Domestic Animals Amendment (Restricted Breed Dogs) Bill 2017

I am pleased to speak on the Domestic Animals Amendment (Restricted Breed Dogs) Bill 2017. It is in fact a reasonably straightforward and simple bill that deals with a very complicated, complex and contested issue in the community.
Thursday, September 21, 2017 - 10:00am
Speaker:
Sue Pennicuik

Ms PENNICUIK (Southern Metropolitan) — I am pleased to speak on the Domestic Animals Amendment (Restricted Breed Dogs) Bill 2017. It is in fact a reasonably straightforward and simple bill that deals with a very complicated, complex and contested issue in the community. There have been several bills dealing with this issue over the time that I have been in Parliament, and of course some have been in response to the tragic death of Ayen Chol, who was attacked by what most people would agree was an American pit bull terrier. Some people would contest that. Let us say it was certainly an aggressive dog and certainly an unrestrained and unsupervised dog.

Having read the coroner's report into that dog attack, it was not just the tragic death of a four-year-old child; it was also everybody else in the house who was completely terrorised. Other people were injured as well. Nobody could read that coroner's report and not be terribly upset at what happened on that particular day. And of course that family lives with that tragedy forever, and so do people who know them and their extended family and friends.

Of course we know that the extent of dog attacks is not entirely known, because of course not all of them are reported and not everybody presents to a doctor or a hospital, but reading from the inquiry report into restricted breed dogs, which is really at the basis of the legislation that we are dealing with today, in the chair's foreword, and it is also in the report, the chair mentions that 836 Victorians were hospitalised because they were bitten or struck by a dog in 2013–14 and more than 1855 Victorians were treated in emergency departments as a result of dog attacks.

Of course the vast majority of dogs do not attack people or bite people, but when they do they can cause serious injuries, particularly to children. That is because — and I have mentioned this other times I have spoken on this type of legislation — children can be very friendly to dogs and can put their faces, their hands or other parts of their body very close to a dog. If a dog does choose to attack or bite, the child is at the same level as the dog. Of course that can severely affect a child for the rest of their life.

My own sister was not bitten by a dog but was chased by a dog when she was very young, and perhaps the dog would have bitten her, but my father pulled her up off the footpath. That has left her with a lifelong fear of dogs, which is a shame. I think she is sort of over it now, but certainly for many years she was very frightened of dogs. I think that is something that many people experience. But of course dogs are wonderful animals. They are woman's best friend, not to mention man's best friend and children's best friend. They are part of people's families. They bring much joy into everyone's lives, as we all know.

There are complicated issues that this Parliament has grappled with really over the whole time I have been here and before I was here. But the legislation that we have today that deals with repealing the previous legislation that had already changed earlier legislation is a result of the report of the inquiry into restricted breed dogs that the government agreed to initiate. The report is a very good report, and many people made submissions to it.

Of course part of the issue leading up to the genesis of the report were the practical problems that were experienced in particular by local councils in implementing and enforcing the provisions of the existing legislation. I spoke at length on that, and I will not go through all of that again, but the Greens at the time were very concerned about the ability for councils to euthanase dogs that were not registered within a very quick period of time — I think it was nine days — and we thought that was uncalled for. Of course then we had the moratorium, which expires on the 30th of this month.

Even before the inquiry we were hearing about the issues of dog owners appealing against the decisions of councils about whether or not they were a restricted breed dog. There are very few restricted breed dogs. I have to refer to my notes because I can never remember them all, but they are the dogo Argentino, the fila Brasileiro, the Japanese tosa, the presa Canario and the pit bull terrier, or American pit bull terrier. I have had a look, not just lately but also in the past when we have dealt with this issue, at those dogs and what sort of dogs they are. Let us just take the American pit bull terrier out for a moment. The others are very formidable looking dogs, that is for sure. I probably would be a little bit nervous if I were to encounter one that was not on a leash. But in some ways it is an academic argument because those dogs cannot be imported into Australia or bred in Australia, so as far as anyone knows they are not in Australia.

