Page 2143 - Week 07 - Wednesday, 22 June 2005

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opinion of a magistrate’s judgment if he believes that a two-year jail term would ever be given for such a minor matter. In contrast, it could be argued that a person who fails to provide adequate shelter for their animal will receive a two-year jail term just because their dog got a bit wet sheltering under the patio during a rainstorm while they were at work. Magistrates are considered and reasonable people. Such extraordinary abuse of their powers is not an accusation that this government will support.

This bill attempts to increase what Mr Stefaniak has described in the past as woefully inadequate animal welfare penalties. That is simply not the case. It was not the case in May 2004 and it is not the case now. The ACT animal welfare penalties are consistent with those available elsewhere in Australia. In all offences that have been identified within this bill for increase, the ACT already has a higher maximum penalty than those determined in New South Wales.

The government is in agreement with Mr Stefaniak in its abhorrence of acts of violence resulting in cruelty to animals. Offences of this kind need to be appropriately dealt with. However, randomly increasing the maximum penalty levels for some of the offences listed under these acts will not mean that magistrates will automatically double the penalties imposed upon conviction. There needs to be direction provided to magistrates to allow an assessment of the intent behind an act of cruelty.

The government has already announced its intention to amend the Animal Welfare Act to create a new offence of reckless or negligent behaviour resulting in serious harm to or the death of an animal. I will ignore the proposed increase in the maximum penalties for uncommenced provisions under the Animal Welfare Act. The proposal was not appropriate the first time it was raised and having it sit for nine months before re-presenting it to the Assembly has not improved it. Accordingly, the government does not support the proposed amendments to the two principal acts.

DR FOSKEY (Molonglo) (11.57): The ACT Greens believe that all sentient beings should be treated with compassion and respect. We are opposed to animal cruelty in any form, including intensive farming methods and the use of animals in experimentation and entertainment, as well as wilful neglect and deliberate acts of cruelty.

I support the intent of this bill. I understand that agencies such as the RSPCA are sometimes frustrated by the low levels of fines imposed on perpetrators of cruelty against animals and believe that increasing maximum penalties for animal cruelty will send a clear message to both magistrates and the public that the community takes animal cruelty very seriously.

However, I believe that increasing penalties on its own is not enough. It is unlikely that higher penalties will have a strong preventative impact, nor that maximum penalties will be applied in many cases. It is also unlikely that the imposition of a fine or jail term will address the underlying causes of the perpetrator’s behaviour. To quote Animal Liberation ACT, “Absurdly low penalties are merely the problem at the tail end”—I am sure there was no pun intended—“of a very long series of impediments to adequate legislative protection for animals.”

By far the majority of acts of cruelty against animals are either not detected or not prosecuted. The capacity of animal welfare agencies to investigate suspected cases of

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