Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2014 Week 9 Hansard (18 September) . .
MR COE (Ginninderra) (4.19): The opposition will be supporting the Domestic Animals Amendment Bill 2014. The bill makes amendments to the Domestic Animals Act to ensure that greater penalties are in place for individuals who allow their dogs to cause serious injury to another person or animal. While the courts have always had the flexibility to impose a punishment which was consistent with the seriousness of a dog attack, these amendments specifically raise the maximum penalty when a dog attack seriously injures a person or animal.
Dog attacks are not frequently reported in the ACT but their occurrence is common. Last year Domestic Animal Services reported 284 such attacks. This number is too high, and these amendments will hopefully lead to more responsible dog ownership.
The bill firstly inserts section 49A into the act, which replaces the existing section 50. Essentially, section 49A is a redrafting of section 50 which creates an offence when a dog's carer or keeper allows their dog to attack or harass another person or animal.
The bill, however, makes a couple of substantial changes to the law. Firstly, this section will now become an offence of strict liability. It is hoped by this change that it will become easier to prosecute a dog's carer or keeper when their dog attacks or harasses another person or animal. Secondly, the destroying of a dog is no longer the default position for dogs that have attacked or harassed a person or animal.
The biggest change made by this bill is the addition of the new section 50. This new section will make it an offence if a person intentionally or recklessly does or omits to do something which allows their dog to attack or harass another person or animal and that person or animal is seriously injured. Serious injury is defined in the bill as one which endangers or is likely to endanger a person's life or an injury which is or is likely to be a significant or longstanding injury. The maximum penalty under this offence is 100 penalty units, imprisonment for one year, or both.
Section 50 is designed to ensure that, as the seriousness of the dog attack increases, so do the penalties for the dog's carer or keeper. This is only fair. The lasting effects of these dog attacks, not only physically but mentally, should be considered in judgement.
Finally, section 50A remains the same. When a declared dangerous dog is involved in a dog attack the punishment is a maximum of 100 penalty units, one year imprisonment, or both. The bill however adds section 50(A)(2) to the act. This section will apply when a declared dangerous dog is involved in a dog attack which causes a serious injury to a person or animal. The punishment on conviction under this section is 500 penalty units, five years imprisonment, or both. The inclusion of this section continues on the theme of the amendments that, as the seriousness of the offence increases, so do the penalties. Owners with previously declared dangerous dogs should be aware of the higher restrictions placed on dog ownership and should ensure that their dog is not involved in a dog attack.
Like all pieces of legislation, this bill, if enacted, will need to be enforced properly. I hope the strict liability provisions do not have unintended consequences. If they do, the opposition will move subsequent amendments.
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