This bill, though, in implementing recommendation 22 of the report, theoretically allows those dogs to be registered as restricted breed dogs even though at the commonwealth level they cannot be imported into the country. Of course that is still the case with American pit bull terriers as well. So the bill allows all restricted breed dogs to now be registered as restricted breed dogs and to be kept according to the requirements for restricted breed dogs, which is to have mandatory signage on the property, to microchip and desex the dog, to ensure the dog wears a mandatory collar and to ensure the dog is muzzled and leashed when outside of the property.

In terms of that, the bill allows for American pit bull terriers or pit bull terriers to be registered as restricted breed dogs. That takes away the problem, I think, of councils holding dogs and euthanasing dogs. Because there were guidelines issued by the department to assist councils and other people in identifying pit bull terriers as American pit bull terriers or another type of terrier, not an American pit bull terrier, that is where the problem occurred and that is where the disagreements occurred between dog owners and councils, and that resulted in many councils appearing at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal and lots of ratepayers money being spent — thousands of dollars — on defending those decisions of councils.

What I would say with this bill is that there is now a requirement on an owner of a restricted breed dog to register it as a restricted breed dog to comply with the requirements that go with that. I am not convinced that people will do that necessarily or that the disputes about what is and what is not a restricted breed dog will lessen, because the ramifications of such a dispute will be different and it will just be about whether the dog is properly registered or not — registered as, I do not know, another breed of terrier which is not a restricted breed dog, and therefore the owner would only have to comply with the normal requirements of the keeping of any dog that is not a restricted breed dog or a dangerous dog. Because of the extra requirements when you own a restricted breed dog and you register it as a restricted breed dog, I just feel that many people may assert that their dog is not a restricted breed dog. So I do not think the problem will necessarily go away, if that is what the intent of the bill is.

If the intent of the bill is to do away with breed-specific legislation, it does not necessarily totally do that, because dogs will still have to be registered as restricted breed dogs, and I think there will still be disputes about the breed of dogs when they go to be registered. I think that will still happen, because I cannot see how this bill will change that.

I note that in subsequent recommendations — that is, recommendations 23, 24 and 25 — the committee recommended that if a restricted breed dog was to commit an offence that is already an offence under section 29 of the Domestic Animals Act 1994, which is to rush at a person, if it was found to be a restricted breed dog and it had not been registered as such there should be an increase in the penalty. Further, if a restricted breed dog was to bite or injure a person and it had not been registered as a restricted breed dog, there should be an extra penalty over and above the penalty that is already there for any dog that does that. Under section 29 there already is a penalty for the owner if a dog bites or injures a person. So I am not sure that problem will totally go away. I think there will still be disputes about the identification of restricted breeds, but the ramifications of that will not be the same.

Some other changes in the bill include clarification that a dangerous dog is a dog that is kept or at any time has been kept as a guard dog for the purpose of guarding a non-residential premises or that it is a dog that has at any time been trained to attack or bite any person or anything attached to a person. And a new section is inserted into the bill to make it an offence to not advise a person acquiring a dangerous dog that it is a dangerous dog, and this must be given in writing.

The bill also removes the registration fee of $2 for cats and $3.50 for dogs and replaces it with a single fee of $4 for animal registration. The fee of $10 for a domestic animal business remains unchanged. That is the amount of money from the registration of a dog or cat that actually goes to the Treasurer or to the government to fund the responsible dog ownership programs and safety programs which are needed in the community to make sure that people are responsible in their pet ownership. As the committee report points out, some people are very cavalier with regard to their ownership of pets.

Ms Shing — King Charles cavalier.

Mr Morris — King Charles — yes, that's what I was thinking.

Ms PENNICUIK — I knew that was going to be taken as a pun as soon as I said it.

Mr Gepp — Who's listening?

Ms PENNICUIK — Ms Shing and Mr Gepp have been listening to me at least, and so has Mr Morris.

