Pets recognised as ‘sentient’ as Government adds more bite to animal welfare laws

Lachlan Roberts 26 September 2019 45
A dog held by its owner.

The law now recognises animals as “sentient beings with intrinsic value”. Photos: File.

In an Australian first, the ACT now recognises animals as “sentient beings with intrinsic value” that deserve to be treated with compassion, after the Legislative Assembly passed new animal cruelty laws on Thursday afternoon.

Under the Animal Welfare Legislation Amendment Bill 2019, Canberrans who do not properly care for their animals, such as failing to provide a dog with water or shelter, face on-the-spot fines of up to $4,000.

ACT Minister for City Services Chris Steel said fines for these offences can now be easily issued by officers as part of the new escalating enforcement framework to deter acts of cruelty against animals.

Under the new laws, if serious animal welfare abuses are committed, the Animal Welfare Authority can impose an interim ownership ban of up to six months and can also seize, retain, sell or rehome an animal where appropriate.

Anyone found confining a dog for longer than 24 hours will have to provide two hours of exercise within 24 hours or pay a fine of up to $4,000. This law though does not apply if the dog is kept in a yard or residence in a way that it can move freely or the dog needs to be confined for its own welfare.

It is also an offence to lock an animal in a hot car or to transport an animal in a moving vehicle without adequate restraint.

Pet businesses, including pet shops and boarding kennels, are now required to be licenced for the first time in the ACT to provide increased protections for animals in their care.

Mr Steel said the laws, which will come into effect in six months, are unambiguous and it is very clear what the ACT Government is trying to achieve.

“These new laws will make the ACT a national leader in animal welfare, and reflect a zero-tolerance approach to animal cruelty,” Mr Steel said.

“Modern animal welfare is about considering how an animal is coping both mentally and physically with the conditions in which it lives.

“These animal welfare laws reflect the values of the Canberra community and how we should manage and care for our domestic animals, livestock and wildlife.”

Mr Steel said the “sky will not fall in” as a result of the tougher laws.

The legislation has also established a hierarchy of offences, with minor duty-of-care offences incurring on the spot fines of up to $500. Animal cruelty laws have also been strengthened by increased jail terms, with serious aggravated cruelty offences now facing up to three years’ imprisonment.

“We think this will make it easier for the RSPCA to issue fines to people who are doing the wrong thing and give the RSPCA the tools that they need to prosecute a whole range of welfare abuses across the territory.”

Mr Steel said the “sky will not fall in” as a result of the tougher laws.

“What we have done today in recognising sentience is simply recognise what we already know about animals,” he said. “We have also seen New Zealand and Canada implement laws recognising the sentience of animals, and the sky did not fall in.

“I think these changes will be welcomed in a community that really values and cares for animals.”

RSPCA ACT CEO Michelle Robertson welcomed the legislation and said she hopes that it will stimulate debate on how Canberrans can continue to be responsible pet owners.

“The team at the RSPCA ACT want to see the absence of cruelty to animals,” Ms Robertson said. “We need strong laws to help protect animals and to deter animal cruelty.

“We also need strong sentencing to be passed down for animal cruelty offences that will bring consequences for animal cruelty in line with community expectations.

“The RSPCA ACT 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 and offence categories which have been included in the new laws,” she said.

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45 Responses to Pets recognised as ‘sentient’ as Government adds more bite to animal welfare laws
Amy Thorn Amy Thorn 9:27 pm 30 Sep 19

Yay! Now increase the charges to cover all animals and the punishments to what everyone else receives and then some more ❤️

Marisa Moloney Marisa Moloney 8:16 pm 30 Sep 19

If only Canberra would recognise unborn human babies as sentient beings with intrinsic value too

Ren An Ren An 9:58 am 27 Sep 19

Jaki Coppen thoughts??

Valerie VK Valerie VK 6:44 am 27 Sep 19

Why just 'pets'. What about all the other sentient animals?

    Marko Lehikoinen Marko Lehikoinen 9:07 am 30 Sep 19

    Valerie VK like the chickens at Parkwood, 2 hours of exercise?

Jodie Kirkness Jodie Kirkness 6:16 am 27 Sep 19

Jess Cassells Erin Cross Ben Daws yaaaaaas boys

Alexandra Hughes Alexandra Hughes 5:54 am 27 Sep 19

The first thing this government does that I 100% support of and applaud.

maxblues maxblues 3:23 am 27 Sep 19

Now that the ACT Govt has decided that animals are sentient beings, I guess they’ll stop culling kangaroos? Yeah, right.

Gabriel Spacca Gabriel Spacca 11:34 pm 26 Sep 19

But we can still eat bacon, right?

Tim Thornley Tim Thornley 11:13 pm 26 Sep 19

Naomi Rees the ACT leading the way. Again.

Sarah Payne Sarah Payne 11:13 pm 26 Sep 19

Beth any progress?

Lynne Staunton Lynne Staunton 8:53 pm 26 Sep 19

So does that mean that an animal that is harassed/attacked by either another animal or a human and reacts to protect itself, doesn't automatically end up on death row?

    Lynne Staunton Lynne Staunton 5:35 am 27 Sep 19

    Daniel Evans well sentient anyway. I doubt any self respecting animal would want to be classed as "human".

    Peter Marshall Peter Marshall 8:35 am 27 Sep 19

    We don't deal properly with neoNazis either.

