Companion Animals Amendment (Rehoming Animals) Bill 2021

Companion Animals Amendment (Rehoming Animals) Bill 2021

(Second Reading Speech & Debate, 17 February 2022, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

I move that this bill be now read a second time.

Thousands of dogs and cats are killed every year in New South Wales pounds. Last year almost 2,000 dogs and almost 7,000 cats were killed. Shockingly, those high figures represent drops on previous years and pre-pandemic numbers when there was an increase in people staying home. The Companion Animals Amendment (Rehoming Animals) Bill 2021 was introduced in the Legislative Council by Animal Justice Party member the Hon. Emma Hurst, who is in the Chamber today. I thank her for her leadership on the bill.

This matter is close to my heart as my dog, Max—as a number of members may know—is a rescue dog. I remember when we got Max from Monika's DoggieRescue right after my inaugural speech in this Parliament 10 years ago. My husband was sitting in the public gallery and was looking around the Chamber, and back in 2012 there were a lot of very robust-looking members. At the end of my inaugural speech, my husband said to me, "Alex, we are getting a dog and you are going to walk that dog every day." Inevitably, we got a dog. We went to Monika's DoggieRescue on the advice of the former member for Sydney, Lord Mayor Clover Moore, and we met and fell in love with Max, who was a four-year-old whippet fox terrier cross. Max was rescued by Monika from a pound. He was set to be destroyed two weeks after she rescued him. He was a healthy, wonderful, loving animal. Had it not been for the proactive work of Monika's DoggieRescue, Max would not have been with us, would not have given us the joy he does every day and would not have kept me in good shape.

Those appalling figures of healthy animals being killed in New South Wales should come as a surprise because we are an animal-loving nation and Parliament, and have some of the highest rates of companion animal ownership in the world. The pandemic has seen animal ownership soar even further, with the demand to adopt rescue animals over buying them from pet shops or classifieds continuing to grow. Pounds report that the main reason for killing dogs is they are unable to rehome them, and for cats the main reasons are being unable to rehome them or because they are feral or infant. But investigations by the Animal Justice Party have uncovered that, more often than not, animals are killed because the pound does not have the resources, space or willingness to care for them. Investigations found that some pounds actively shut out rescue groups that are willing and able to find homes for their animals.

Many councils do the right thing and actively work to ensure that animals in their care find a home. The City of Sydney partners with the Sutherland Shire Animal Shelter, which has a no-kill policy. The staff and volunteers work to ensure the welfare of the animals and find an appropriate home. The city also runs a program to rescue kittens from streets by placing them in foster care, where they are rehabilitated, desexed, microchipped, vaccinated and rehomed in collaboration with rescue groups. But other councils continue to choose to kill healthy animals that can be rehomed because it is simply easier. We should stop this act of convenience killing.

The Companion Animals Amendment (Rehoming Animals) Bill 2021 will require pounds to take certain steps to rehome an animal before it considers killing them. First, a pound will be required to take reasonable steps to advertise the animal for rehoming. That could involve advertising the animal on social media, the council website or through a rescue group. A pound would also have to write to at least two designated rehoming organisations to find out if they are interested in taking and rehoming the animal. These organisations include the RSPCA, the Animal Welfare League and the Cat Protection Society as well as any organisation designated by the Office of Local Government under section 88B of the Companion Animals Act 1998. The council must provide the rehoming organisation seven days to accept the invitation and if they do, the pound must not kill the animal but rather make arrangements to transfer them. When an animal is killed, the council must keep a record of the steps that were taken to rehome the animal. A pound does not need to take these steps if the animal is so ill or hurt that it would be cruel to keep the animal alive.

