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.”
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.