Andrea Kerr Andrea Kerr 8:43 pm 26 Sep 19

Di Shorland I thought you’d love this news

    Di Shorland Di Shorland 9:16 pm 26 Sep 19

    Andrea Kerr so are they only talking about pets and what defines pets? Is a great improvement if they can siege animals quicker

Taylor Eggleton Taylor Eggleton 8:21 pm 26 Sep 19

Paige Louise Smith might need a license for pet day care

    Paige Louise Smith Paige Louise Smith 8:24 pm 26 Sep 19

    Taylor Eggleton whhat? How come though

    Taylor Eggleton Taylor Eggleton 8:25 pm 26 Sep 19

    Paige Louise Smith just says pet businesses will need to be licensed

rationalobserver rationalobserver 8:18 pm 26 Sep 19

So we have strengthened the laws which already existed but were never fully applied by judges, to make the penalties much larger even though the old ones were never handed out fully?
Only in the ACT !

Lucas James Lucas James 7:10 pm 26 Sep 19

Cool, does that mean that the 98% or rental properties that state "no pets" will now allow animals so we don't have to give them to the RSPCA just to find a place to live?

    Casey Rhys Neff Casey Rhys Neff 8:04 pm 26 Sep 19

    Lucas James how about the ones that say "outside only" but stick you in a cat contained suburb....

    Damaris Wilson Damaris Wilson 6:24 am 28 Sep 19

    LJ Tas no, you cannot - unless it's netted or in a special cat run 😿.

Damaris Wilson Damaris Wilson 7:07 pm 26 Sep 19

About time ... And when might we expect these sentient beings to be allowed to accompany us (suitably leashed of course) on public transport, in outdoor cafes etc?

    Michael Babb Michael Babb 8:23 pm 26 Sep 19

    Hopefully never? The last thing public transport needs is someone's shitty little maltese cross whatever yapping at a cat or a kelpie trying to heard someone's pet miniature goat.

    Service animals are always welcome on these services/places. Let's leave it at that. Public transport is bad enough as is.

    Robyn Eml Robyn Eml 12:40 am 27 Sep 19

    Michael you will be shocked to know I think that many countries allow animals on public transport and it appears to have approximately 0 ill effect on their services.

    Damaris Wilson Damaris Wilson 4:50 am 27 Sep 19

    Michael Babb you've not been to Europe, then? They do not cause these problems.

    Damaris Wilson Damaris Wilson 4:51 am 27 Sep 19

    Robyn Lewis that is the case. Rude people are worse.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 9:57 pm 30 Sep 19

    Damaris Wilson I sat on a bus ride of several hours length in Europe with my feet up on the seat, because there was an Alsatian dog by my feet under the seat in front of me. It could easily have bitten me. In principle I am not against well behaved animals on public transport, but you cannot say that some animals do not cause problems. That dog did, as I had no way to know what sort of animal it was.

    Even More Even More 12:25 am 01 Oct 19

    "iN EuRoPE tHey..."

    European animal owners are miles ahead of Australians. You're average Australian would not pass European training.

    Peter Mackay Peter Mackay 7:45 am 01 Oct 19

    I dunno. If there was a person under the seat in front of me, I'd be very wary of my ankles.

    Damaris Wilson Damaris Wilson 7:48 am 01 Oct 19

    Peter Mackay little dogs are often the worst for nipping offences. But I've never had a problem with dogs in Europe.

    Percy Stein Percy Stein 11:33 am 02 Oct 19

    Sentient does not mean "not smelly, annoying, yappy or bitey"

    Damaris Wilson Damaris Wilson 5:04 pm 02 Oct 19

    Percy Stein what is your point?

Jackie White Jackie White 6:34 pm 26 Sep 19

I hope this includes bad treatment toward horses.

A (now former due to their actions) friend of mine horrified me when they punched their horse in the mouth - while wearing a bridle and thus a steel bit in the horse's mouth - at a show at EPIC. if this person could have been charged for their actions, I would *almost* be happy. "Almost" because the thought of horses being abused sickens me to the core.

    Valerie VK Valerie VK 6:45 am 27 Sep 19

    Daniel Evans that isn't the point. Some people take a lot more than a punch in the mouth to get their attention but it's still abuse

    Jackie White Jackie White 6:54 am 27 Sep 19

    Daniel Evans On the contrary, I have been around horses my entire life. Punching a horse IN THE MOUTH at any time, let alone while wearing a bridle, is NOT ON. How to make a horse head-shy, and lose trust.

    I don't know what kind of attitude you have toward horses, but your comments don't inspire confidence that it is one of knowledge or love.

    Peter Marshall Peter Marshall 8:34 am 27 Sep 19

    I grew up with horses and on horseback. A punch in the mouth is gross. Some people just like being violent.

    Jackie White Jackie White 8:37 am 27 Sep 19

    Peter Marshall also shows gross ignorance, and a lack of understanding of the nature of horses. It made me sick. When it happened, I terminated our 20-year friendship on the spot (while also fighting the desire to stay to protect the horse..)

Susan Ann Margaret Susan Ann Margaret 6:10 pm 26 Sep 19

Up to three years imprisonments but not once have I ever heard of someone going to jail for a Day always seems to be a fine I so hope that these wonderful new laws are enforced with much vigor and then some !!!

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