Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment Bill 2015

Ms GRALEY (Narre Warren South) — It is a pleasure on this very warm afternoon to rise and speak on the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment Bill 2015. I note that other speakers have referred to it as the POCTA bill, and during my brief contribution I will take the liberty of referring to it in this way as well.

I am very pleased to hear that the opposition is supporting this bill, though I note members opposite have spent quite a bit of time in their contributions patting themselves on the back for all the hard work they say they did in government — they did not do anything in government, and they are certainly not doing much in opposition, that is for sure. What we do know is that the bill is now before the house because the Andrews Labor government has brought it here. One of the reasons the opposition did not get this bill to the house when it was in government — it did not get much to the house — was that it did not do enough hard work to build a strong legislative agenda for animal welfare.

We have heard some lovely stories about pets — and I am sure these will continue throughout the day — but this bill is the culmination of the good work of the minister, her office and department officials to bring legislation to this house that is better and more comprehensive than the dreams of the previous government. It is a stronger bill in many respects but particularly in that it creates more aggressive laws and increases penalties.

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 — the POCTA act — is Victoria’s primary animal welfare legislation. It protects the welfare of animals in Victoria and applies equally to all species and uses of animals. The changes proposed by this bill enhance the government’s capacity to deal with animal welfare issues appropriately by guaranteeing that animals are treated humanely, as most people would expect, while being mindful of minimising the cost to the taxpayer. The Andrews Labor government has agreed to implement the recommendations of the chief veterinary officer’s report into animal welfare in the greyhound industry, and this bill partly addresses some of those recommendations.

I do not think there are many Victorians who do not love animals. When we as MPs talk about animal welfare in public forums or even on our Facebook pages, we are inundated with feedback about how important people’s pets or animals are — whether they are farm animals, working animals or just animals they have met throughout their lives — to who they are as human beings. I think most Victorians have very short fuses when it comes to other Victorians committing acts of cruelty against animals. We have to recognise that most people love animals, so this legislation is targeted at a quite small group of people who are very cruel to animals, some of whom unfortunately work in animal industries.

I think we have all seen pictures in newspapers and on our television screens of animals being mistreated, such as those ghastly pictures of horses with their ribs sticking out. A horse is such a wonderful animal for people to have in their lives. We have seen examples through the Four Corners program of live baiting in the greyhound industry. A night out at the dogs is one of the best nights you can have — it is a fun night out at Moonee Valley, Sandown or wherever — and it is really unbelievable for many of us who have had that treat of going to the dogs that there could be people out there using live baits to train dogs. We want to see that practice eradicated.

I know that at the time of the election most members, certainly those on this side of the house, had people telling them they wanted to see puppy farms tightly regulated or eradicated. We have seen awful pictures of dogs with multiple litters who have been worn out through the torture of over-birthing and feeding their young pups. We all go into pet shops and think how cute that little dog looks, but the fact is that they are often the product of a very cruel breeding program.

This bill deals with blood sports in Victoria. I am very glad to see this taking place, because we do not want blood sports in Victoria involving animals. The idea that we have cockfights happening in our neighbourhoods is really abhorrent to most Victorians. I think it was Friedrich Nietzsche who said, ‘Man is the cruellest animal’. In these cases I have been talking about, man is often the cruellest animal. The focus of this bill is to stop these people’s cruel behaviour and to penalise such behaviour if it happens. I note that penalties have been substantially increased in Victoria, which will make them, I suspect, the highest in the land. We are talking about tens of thousands of dollars in penalties if you are involved in cruelty and 500-plus penalty units or two years in jail for aggravated cruelty. These are significant penalties and punishments and so they should be. This is exactly what the public expects of the government.

I will finish my contribution by referring to just how important animals are to people. I am always pleased when I visit schools to see that many schools now have animals as part of their counselling and education programs. It is a delight to see at Hillsmeade Primary School in my electorate a big Saint Bernard walking around the corridors and children going up to the animals, patting them, talking to them and just having a lot of fun running around the schoolyard with them. This is a terrific program, and it also teaches young children how to learn to care for animals, which is a plus. A lot of children are now living in smaller environments, in smaller houses that have very small backyards, and they are not able to have dogs as we did when we were growing up. We had a couple of dogs, a couple of cats, a budgerigar and, certainly in my girls’ case, horses and those crabs that crawl along everywhere.

Ms Ward — Hermit crabs.

Ms GRALEY — Yes, hermit crabs, that is it. Our backyard was a menagerie, but often, especially in the outer suburbs where the blocks are smaller and the houses are smaller, children do not get that lovely tactile and loving experience of dealing with an animal.

The other side of this is that these dogs in schools are also being used as a form of therapy. I have had reported to me by student welfare coordinators that often kids who come to school who have had some problem at home — they may have had family violence in the household — and who are often reluctant to talk to teachers about the experience will often sit down with the big Saint Bernard, in the case of the school in my electorate, and tell them about their experiences. The teacher has an open ear and a watchful eye on the child and can use the information she gets through listening to her student talking to the animal, and she can also use the animal to teach the child to relearn the experience of being loved and cared for. It is an excellent program. The kids love it, the staff love it and having this dog wandering around the classrooms and down the corridor is a delightful thing to see.

The dog is man’s best friend, and this legislation is about making sure that we treat dogs as we would treat any of our friends. They deserve the best possible attention and care. They give so much back to us, and through this legislation we are making sure that in future animals — whether they be working or domestic animals — are treated with kindness and respect, and we hope that the abhorrent and cruel behaviours of the past will be of the past. Without further ado I commend this excellent bill to the house.