I am pleased to rise today to speak about animal welfare in the ACT and also the role played by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the RSPCA, in the context of our legal framework. Animal welfare is, of course, broader than the maintenance and care for companion animals, but in Canberra’s largely urban environment pets are generally what we think of when we think of animal welfare in the ACT.
At 63 per cent, Australia has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world.
Dogs and cats are the most common pets with 39 per cent of households owning a dog and 29 per cent of households owning a cat. For the most part, Canberrans love their animals and treat them as part of the family. The great majority of us are distressed to hear reports of animal mistreatment and are very supportive of the role that organisations like the RSPCA play in our community. The RSPCA was established to promote animal welfare. It is an organisation created by the community and driven by strong community support.
The RSPCA’s history in Australia dates back to 1871 when a public meeting to discuss the ill treatment of horses in Victoria led to the formation of Australia’s first Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Other states followed, with the RSPCA ACT formed in 1955. In 1923 the societies were given the royal warrant, becoming known as the Royal Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. In May 1980 the eight state and territory RSPCA societies agreed unanimously to form a properly constituted national organisation.
Since its beginnings, the RSPCA has fought relentlessly against animal cruelty. It has witnessed dramatic and positive change in the way that animals are treated within our society and has persistently lobbied for and achieved improvements in legislation governing animal welfare. The RSPCA is now one of the most recognised and most respected non-government organisations in Australia. I recently visited the RSPCA at their base in the Molonglo valley to drop off a cheque for nearly $200 raised by people here in the Assembly for cupcake day for the RSPCA.
It was great to see the work they are doing and to check on Elsa, the kitten that was badly burned when she was abandoned at the RSPCA in August. I was able to find out more about the kinds of pressures on their resources that they deal with every day. Tammy Ven Dange and her team do a great job, whether it is rescuing kittens, shearing overgrown sheep or assisting dogs to find their forever home. We must help them to continue to do their good work.
Animal management in the ACT is regulated through the Animal Welfare Act 1992, the Domestic Animals Act 2000 and the Nature Conservation Act 1980. The Animal Welfare Act regulates offences related to animals, such as animal cruelty, and is administered by the Territory and Municipal Services Directorate. The act provides the framework for standards for the care and use of animals that achieves a reasonable balance between the welfare of animals and that of their owners.
The Act also has a range of enforcement powers to promote and monitor acceptable standards of care and protect animals from cruelty or welfare offences. In addition, the act allows the chief executive to appoint inspectors for the purposes of enforcing the act. Officers from within the RSPCA have been appointed as inspectors due to their outstanding knowledge of the types of actions or omissions of actions that constitute an offence under the Act.
Under the current arrangement, the RSPCA operates an animal welfare inspectorate with responsibilities that include responding to and investigating allegations of neglect, suffering and the abuse of animals; referring for prosecution alleged offenders for breaches of the Animal Welfare Act 1992; and providing shelter and care for seized animals.
The RSPCA ACT is also responsible for the provision of an animal shelter, which includes providing care for stray and surrendered cats, dogs and other domestic animals; housing seized, surrendered, stray and injured cats, dogs and other animals; and providing education to the ACT community to promote responsible pet ownership and the importance of animal welfare.
The RSPCA ACT is funded by the ACT government to provide these services. The current service funding agreement for 2015-16 provides funding of $698,124. Work is about to commence on a new service funding agreement. In addition to the work undertaken by the RSPCA ACT, the Territory and Municipal Services Directorate also have officers who are responsible for ensuring the welfare of animals in the ACT.
The government is currently working on a broad range of strategies that include the delivery of animal welfare services in the ACT. The ACT government has been at the forefront of the development of animal welfare legislation in Australia. In 2000 the ACT became the first jurisdiction in Australia to ban the tail docking of dogs, and this has subsequently been adopted in every other state and territory. In 2001 the ACT became the first jurisdiction to make the desexing of dogs and cats compulsory by six months of ageunless a permit is obtained to keep them intact.
Compulsory desexing for cats is now required in Western Australia, and in South Australia the government is considering legislation similar to that of the ACT after a community consultation came out in favour of the move. A more recent example of ACT government reform, as you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, from all your good work, is the new animal breeding legislation to outlaw puppy and kitten farms in the ACT, introduced on 15 September 2015.
