Domestic Animals Amendment (Puppy Farms and Pet Shops) Bill 2016 | Sue Pennicuik

Domestic Animals Amendment (Puppy Farms and Pet Shops) Bill 2016

I am very pleased to speak this evening on the Domestic Animals Amendment (Puppy Farms and Pet Shops) Bill 2016. It has been a longstanding Greens policy to ban puppy farms and to ban the sale of animals from pet shops. In the past the Greens have been criticised for this policy, but today we have before us a bill that largely gives effect to these longstanding policies of the Greens.
Thursday, December 14, 2017 - 8:15am
Speaker:
Sue Pennicuik

Ms PENNICUIK (Southern Metropolitan) — I am very pleased to speak this evening on the Domestic Animals Amendment (Puppy Farms and Pet Shops) Bill 2016. It has been a longstanding Greens policy to ban puppy farms and to ban the sale of animals from pet shops. In the past the Greens have been criticised for this policy, but today we have before us a bill that largely gives effect to these longstanding policies of the Greens.

This bill is the latest in a number of steps that have been taken in this Parliament over the past seven or eight years to crack down on the abhorrent puppy farm industry that has been a complete blight on our communities in Victoria and around Australia for decades — for far too long. It is the result of the tireless efforts of members of the community and animal welfare groups, in particular the RSPCA, Animals Australia and of course Oscar's Law, led by Debra Tranter, who has devoted her life over the past decade or so to getting rid of the scourge of puppy farms and is very experienced in that area, having visited many puppy farms, rescued many dogs, and documented the appalling conditions that animals were subjected to and continue in some ways to be subjected to in these establishments around Victoria. I pay my respects to her and the people who have worked with her for so long to bring about much-needed changes in this area.

I have been raising these issues in this place for many years. Back in 2010 I raised the issue during the debate on another bill about the fact that the previous Labor government had not done anything about the issue of puppy farms even though it had been raised with them.

In 2011 I raised with the new government, by way of adjournment, the fact that the community was again talking about the scourge of puppy farms and the number for puppy farms that were not being regulated and not being inspected. It was estimated that there were several hundred of them in Victoria, which means several thousands of dogs were being kept in appalling conditions. The minister said that the RSPCA had been given extra powers to enforce the code of practice, which at the time was very deficient, and that every domestic animal business (DAB) had been sent that code.

On 6 December 2011 the first puppy farm bill was introduced by the previous government, mandating that any breeding establishment with three or more dogs would have to be registered as a domestic animal business. I said at the time that there were very few authorised officers in councils or inspectors in the RSPCA who were able to deal with the actual scale of the problem and that enforcement would be the key to the success of that bill. That was six years ago, in 2011. Nine months after that in question time I raised with the minister representing the minister in the other house that it seemed that despite the new legislation, very few if any puppy farms had been prosecuted, fined or closed down despite the RSPCA, Oscar's Law and others continuing to uncover puppy farms with animals in terrible conditions.

We are talking about female dogs that were just forced to breed and breed and breed until they basically wore out and were then euthanased, sometimes in very brutal ways — just whacked over the head, not taken to the vet to be humanely euthanased. Dogs were found living in their own excrement, completely undernourished, their hair matted and with lots of other health conditions and psychiatric conditions because of their appalling treatment. Puppies were taken away from their mothers, and they then could not be socialised because they had not been raised with their mother. This was also traumatic for the bitches. This has been going on under the nose of governments for a long time and not much has been done about it.

On 6 May 2014 I raised with the previous government the issue of the code of practice. Everyone had known that it had long been deficient in a number of areas, particularly in regard to socialising and exercising dogs and to the number of litters that bitches were allowed to have under the code. This was the code of practice that applied to breeding establishments. Mr Walsh had caved to the industry at the time in these and other areas, so progress on this issue has been extremely slow.

On 18 September that year I raised the issue of the activities of brokers. These are the go-betweens between the puppy farms and the pet shops or online sellers of animals. They were totally unregulated and basically invisible under the law. That is just an added issue that makes it very easy for puppy farms to operate, and most of them are in regional areas, away from prying eyes, and as I said, they were very rarely inspected or the code was rarely enforced. In fact the story of how Deb Tranter got involved is that some 20 years ago she was tipped off about the existence of a puppy farm and she went looking for it — it was around the Ballarat area — and it took her quite a long time to find it.

In the end she just stumbled across it. Her description was that there were thousands of dogs in this place in terrible conditions, some of them living in barrels and many of them squashed into the same kennel — all frightened and terrified and traumatised. This is why we need to do something about puppy farms. As I said, it has been a long way to get here.

I would like to go briefly through the bill. It is quite a long bill, and it is quite complicated in terms of what it does. I think in terms of moving forward with this issue, as a public policy issue it certainly is at the forefront of what is going on in Australia.