Of course, as I said before, many people are very responsible in their dog ownership. Millions of people in Australia love their pets, treat them well and are responsible, but there are some who are not, and that is why we need laws to cover those people who do not take their ownership of a pet, which is a living being, seriously enough or do not take enough care with the safety aspects of owning a pet.

One of the other issues that was raised by the committee, and this is actually recommendation 2 of the committee's report, was the recommendation that non-Greyhound Racing Victoria greyhounds — that is, non-racing greyhounds — that are owned as pets be no longer muzzled. As I said, that was the second recommendation of the report. The committee heard a lot of evidence about that particular issue and made that recommendation on the strength of the evidence.

The government's response to the committee report was released a year ago in September 2016. The government said in its response to that report that it would not do that until the department had undertaken further research and a review into that issue. A year later the research into that issue and the review is still not forthcoming. Nobody really knows — I certainly do not know — what the terms of reference of that review are, but it has been 12 months and we still have no results.

Recently in the Parliament, on 22 August, I tabled an e-petition from the Greyhound Equality Society, with 1908 signatures. It drew to the attention of the Legislative Council the recommendation of the committee that non-racing greyhounds no longer be required to be muzzled. They say in the wording of their petition:

We would also like to draw to the attention of the house that the following organisations and government offices also fully support ending the requirement for non-racing greyhounds to be muzzled in Victoria: Australian Veterinary Association, RSPCA, NSW Greyhound Industry Reform Panel, the ACT government and Greyhound Racing Victoria.

The petition called for the muzzling requirement to be repealed from the act. Mr Hibbins also tabled a petition, which was signed by 2048 people, in the Legislative Assembly on 7 September, which brings it to a total of 3956 people, or nearly 4000, who have signed those petitions.

The Greyhound Equality Society have also raised with me the fact that all private greyhound rescue groups report that one of the main deterrents to adopting a greyhound is the muzzling legislation and that while it is still in place many unwanted greyhounds continue to be killed while the government procrastinates over the very simple change in the law that could be brought about. On that point I would go on to say that in the most recent report from Greyhound Racing Victoria — and I am not sure if they issued one today; I have not followed that through, but I certainly will be looking, because annual reports are starting to be tabled — there was an admission to more than 3000 greyhounds being euthanased in the state of Victoria. The racing integrity commissioner estimated that more than 4000 greyhounds every year were euthanased in Victoria when they had either finished their racing life or had not been prize-winning greyhounds — that is, greyhounds that were not making money for their owners. While the Greyhound Adoption Program (GAP) does a good job in and of itself, it does not make much of a dent in terms of the number of greyhounds that are euthanased. It does not even reach 10 per cent of the number of greyhounds that are retired from greyhound racing. Ninety per cent of them are euthanased, and that is the sad fact.

That is why the Greens continue to call for greyhound racing to be banned across Australia. Of course it is occurring in less and less countries. In fact nearly all American states have banned it now. Australia and Northern Ireland are the only two countries in the world where greyhound racing operates and where non-racing greyhounds are required to be muzzled. If it is not causing a problem in other countries of the world and if organisations such as the veterinary association, the RSPCA and Greyhound Racing Victoria are behind or supportive of the removal of the requirement for non-racing greyhounds to be muzzled and the committee that looked at all the evidence given during its hearings has made the same recommendation, I am not sure why we are not be following that recommendation — and yet we are following the recommendation to allow restricted breed dogs to be registered. You would have to say that that could have the same set of risks, which the government will no doubt tell me, as removing the requirement for muzzling would have. Any dog that is not on a leash when outside their property could rush someone or bite someone, and that is why we have section 29 in the act — to make it an offence if a dog that is not leashed does that.

I am not sure that this particular amendment I have drawn up to remove this requirement is technically allowed to be circulated, given it is an amendment that is outside the scope of the bill and I have not moved the motion.

The ACTING PRESIDENT (Ms Dunn) — It is fine to circulate that amendment, and it has in fact happened before in the house.

