September 6, 2017  |  Second reading

Domestic Animals Amendment (Restricted Breed Dogs) Bill 2017

MR HOWARD (Buninyong) — I am pleased to add my comments to the debate on the Domestic Animals Amendment (Restricted Breed Dogs) Bill 2017. As we have heard from other speakers, we know about the issues surrounding dangerous dogs, issues like when dogs have been out in public areas and have attacked young children or adults, or in domestic situations when dogs have attacked visitors to properties or even the owners themselves. It is a very concerning matter and one that a government needs to do all it can to address.

We know this is initially a matter of owners taking responsibility for their dogs and ensuring that their dogs are properly trained when they are young so that they are not likely to threaten other individuals. I looked at this issue over many years when I was Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture — I was closely involved for a number of years while working with former Minister for Agriculture Joe Helper and former members Bob Cameron and Keith Hamilton in trying to find a way of ensuring the public could feel safe.

It was clear that there are some dogs that have the potential to be more dangerous than others. Eventually we identified five breeds of dog that people have noted before — including the Japanese tosa, the fila Brasileiro, the dogo Argentino and the presa Canario — as dogs that are pretty rare here but that are clearly bred for fighting. We indicated that those dogs should not be able to be brought into the country or bred here. The dog breed that has attracted the most attention is the American pit bull terrier. As a result of a number of very awful dog attacks involving pit bulls the government was clearly called to act.

It is difficult to outlaw a breed of dog because, as we have heard, there is no easy way to determine whether a dog is a pit bull terrier, just looks like a pit bull terrier or is a similar terrier. So we have had to put a series of descriptors in place to try to identify these dogs, but we are clear that these dogs should no longer be bred and no longer brought into the country. But there is the question of what you do with the dogs that are already here. I heard from a number of owners of pit bull terriers who told me that they have been much maligned and that, really, they are lovely dogs to have as pets. Some of the owners of these dogs swear they are terrific pets to have and should not be declared dangerous.

The issue, however, is that we know that many dogs did get out as the result of the carelessness of their owners. We know that owners can be careless, and so we have put in place a series of restrictions, particularly through the legislation in 2010, whereby we have enabled councils to determine these particular breeds as dangerous dogs. It also may be that other dogs come to the attention of councils when they have attacked or threatened to attack individuals, and the councils have determined that those dogs be noted as dangerous too.

When a dog is determined as dangerous, it has to be housed appropriately in very restrictive conditions. We know that the owners of restricted breed dogs such as pit bulls are required to have appropriate signage on their property to identify that there is a pit bull on the site. They have to have the dog clearly microchipped and desexed so that we do not have the issue of new dogs being bred. It is mandatory for the dog to wear a collar and, if it is out in public, it has to be on a leash with a muzzle.

We have set in place very clear guidelines. If owners do not follow those guidelines, then it does result in a threat to their dog, so the dog could be taken and may have to be destroyed if it attacks again. We do not want that to happen. We do not want people to be harmed by dogs. We want everybody to feel safe on the streets, whether it be from dogs or whether it be from a whole range of other potential dangers out there. The government takes a whole range of actions to try to ensure people can feel comfortable.

This legislation particularly addresses that issue that was still unclear regarding what you do with those dogs that are out there in the community that are identified as restricted breeds. We do not want them put down unnecessarily, but we want to ensure that we do not increase their number. As these dogs die we will eventually have none of these dog breeds about, but in the meantime we have allowed them to be kept under clear registration guidelines, as indicated by the recommendations of the Standing Committee on the Economy and Infrastructure that looked at this issue.

We have also noted that there are other issues with dogs such as guard dogs that have been used on non-residential properties. We know that there are dogs that people train to be aggressive so that if anybody does threaten those particular properties that have nobody living on them over weekends or at night, these dogs will help to keep those properties protected. But when those guard dogs are retired, there needs to be a clear strategy in place to again recognise that these dogs should be deemed dangerous. They need to be housed appropriately so that the community continues to be safe. It sets in place the clear guidelines the councils will follow in instructing people in regard to that.

The bill also notes that there is a payment system for registering cats and dogs. With the first adjustment since 2010 the cost to be contributed back to the state government will be $4 per dog or cat. That money will be going towards a fund that supports world-class education programs to ensure that, for example, expectant parents know how best to treat a dog that may be a pet, because once a child comes into the family, the dog may act differently. Expectant parents need to be aware of these training issues or the potential threats so they can plan accordingly. Preschool and school-aged children can also be educated about safety with dogs, and we can have programs in regard to responsible dog ownership further enhanced with this funding that can be collected from these registration fees.

This is very sensible legislation. It ensures that we are clear about these restricted breeds. We do not want them to exist in our state after a period of time. But we want to ensure that those that are here do not need to be put down unnecessarily. If the owners want to keep them, they need to have them registered and housed appropriately under appropriate conditions so that community can feel safe. It always behoves anybody who owns a dog to understand the issues and the responsibilities that go with dog ownership.

Dogs can be fantastic pets, as we know. Certainly my son loves his dog, and our whole family loves the dog also — it is a great member of our family. You need to know that when you have a dog, you need to treat it well. You need to understand how dogs operate so you can treat behaviour that may be inappropriate at times. So it is important that we provide a range of training programs or education programs for dog owners to ensure that they understand these things and in a range of ways ensure that message gets out there to the community.

I am pleased that the opposition is supportive of this legislation. It is very sensible. It is not life-changing, but clearly it ties down issues that were still uncertain around restricted breed dogs.