Legislative Assembly for the ACT: Week 8 Hansard (4 August) . . Page.. 3458..
MR STANHOPE (continuing):
It is not appropriate for animal welfare legislation to single out a matter that is already addressed more comprehensively by specific legislation. The government will also be opposing the amendment designed to ensure that the penalty for negligence causing harm to an animal does not exceed the penalty for negligence causing grievous bodily harm to a human. The government believes that the penalty is high. The levels that currently exist in the Animal Welfare Act are properly balanced and are more consistent with the comparable seriousness that the community expects in respect to harm to humans and harm to animals. Accordingly, the government will not support the proposed amendments.
MR STEFANIAK (5.04), in reply: I am somewhat disappointed in the government's approach, although I am not surprised by it. Quite clearly from what the Chief Minister has indicated, this is a case of: "Why didn't we think of it? That is a good idea. Let us find some spurious excuse to knock it out, do some work ourselves and catch up so we get ownership of it."I introduced this bill because I had a lengthy conversation with Simon Tadd from the RSPCA. He has been very disappointed for many years at the inadequate penalties available to a court for cruelty to animals.
Mr Stanhope: He has never raised that at the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee.
MR STEFANIAK: That is a pity. I think he might have after we had some correspondence. There was something in the media about it several months ago. But he has certainly been quite concerned about that, and it does not surprise me. Over at least a couple of decades magistrates have raised this very point. To those of you who think maximum penalties are ever really imposed-maybe they should be-it is a fact of life in courts around Australia, and especially in the ACT, that it is very rare for a maximum penalty to be imposed. I can think of one occasion in the ACT where John Gallop in the Supreme Court used the maximum penalty of 12 years as a head sentence in a particular case. I cannot think of any other instances of serious matters where that has occurred.
I would be scratching my head to even think where it is applied in PCA matters where, for example, there was a $3,000 maximum penalty. I can think of someone who got a $2,000 penalty once, but even there it was someone who had committed about 10 offences, and the magistrate used a high fine, rather than jail the person, otherwise he would have been in jail before the maximum was reached. Anyone who thinks, "Oh yes, it is a one-year maximum, the court should do that,"is showing their ignorance. History is against it.
Simon Tadd has indicated quite clearly in his conversation to me-and I thought it was fairly simple-that the penalties for more serious types of matters involving cruelty to animals need to be increased. It is a sad and disappointing day that champions of civil liberties like Mr Stanhope and Ms Tucker-unless Ms Tucker has a re-think about this-are going to knock out the most significant part of this bill, that is, to bring penalties into line with approximately where they should be. I am quite amazed to hear the Chief Minister say-and again it is an absolutely spurious suggestion-that these penalties will make the maximum penalty a bit more than two times higher than the penalty for common assault. Common assault is touching someone who does not want to be touched, maybe slapping someone-not drawing blood, not breaking any bones, not necessarily leaving any marks. Common assault is the lowest form of assault for a human.