The Australian Capital Territory Government has introduced a bill to its Legislative Assembly that recognises animals as sentient beings, as well as introducing a broad range of reforms to strengthen animal welfare laws.
Minister for City Services Chris Steel said that the legislation, a first for Australia, will ensure that the ACT has best-practice, contemporary and effective animal welfare laws.
“The ACT community strongly values animals and they deserve to have a quality of life that reflects that intrinsic value,” Steel said.
“The science tells us that animals are sentient, they feel emotion and pain, and we are seeking to recognise that in law.”
“People have duty to care for the mental and the physical welfare of the animals in their care, and this legislation will strengthen protections for the welfare of animals.”
The new legislation introduces a range of new, specific offences for failing to take appropriate care of an animal. The offences range from failing to provide an animal with water or shelter through to abandoning an animal, as well as offences for hitting or kicking an animal. Penalties for cruelty and aggravated cruelty have also been toughened and ownership bans can be enforced and new powers are proposed to seize animals.
A new offence will be introduced in the Bill where a dog is confined for 24 hours without providing exercise.
“This does not apply to someone who keeps their dog in their yard, house or apartment and does not have the opportunity to walk them every day. It would, however, apply in situation where a dog is tied to a pole for days on end or is kept in a cage where it cannot move,” Steel said.
The legislation will also make it an offence for a person to take part in animal fighting or other violent activities, like pig-dogging, where an animal is used to torture or kill another animal.
Steel said the Bill proposes an escalating enforcement framework that will allow inspectors and the RSPCA to issue on-the-spot fines for more minor duty-of-care or cruelty offences in addition to the existing serious offences.
Pet businesses including pet shops and boarding kennels will be required to be licenced under the new laws, 6 months after the Bill is passed.
The exposure draft of the Animal Welfare Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 was publicly released for comment in late 2018. During the consultation process, 120 individuals and 30 businesses and organisations provided submissions, including the RSPCA and assistance animal groups.