It is a pleasure to get up and talk to the Domestic Animals Amendment (Reuniting Pets and Other Matters) Bill 2021 this afternoon following on from my good friend the member for Clarinda and his contribution. I have heard a number of contributions throughout the course of the last hour or so. I caught some of the member for Sunbury’s contribution where he went into a whole range of things, including level crossings and the Suburban Rail Loop—a whole range of things.
Mr Maas: A very good contribution.
Mr HALSE: A very good contribution. This is a fine bill that the minister has prepared for the house to debate today, and it fits in with a broad program of work that this Andrews Labor government has embarked upon to put a real focus on animal welfare. As some of the speakers have noted throughout the course of the debate this afternoon, around 660 000 dogs and over 200 000 cats are registered with councils each year. That is an enormous amount of Victorians. I do not have the great privilege of owning a pet. I know that the minister at the bench, the Minister for Ports and Freight, has a lovely little dog. I do not, but I have grown up with—
A member: She’s a superstar.
Mr HALSE: a superstar—dogs in the family and have many dogs with family members. So it is fair to say that a lot of Victorians own dogs. I think you yourself, Acting Speaker Edbrooke, have three dogs. On a day like today, when it is 30 degrees outside, I am well aware that there are probably thousands of Victorians right now who are enjoying the sunshine and taking their dog for a walk along the beach—down at Mordi beach, right in the water, into the water then back.
A member: Ringwood Lake?
Mr HALSE: Jump into Ringwood Lake? I am not sure you are allowed to jump into Ringwood Lake with a dog. I will have to check with the council. Mike Symon might be able to tell us.
A member: Blackburn Lake.
Mr HALSE: Blackburn Lake. People will be enjoying that activity this afternoon.
On a less trivial note and a more serious matter, we have seen over the last decade or more an increased focus on the issue of animal welfare within not just the state of Victoria but right across the country. We saw that kicked off through issues that related to livestock exports and the treatment of livestock in that sector and managing and working through it—particularly at the federal level, that was—to make sure that the animals that sit within our agricultural sector are given the best possible treatment and care. It has been a longstanding commitment of this government to make sure that we do more to improve animal welfare, and we have got a significant track record—since the Andrews Labor government came to office in 2014.
I want to just touch upon some of the achievements in this area in the next few minutes and then get to some of the particulars of the bill. I do not think the bill is particularly complex. I think it is a relatively straightforward piece of legislation, which I believe is being supported by the opposition, and a commonsense bill to bring before the chamber this afternoon. Of course we have legislated to ban puppy farms and have provided I think $5 million to the RSPCA to fight illegal puppy farms through a special investigations unit.
Anyone who has ever been to a puppy farm, obviously predating our most recent reforms, or who has seen the images of these farms will have been alarmed to say the very least. The conditions in which many of these animals were being kept were really quite deplorable, and it was simply a case of putting profit before the welfare of these animals. What lots of the campaigners were telling government and stakeholders was that as a consequence of the process of breeding within these puppy farms you would have animals that would be severely damaged by the time that they were picked up by their recipient owners, and that reform is something that this government should be proud of. We have passed laws that have enshrined tenants rights to keep pets—I think that is really important. We have increased animal cruelty charges. We have delivered Victoria’s first animal welfare action plan and established Animal Welfare Victoria, bringing together all aspects of domestic animal and animal welfare research, policy, education and compliance into one dedicated agency. And we reformed the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee to ensure government receives expert advice to support its busy animal welfare agenda.
Just quickly to the bill, obviously the bill makes legislative changes to remove barriers to reunite lost dogs and cats with their owners, and it enables vets and registered animal shelters to reunite lost cats and dogs with their owners sooner, more efficiently and in a more humane way. This is a really good step forward. We know through the facilitation of microchips and the work that vets are doing in looking after dogs and cats and animals throughout our community that this is a really easy way to reunite pet owners with their cherished pets. The bill also introduces measures to reduce any regulatory, administrative and resource burdens on councils, vet clinics and registered animal shelters. Under existing laws lost cats can only be provided to council-authorised officers or to vets and shelters that have an agreement under the Domestic Animals Act 1994, as we have heard, but unfortunately only 23 per cent of vets have such an agreement, making it inconsistent with Victorian law for the remaining vets to accept and reunite lost pets. Those are some of the elements of the bill that are really important.
It is a commitment that the Andrews Labor government made a number of years ago to increasingly focus on animal welfare. I think it is one that is widely accepted by the community. Like I say, there will be thousands of dog owners and cat lovers who will be enjoying some time with their animals this afternoon; in this chamber I think the member for Altona has a border collie. So that is exactly why we need these reforms to make it easier to reunite pet owners. The member for Bentleigh has got a dog as well. The member for Bass has got a rescue dog.
This is a fantastic bill. We want to see more dogs and pets reunited with their owners. Let us make sure it is more efficient to do so through vets, a more streamlined process, and I commend the Minister for Agriculture and this bill to the house.