Page 2144 - Week 07 - Wednesday, 22 June 2005

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cruelty, to deal with offenders and to gather sufficient evidence for a successful prosecution is generally inadequate. It is also very difficult to prosecute a cruelty case because of a swag of loopholes and defences in the legislation, including section 20, which provides defences for commercial cruelty, allowing battery hen farms to breach cruelty provisions every day.

The ACT Greens had legislation passed in the Assembly to ban the sale of eggs produced through battery farming. This legislation was never enacted because it required the agreement of all state and territory governments as well as the commonwealth government. The momentum has been growing about legal issues surrounding animal welfare, both in the ACT and in other jurisdictions. The New South Wales government recently established an animal cruelty task force and Animals Australia recently set up a new division about animals and the law.

If we are serious about preventing cruelty to animals and genuinely want to reduce recidivism amongst those convicted of such crimes, we need to address the cause of the behaviour, particularly when there have been deliberate acts of cruelty above and beyond the crime of neglect. This includes paying attention to the circumstances in which acts of cruelty are committed, which often include the presence of mental health issues, drug and alcohol misuse, and other complex problems.

I have personal experience of seeing animal neglect in a situation where the offender was experiencing a complex range of personal problems, resulting in harm to her children and other family members as well as to the animal concerned. That person was convicted in that case, but I have to say that that conviction would have done absolutely nothing for any future relationships she might have with animals, which hopefully this person will not engage in any more.

The close relationship between harm to animals and harm to humans highlighted in this example is not uncommon. There is a growing body of evidence that indicates that many people who commit acts of violence against humans, including domestic violence and/or general bullying and violent antisocial behaviours, have a history of being cruel to animals. Cruelty to animals can signal an underlying problem with violence and/or a psychiatric disorder.

The last time that a bill of this nature was before the Assembly, the Democrats sought to amend the legislation to include a mandatory psychological assessment linked to appropriate counselling or treatment. That is not uncommon in the United States, where a number of states have provisions for mandatory assessment of juvenile offenders. The ACT Greens did not support that proposal because we do not want to impose a mandatory sentencing requirement on ACT courts. However, we do feel that the court could make better use of existing provisions for ordering psychological assessments when warranted.

We also believe that appropriate penalties for cruelty to animals go beyond fines and jail terms. Magistrates should be encouraged to look at individual circumstances, which may include a psychological assessment, wherever appropriate. Furthermore, magistrates should have discretion to impose a range of penalties beyond fines and jail terms—for example, restrictions on owning animals, with provisions for monitoring and enforcing

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