago, four rescue groups came together to rescue 19 dogs from a puppy factory in the Hunter region. Paterson Valley Dog Rescue, Nova Pound Pooch Inc., Pollanda Farm Rescue and Rehabilitation, and All Breeds Dogs Rescue were able to rescue these mostly senior dogs that had ceased to be useful for breeding. These dogs included King Charles Cavaliers, poodles, Cavoodles, spitzs, beagles and Tibetan spaniels. These breeding dogs were in incredibly bad condition. One of the dogs had a broken jaw that was never treated, one needed an eye removed, while another had a broken penis sheath. These dogs were abused because we in this Parliament refused to act and, with this bill, continue not to act decisively.
It would be remiss of me to not mention what Oscar’s Law calls the biggest puppy farm in Australia—the greyhound racing industry in New South Wales. Thousands of dogs are bred each year and will continue to be bred because the Liberal-Nationals Government backflipped on its decision to shut down this industry and then did not even have the courage to enact a legislated breeding cap. One only need look at the RSPCA website to see that greyhounds are fast becoming one of the breeds that are most up for adoption and are filling up their shelters. Other rescue groups spend their hard-earned money, volunteer time, blood, sweat and tears trying to save greyhounds from death row, while their owners continue to abandon greyhounds with little consequence and then have the gall to complain about having to pay a puppy bond.
This bill enacts a number of changes to the way the Companion Animals Act 1998 and other legislation operates. These changes are principally to upgrade the Companion Animals Register, including a requirement to include breeder information, and to create a new requirement for all advertisers of companion animals to provide an identity number to improve traceability. It also makes changes to the registration of certain animals, including increasing the fee for un-desexed cats and for restricted dog breeds and dogs that have been declared dangerous. The Minister for Primary Industries has said that the amendments in this bill “allow prospective buyers to work out who the legitimate operators are”, and that is the extent of it. We are not shutting down puppy factories, we are not investigating puppy farms, but, bizarrely, we are going to allow the market to decide who the good operators are, as if that would drive cruelty out of business.
The reality is that one of the only ways the public could get information about the activities of the breeder is by information provided by animal welfare activists like Oscar’s Law, who take photos and gain evidence from these puppy farms. These are exactly the kinds of activities that this Government and their allies in the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party seek to target and further criminalise. Instead of relying on animal welfare advocates to expose animal cruelty, and then vilifying them for it, why is the New South Wales Government not doing the job of monitoring companion animal breeding? That could easily be done by enacting the recommendations of both the parliamentary inquiry and the Companion Animals Taskforce inquiry by establishing a breeder licensing scheme. Currently, there is no systemic way from either local councils or animal welfare enforcement bodies to monitor breeders’ premises.
The registration of breeders, their animals, the location of the facility and its specifications would allow for easier, more transparent tracking of animals and a more operative and integrated system of enforcement. Swift and effective action is now required to implement the recommendation to create an offence for breeding without a licence or breaching the terms of the licence. The licence must be reviewed annually by the Department of Primary Industries and be consistent with new, strict, and perhaps even legislated minimum standards that will be enacted and enforced. The standards must cover a wide range of areas, including minimum ages of breeding, the maximum number of times an animal may be bred, its physical environment and what happens to animals once they are no longer able to breed.
Breaching standards as well as animal welfare offences must carry appropriate penalties. Too often the punishment for the serious abuse of animals is nothing more than a slap on the wrist or a small fine. That is not congruent with community sentiments and the inherent value of an animal’s life. That, along with a ban on the sale of companion animals in pet stores, would see some real change. I also note annual permits are being introduced for cats that have not been desexed. The failure to desex cats means more and more litters of kittens that, unfortunately in many cases, end up being euthanased. I support the sentiment to boost desexing rates; however, I believe that these increased penalties should be matched with free or subsidised desexing.
There are some small changes in the bill that I am enthusiastically in favour of: increased penalties for refusing to allow an assistance animal in a public place, granting courts the power to order an offender to pay the costs for caring for a seized animal, and extended powers to prevent someone who is disqualified from owning an animal due to an animal cruelty offence from exercising control over any animal—for example, to prevent them from transferring ownership of an animal to a partner. I have an interest in the case of the 19 horses referred to by the Minister in his second reading speech and I have asked questions about it several times in this place. I am pleased that the RSPCA will now be able to recover the costs of keeping those horses from the person charged. I wish this provision could be extended to the owners of greyhounds who dump their animals in pounds, and to volunteer rescue groups.
When this bill was introduced, I honestly thought that the Government would finally be delivering on its promise to remove the mandatory muzzling requirement for pet greyhounds. I and many others were bitterly disappointed, particularly since it has been more than a year since that recommendation was given by the Greyhound Industry Reform Panel. I foreshadow that I will be moving an amendment to delete section 15 of the Companion Animals Act, which will remove the requirement for mandatory muzzling of pet greyhounds.