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

Ms PENNICUIK — In effect it is a very simple amendment to section 27 of the act that would remove the requirement for a non-racing greyhound to be muzzled but keep the requirement for a greyhound that is not a racing greyhound but is a pet greyhound to be on a leash at all times when outside a property, which is basically the requirement for any dog unless in off-leash areas designated by a council. This requirement would still prevail. This amendment would still mean greyhounds would have to be on a leash at all times when outside a property. So it is a fairly simple amendment. It is one that has been called for for a long time, and it is one that has been discussed for a long time.

This bill is enacting recommendations from the inquiry into restricted breeds. This amendment relates to recommendation 2, and we are with this bill implementing recommendation 22, so there are a whole lot of other recommendations that have not been implemented. They are not necessarily legislative recommendations, I should add. I would have thought that this would have been the perfect opportunity to do that, and the government should have sped up its review and had that completed in time for the debate on the bill that is before us now.

Without wanting to put words in the mouth of the minister, who I know wants to make some remarks following my contribution, I have had some discussions with her. The government have concerns about this amendment. They have raised concerns with me, which I am still not sure are supported by the evidence put forward by other parties on this issue, but I will be very interested to hear what the minister has to say about that and what proposals the minister could put forward to move this issue forward to achieve the ends that we want to see.

I think everyone wants to see greyhounds adopted through the Greyhound Adoption Program. I thank the minister's office for pointing out to me that it has been gazetted that greyhounds that have been through the Greyhound Adoption Program successfully do not have to be muzzled. It is only greyhounds that are adopted as pets that have not been through that program that do have to be. I point out to the government that there are other adoption programs responsible for rehoming greyhounds. They should have been covered in that gazettal notice as well, which would probably leave very few greyhounds that have not been through either the GAP or other programs. These issues have been raised with me recently by the government. I have certainly flagged my intention to do this for quite a while, so I will be listening very carefully to what the minister has to say about this issue and during the committee stage.
Previous DocumentMsNext Document PENNICUIK (Southern Metropolitan) — I move:

That it be an instruction to the committee that they have the power to consider amendments and a new clause to amend the Domestic Animals Act 1994 to remove the requirement for a non-racing greyhound to be muzzled when outside the premises of its owner.

As I mentioned in my contribution to the second-reading debate, the Clerk and parliamentary counsel have advised me that my amendment is outside the scope of the bill. However, it does deal with a recommendation from the committee into breed-specific legislation. The bill deals with recommendation 22 of that committee, and my amendment would deal with recommendation 2 of that committee, which is to remove the requirement for non-racing greyhounds to be muzzled when they are outside a property.

I take the opportunity to now respond a little bit to what the minister said in her summing up of the bill with regard to the review that the government is undertaking into this particular issue, as they foreshadowed in their response to the recommendation a year ago. The minister stated that completion of that review is about a month away, and she is encouraging me to not proceed with this amendment. I am choosing to move the motion because I want to take the issue into committee to further discuss the ramifications of this amendment with the minister and to get more advice on those ramifications.

As I said during the second-reading debate, there are organisations like Greyhound Racing Victoria, like the RSPCA, like the Australian Veterinary Association, like any number of vets who deal with greyhounds, like the Greyhound Equality Society and like the other not-for-profit greyhound rehoming organisations who do a wonderful job in the community that all want to see this requirement removed. It has already been removed for those greyhounds that have successfully gone through the Greyhound Adoption Program. I would really like to know how many dogs there are apart from that left looking to be rehomed.

As I say I doubt that the large number of organisations who have overwhelmingly supported the removal of this requirement that is currently in the act would be doing so lightly and would not already have undertaken extensive research into the area. I think there are still more issues to be explored in committee on this issue. I do not think everything was necessarily covered in the minister's response, so that is why I would like to move the motion to allow us to at least get into committee to consider the amendments.

To read more of the debate in committee, click here.