Currently in Victoria a dog breeding business with more than three breeding dogs has to be registered as a domestic animal business. This bill will limit dog breeding businesses registered with councils to a maximum of 10 fertile dogs from April 2020. Commercial breeders will continue to be those establishments that have a maximum of 50 fertile dogs and will have to be approved by the minister and not just registered with the council. Owners with one or two fertile female cats or dogs will be defined as microbreeders and will not have to register with their council, but breeders with between three and 10 fertile female dogs or cats who are not members of an applicable organisation will be required to register with their council as a domestic animal business and comply with the code of practice.

Those breeders with between 11 and 50 fertile dogs will be defined as a commercial breeder, and they must register, as I said, as a DAB and apply to the minister for a commercial dog breeder approval. They will be subject to additional audits and inspections of premises as recommended by the chief veterinary officer. They also must register with the council and comply with the code. After 2020 no businesses with more than 50 fertile dogs will be allowed.

Mr Davis talked about this quite a lot, and he spoke about the numbers. To some extent the numbers are arbitrary, but as I described in the earlier part of my contribution, the larger the establishment, the more likely it is that the dogs are going to suffer from —

Mr Morris interjected.

The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Ramsay) — Mr Morris, you might want to direct your contribution through the Chair when it is your time to speak. Sorry for interrupting, Ms Pennicuik. I am just allowing you some free air.

Ms PENNICUIK — In terms of improvements in animal welfare for breeding cats and dogs in particular — because that is what we are talking about here, cats and dogs — the issue is that the larger the establishment, the more likely it is that animals will have to be kept in rows of kennels et cetera. The situation is that the puppy farms that I have described before that have been rampant throughout Victoria and are still around Australia are these larger establishments. They tend not to be smaller breeders. In terms of providing a homelike atmosphere and the opportunity to properly socialise dogs, keeping puppies with their mother for the appropriate amount of time and allowing for the appropriate amount of exercising of those dogs, the larger the establishment, the less likely it is that that can happen.

So there has to be some level at which the establishments cannot get any bigger.

I am looking at it from an animal welfare point of view because what has been going on up until now is completely unacceptable, and the community is completely opposed to puppy farms. So I do not agree with Mr Davis on that point or with the AVA either. I do agree with the points about breeding for temperament, but I also noticed when Mr Davis was talking about that that Ms Bath talked about genetics in terms of breeding. Well, people want to buy purebred dogs, but there is an issue, and I think it is one that requires more community attention than it has had, which is the breeding for certain traits in dogs which are not beneficial to those dogs — for example, certain breeds of dogs with very short legs that are being bred for shorter and shorter legs, and other attributes that dogs may have that are not good for the dogs. I think the community needs to pay more attention to that, because people might want those attributes in a dog, but they are not conducive to the welfare of those animals. That is another issue; it is not the issue that is covered by this bill.

Mr Davis talked about establishments going underground. One of the best parts of this bill is the provision establishing a pet exchange register. The bill will establish a register that all domestic animal businesses, microbreeders, recreational breeders and members of the public who are selling or giving away cats or dogs will be required to enrol in. Once they are enrolled a unique number will be generated which will enhance the traceability of cats and dogs. The bill will require domestic animal businesses to ensure they register their premises with local councils, and all the councils that currently keep individual registers of domestic animal businesses will be responsible for uploading and updating the details, with others to self-enrol on the register.

The register will have certain functions so that authorised officers of the RSPCA and officers of the department will be able to check that for the details of the registration of domestic animal businesses et cetera as well as the registration of the pets. Also, importantly — and this was an issue I raised with the minister — members of the public will be able to check on that register that the pet they are buying is actually registered there and that the provider is also registered. The department will maintain the register, which I also think is a good development.

Mr Davis also mentioned the RSPCA. They have written to me and said the following:

QUOTE NOT SUPPLIED IN TIME FOR VERIFICATION.

At present the RSPCA cannot account for where between 60 to 75 per cent of puppies in Victoria are bred. That is around 50 000 to 60 000 puppies a year.

They believe the first thing that needs to be done to stamp out poor welfare breeding in Victoria is to find out where puppies and kittens are actually being bred. The key strength, they believe, in this bill is the introduction of source numbers and the pet exchange register, and I agree; I think that is one of the key aspects of the bill.

Also it will become an offence to advertise a dog or a cat for sale online without its unique number; it will also be an offence for the advertiser to advertise that. I think that will prevent many of them from doing that, which they currently are.

There will be some cracking down on brokers, whom I mentioned before, that have been the middle people between the breeders and the purchasers. They will be required to register as well. Importantly the bill will make it an offence for a breeder to sell cats or dogs through a pet shop, and this is long-term Greens policy and we agree very strongly with it. I know the coalition is not supportive of that, but for us it seems to be a very key way of bringing forward the reforms in this area and making them work properly. Previously the puppies that were sold through pet shops were mainly sourced from puppy farms. I think all these issues put together are putting in place a very good scheme.