Breeders will now need to adhere to declared minimum standards covering areas such as the age at which a dog or cat can be bred, the number of litters they can have and the frequency with which they can be bred. People found responsible for the intensive breeding of female dogs and cats can now be charged up to $15,000 for an individual and $75,000 for a corporation that exploits animals for the pet market.
The ACT government has demonstrated an ongoing commitment to implementing sensible and progressive animal welfare legislation and this will continue into the future I am sure. During this year’s budget estimates process we heard from the CEO of the RSPCA ACT, Tammy Ven Dange. She outlined a number of concerns around the operation of animal welfare laws in Canberra, particularly around the perceived need for amendments to allow RSPCA officials to undertake their roles more effectively.
The RSPCA provided the committee with a summary of key areas of proposed reform to legislation, including a civil bond process for violations of the Animal Welfare Act; changes to the Animal Welfare Act to allow for recovery of costs to be awarded as part of a guilty verdict, at least for medical costs incurred; limiting the number of animals in a residence; amendments to seizure powers; additional enforcement powers; minor amendments to current offences and new offences under the Animal Welfare Act; and clarification in relation to ancillary offences and penalty reviews. The estimates committee agreed that the legislative issues highlighted by the organisation warranted further investigation.
Ms Ven Dange went on to provide an overview of the recent activities of the organisation and some of the challenges they face. She explained that the RSPCA have been taking on more resource-intensive activities, such as animal control and enforcement, on behalf of the government, that fall outside the RSPCA’s core work of prevention of cruelty to animals, and have been working to develop relationships with local organisations and rescue groups, but there are no comparable organisations in the ACT with the expertise and facilities of the RSPCA.
She advised further of the need for collaboration with similar NGOs and government around preventive approaches to animal neglect and abuse and cross-agency communication with ACT Housing, mental health teams and the Australian Federal Police. The estimates committee agreed that the work undertaken by the RSPCA should be commended and also noted the importance of collaboration and education and promoting animal welfare across the territory.
In light of this, the committee recommended the government develop a long-term strategy for the delivery of animal welfare services, including preventive investment and educational approaches. In the government’s response to the report, it was noted that, given recent changes at the RSPCA, preparatory work on developing a long-term strategy for animal welfare services in the ACT is underway. This is great news, and I am pleased to have the chance to again reiterate today the need for a long-term strategy. Investment is also important.
We need to consider not only resourcing but also a more efficient use of the resources we already have. This can mean looking at improved preventative investment and education that sees fewer animals in danger in the first place, ensuring different agencies of government and animal welfare organisations are sharing appropriate information and working together to prevent and punish abuse and neglect, and legislative reforms to ensure inspectors are appropriately supported by legal processes.
The aim of both the ACT government and the RSPCA is to proactively take steps to improve animal welfare rather than responding to terrible cases of cruelty when they occur. As always, prevention is better than cure, and long-term planning is key. Canberrans love their animals and we hate to think of any animal being mistreated or neglected. But, sadly, it does happen.
In 2014-15 RSPCA ACT inspectors did some amazing work in sometimes distressing circumstances with nine successful prosecutions compared with none the year before, 22 matters awaiting court decisions compared with three the year before, and 981 animals either seized or surrendered to inspectors this year. In better news, for the second year in a row the RSPCA ACT had the highest number of kitten adoptions ever recorded, beating last year’s record by 76 kittens, or nine per cent, and also had the lowest number of adult cats and dogs euthanased ever recorded.
In addition, on a lighter note, in this week leading up to the Rugby World Cup final, I note that the discovery of Chris the sheep on Mulligans Flat was another opportunity for Australia and New Zealand to face off in a contest, and in this event Chris from Mulligans Flat won the day with the heaviest coat ever discovered on a sheep. So that is notch one up to Australia and let us see what happens in the final of the Rugby World Cup this weekend. I know that the ACT government is committed to working with the RSPCA and other animal welfare groups to consistently improve outcomes for companion and agricultural animals in Canberra. I look forward to seeing what comes from the ongoing consultation process and trust that we will continue to be one of the most proactive jurisdictions with regard to animal welfare in the world. I hope members can support this motion today, and I look forward to further debate in 2016.