Page 2142 - Week 07 - Wednesday, 22 June 2005

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bill is identical in form to the one tabled by Mr Stefaniak in May 2004, although I note that Mr Stefaniak has reconsidered the levels of penalties proposed. The bill did not receive government support then and the arguments that applied then are still relevant today.

Since the debate on the 2004 bill, an amendment has been included within the Animal Welfare Act 1992 to allow the court to make an order to require a person to submit to psychological assessment in offences involving violence against animals. This amendment addresses particular concerns that were raised by the RSPCA and the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee regarding the link between animal cruelty behaviour, by children in particular, and subsequent violent antisocial crimes against people. Also, the government has announced its intention to create an additional offence for instances where a person’s reckless or negligent behaviour results in serious harm or death to an animal. These two provisions recognise particular areas of concern.

Increasing the range of penalties available will not see any magistrate obliged to impose a higher level of penalty for an offence. That is a simplistic approach to an important community issue and it is not the way the court system works. Giving magistrates access to higher penalty levels for a number of animal welfare offences will not mean that magistrates will increase all fines imposed on persons convicted of an offence. Imposing a level of penalty is not an arbitrary act and many issues are considered prior to a magistrate imposing a penalty.

I note that Mr Stefaniak has considerably reduced the proposed penalties in the bill from the five-year maximum jail term that he proposed last year. Prosecution for offences with penalties of this magnitude would have to be pursued in the Supreme Court before a judge and jury. I can only assume that Mr Stefaniak agrees with the government that such an approach would be difficult to justify in terms of additional costs, delays and ultimate effectiveness.

It is clear to me that the government and the Assembly have moved on since the initial debate on appropriate penalty levels for animal welfare cases. However, as this matter is again before the Assembly, I will raise a number of points which were raised during the original debate and which are still relevant. The bill proposes that some, not all, animal welfare offences under these two acts be increased. The nominated increases seem to be arbitrary or piecemeal in their inclusion, with no consideration to the adequacy of existing penalties.

When considering amending penalties within ACT statutes there should always be consistency with other penalties. This bill puts the maximum penalty available to a magistrate for an animal welfare offence at $20,000 and/or two years imprisonment. That is double the present maximum penalties available. In terms of imprisonment, they are equivalent to those of common assault against a person, neglect of children or grievous bodily harm. Whilst not for a moment implying that an offence against an animal is not a serious matter, the government cannot, as a matter of principle, agree that it is equivalent to serious offences against a person. The proposed penalty provisions are not appropriate and cannot be supported by the government.

Mr Stefaniak has said that a person can be jailed for a maximum of two years for committing the offence of slapping someone on the face. Mr Stefaniak must have a poor

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