The new requirement on councils and pounds as a result of the bill would be minor and reasonable and, importantly, it would save the lives of healthy animals. Many rescue groups are willing to help find a home for unwanted animals and many people are willing to adopt them. Local Government NSW supports the bill, confirming in a letter to the Hon. Emma Hurst in November last year that the "changes proposed by the Bill are straightforward and reasonable, and the additional notification and record keeping requirements for councils are not onerous". I understand that the Office of Local Government is undertaking a comprehensive review into current rehoming practices, investigating ways to reduce companion animal euthanasia rates. I welcome that process. The review is expected to be complete by the middle of the year, providing an opportunity to fine‑tune any requirements in the bill through existing regulation‑making powers already in the Companion Animals Act, such as setting out the information about animals that pounds must provide to rescue groups. Nothing in the bill limits those regulation‑making powers and it will be important for the Government to consult with stakeholders, including the RSPCA, in creating these regulations.

I met with the RSPCA this week. We had a very constructive conversation about the bill. I thank them for their engagement and also thank the Animal Welfare League, Maggie's Rescue, and Monika's Doggie Rescue— where we were able to adopt Max—for their support. The bill will help protect animals under the care of council pounds and facilitate finding new homes for them. I thank the Government and the Minister for their productive engagement on this legislation. I thank the Government, the Opposition and the crossbench for agreeing to reorder the bill to ensure that we could debate it today. I think it sends a significant message for this Parliament and our commitment to animal welfare and companion animals that this will, hopefully, be one of the first pieces of legislation passed this year. It also shows a real sign of respect from the Government to the crossbench for their productive engagement on this legislation. In particular, I thank the leadership of the Animal Justice Party and the Hon. Emma Hurst and her awesome staff, including Tess Vickery—Emma and Tess are here today—for drafting such a sensible and compassionate bill. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate > HERE.

In reply: I thank all members who contributed to the debate. I particularly thank the Minister for Local Government and her team for their constructive work on the bill. I thank the shadow Minister for indicating the Opposition's support. I thank the former Minister, the member for South Coast, for the issues she raised. I outline that nothing in the bill limits the broad regulation‑making power in the Companion Animals Act to enable the Minister to address the items that she discussed. I thank the member for Kiama and his dog, Oscar. I thank the member for Hawkesbury and her rescue, Spud. I thank the member for Clarence, the member for Newtown, the member for Balmain and his electorate office dog, Juno. I thank the member for Albury, and George the cat with his telepathic skills. I particularly thank the member for Albury for bringing his experience as a vet to the debate. I also thank the member for Blacktown for his contribution.

I acknowledge the former Minister for Better Regulation and Innovation, who is at the table, for the significant work that he did with me and the Hon. Emma Hurst towards allowing companion animals in strata complexes. It was more difficult than you would expect, but we got there successfully, and it is really important for the wellbeing of so many companion animals and people who live in strata units. I also give a shout‑out to the member for Holsworthy for the work that she does in fostering cats. This legislation is a no‑brainer. I thank all members of the House for supporting this reform to protect animals. I especially thank the Hon. Emma Hurst for her dedication, passion and hard work for animals. Her work on this bill will immediately save animals from death row. While many of us love animals, our voiceless friends cannot vote and not everyone is willing to defend and fight for them the way the Animal Justice Party does. I congratulate Emma and the Animal Justice Party on their achievement and thank them for giving me the opportunity to support and sponsor this important reform. I commend the bill to the House.

Consideration in Detail Amendments> HERE.

This amendment will ensure that pounds can use their website or social media platforms to advertise animals in their care under the provisions in the bill. Websites and social media are a great way of informing the public about animals that are available for adoption and of helping to find loving homes for them. The amendment reflects the bill's intention, and I thank the Government for working towards provisions that are in the spirit of the aims of the bill. I support the amendment, as does the Hon. Emma Hurst and the Animal Justice Party.

Consideration in Detail Amendments> HERE.

This amendment will make sure that councils and rescue groups can make arrangements for the collection of an animal, ensuring that there is no assumption that the obligation lies entirely with the council. Many rescue groups have the resources to collect animals from pounds, but it is important that councils and rescue groups work together to establish a system that works best. I thank the Government for proposing the amendment, which will strengthen the bill's capacity to create partnerships between pounds and rescue groups. I support the amendment, as does the Animal Justice Party.

Consideration in Detail Amendments> HERE.

Again, this is a sensible amendment and it is supported. I thank the Government for its work to get this legislation to a place where it is supported and can pass this House. I commend the amendment to the House.


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