It is not a perfect bill. From the Greens perspective, I would rather see the number lower than 50, and I was supportive of the original number of 10. There is a part of the bill where members of applicable organisations with up to 10 fertile dogs or cats will not need to register with their local council as a DAB or comply with the code, and they will come under the definition of 'recreational breeder'. They must comply with the rules and codes of their organisations, but they will still have to be recorded on the pet exchange register. I would prefer that there was not that distinction and that all breeders had to be registered as domestic animal businesses and be required to comply with the code, even though the code is not perfect either.

The bill also introduces the ban on co-registration of businesses to inhibit the co-registration of breeding, shelter, pound and pet shop and prevent illegal breeders from establishing a supply chain — a vertical way of the one business doing the breeding, the brokering and the selling. The bill also addresses the issue of foster carers — individual foster carers and those in the community foster care network — and allows for voluntary registration, and limits the number of animals an individual foster care worker can have. But it does not really change the status of community foster care networks, and I know the minister has committed to do more work in that area.

The bill provides that primary producers will be entitled to register their dogs as farm working dogs. It introduces a couple of other amendments which are reasonably incidental. One is creating a scheme for the minister to declare bird organisations and to allow Victorian bird clubs to conduct bird sales after notifying the secretary. I think that is another area that needs to be looked at, which is the keeping, breeding and selling of birds. But again that is not covered in this bill. While the minister and others say those who are involved in it are committed to the welfare of the birds, not all are. I have certainly heard some horrible stories about the treatment of birds. Personally I do not like to see birds caged. That is my personal view, and I know there are a lot of people in the community who share the view that it is cruel to put birds in cages.

It is not a perfect bill. I disagree with the coalition; I would have liked to have seen it go further towards restricting the number of fertile dogs and cats that are allowed to be in domestic animal businesses. I think 50 is a bit too high, but I understand the reasons for that and the reasons that the minister and the government have decided to categorise microbreeders, recreational breeders and the larger domestic animal businesses. I am very pleased that it will not be possible to have a domestic animal business with more than 50 breeding pairs after a certain time.

Taking up Mr Davis's point that people will go interstate, I hope the rest of the country picks up these reforms. I would also like to see, perhaps in another five or 10 years once this has been bedded down, that we perhaps see the need to have even fewer than 50 dogs or cats in a breeding establishment for the reasons I have already outlined.

Just before I close I should mention that I have amendments to remove the exemptions, and I am happy to have those circulated.

Greens amendments circulated by Ms PENNICUIK (Southern Metropolitan) pursuant to standing orders.

Ms PENNICUIK — My amendments to clauses 5 and 48 remove the exemptions for Greyhound Racing Victoria greyhounds and have the effect that any breeding establishment for greyhounds would come under the definitions of this bill. That would not in my view preclude greyhound breeding establishments also having to comply with the Greyhound Racing Victoria code of practice and other regulations under the Racing Act 1958 et cetera.

Certainly greyhound racing breeding establishments can be subject to the same problems as other breeding establishments, and I see no reason why they should not come under this scheme as well. I have spoken in this place before about the scourge that greyhound racing. It involves something like 17 000 healthy greyhounds being euthanased for no particular reason every single year because they do not make good racers. The terrible history of overbreeding and killing of greyhounds is a disgrace. I note that Greyhound Racing Victoria in its most recent annual report claims to have reduced quite significantly the number of greyhounds that have been bred, but it is still a large number and they are still unable to rehome a vast majority of them. Despite the good efforts of Greyhound Racing Victoria's Greyhound Adoption Program and other greyhound adoption programs, they just cannot keep up with the number of greyhounds.

I was very disappointed to see that Greyhound Racing Victoria has just last month introduced another breeding incentive scheme, which is completely the wrong way to go. I should say to them that they should not be introducing breeding incentive schemes; they should be introducing disincentive schemes. That is what they promised the people of Victoria after the scandals and exposes about the large number of greyhounds that are killed every year. So to then introduce that is really reprehensible, and they should reverse that decision.

With those comments I am very pleased to see the bill here. I commend the government and the Minister for Agriculture. I know the minister has worked very hard with all the stakeholders. I know that since the bill was referred to the committee — and I attended the committee hearings and heard that some people said they had not been consulted, and I believe they have been since — there have been many changes made to the bill. That just shows you how the committee process can work well, by identifying problems with the bill and coming up with a bill that rectifies some of the issues that were raised by different stakeholders. Bearing in mind that stakeholders in this issue are coming from completely different points of the compass, you have to land somewhere in the middle. As I said, I do not think it is perfect, but I think it is a great step forward, and the Greens will be supporting it.