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ACT’s ‘sentience’ laws impose tough new penalties for mistreating animals

Among the new provisions:

  • Owners will face fines of $4000 if their dogs are confined for a full day and then not exercised within the next two hours. The penalty will not apply if the dogs are kept in a backyard where they can exercise or if they have to be confined indoors for their welfare.
  • People face $4000 fines for hitting, kicking or throwing an object that hits an animal, although this does not apply to jockeys in horse races.
  • People can be fined up to $16,000 and face one year in jail if they injure an animal and don’t take reasonable steps, such as calling a vet, to help them.
  • People will also commit an offence if they injure a mammal (such as a kangaroo) and don’t tell Access Canberra, an ACT government agency, within the next two hours.

The government moved an amendment on Thursday to clarify that an owner would be confining their animal if they were keeping it in an enclosed space, or otherwise restricting its movement.

A $4000 penalty will apply for not providing pets in the ACT with appropriate food, water, shelter or a clean and hygienic environment.

People who take part in violent animal activities, such as dog fighting, could be fined up to $48,000 and face three years’ imprisonment.

Pet-shop owners and kennels will be required to obtain a licence to operate before the laws come into effect.

City Services Minister Chris Steel said the overhaul of the territory’s animal welfare laws was “significant and well overdue”.

The ACT's City Services Minister Chris Steel, who has secured the passage of Australia-first animal welfare laws.

The ACT’s City Services Minister Chris Steel, who has secured the passage of Australia-first animal welfare laws.Credit:Dion Georgopoulos

“We’ve sadly seen recent incidents across our city of animal welfare abuses occurring and we need laws that allow us to take appropriate, balanced action against people who are doing the wrong thing,” he said.

Mr Steel had hoped to pass the laws in July, but debate was pushed backed after it was revealed that he refused to grant opposition urban services spokeswoman Nicole Lawder a briefing on the bill.

At the time, Mr Steel defended his decision by saying Ms Lawder had already made clear her opposition to the proposal when she claimed the laws could effectively turn dog lovers into criminals.

Ms Lawder was belatedly offered a briefing.

During debate on Thursday, Ms Lawder said the opposition backed measures to stamp out animal cruelty, and therefore supported the bill.

But Ms Lawder remained concerned that the legislation was an “overreach”.

She put forward an amendment designed to ensure the laws did not ban “responsible and humane” farming, scientific research or cultural and recreational activities.

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“This is not a free pass to be cruel to animals under the above circumstances. There is a protection for responsible and humane practices in line with community expectations,” she said.

“The amendment means that farmers can be assured that they won’t be penalised for herding or [for] agricultural practices.”

But Labor and the Greens rejected the amendment, with Mr Steel saying it would make the bill more ambiguous and harder to enforce.

RSPCA ACT chief executive Michelle Robertson welcomed the passage of the laws.

“We believe that most Canberrans are responsible and loving pet owners, and foresee very little impact that this will have on responsible pet owners or businesses who have animals on site,” Ms Robertson said.

“The changes could, however, have a significant impact on people who continuously neglect or who have no regard for the welfare of animals in their care.

“We will continue to work with the community in the first instance to change negative behaviours, but when necessary, our inspectorate’s ability to take punitive and corrective measures will now be strengthened by the additional offences.”

The Canberra Times

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