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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2006 Week 13 Hansard (12 December) . . Page.. 3987..

MR HARGREAVES (continuing):

In line with recent New South Wales practice, the bill seeks to ensure that dogs which have escaped from premises and caused offence are not returned to their owners before the conditions giving rise to the offences are addressed. The bill will require the statutory 28-day return period for a seized dog to commence on the date of seizure rather than the date of the offence. This will allow domestic animal services officers more time to undertake suitable remedial measures. To further strengthen enforcement, the bill will allow the domestic animals registrar to refuse the return of a dog to its owner until certain conditions are met.

Currently, all cats in the territory are required to be desexed by six months of age. However, young female cats can breed at five months of age. Making desexing compulsory by three months of age should help reduce the large number of stray cats and kittens which the RSPCA euthanises each year during the breeding season. There are no negative effects on the health and wellbeing of cats attributable to desexing at three months. Reducing the level of unwanted breeding in cats should also reduce the numbers of stray and feral cats which are significant predators on native wildlife in urban Canberra.

Processing complaints about animal nuisance can be time consuming and stressful for all concerned. Under part 6 of the act, animal nuisance notices may be issued prior to initiating formal court proceedings against an owner whose animal causes excessive disturbance as defined under the act. To reduce uncertainty and better define these procedures, the bill gives me, the minister, the power to issue animal nuisance guidelines as a disallowable instrument. The guidelines my department would develop would be subject to public consultation and Assembly scrutiny before approval.

In addition to giving advice on keeping dogs and cats, officers of my department and domestic animal services are routinely asked to give advice on the keeping of a much wider range of domestic animals, such as pigs, horses, pigeons, rabbits, goats and bees, yet there are often no clear guidelines available for such animals. Where significant gaps in the regulatory framework exist, the bill amends the act to allow mandatory codes of practice for keeping animals to be developed, subject to public consultation.

Currently, no more than three dogs may be kept at a residential premise unless a person obtains a multiple dog licence. In response to public submissions, and to treat dog and cat owners equitably, the bill also restricts the keeping of cats to three, unless the person obtains a multiple cat licence. Similar to dogs, decisions by the registrar on the keeping of multiple cats will also be subject to appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

Currently, declaring dog prohibited areas by suitably located signs is the only means available. By adding the power to declare dog prohibited areas by disallowable instrument, the bill will cause these areas to be mapped as part of the declaration process. In addition to relying on signs, this will help the public become better informed of the precise extent and location of these areas, which will help encourage awareness and assist with enforcement.

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