Second Reading: Domestic Animals Amendment Bill 2015

Mr HIBBINS (Prahran) — I rise to speak on the Domestic Animals Amendment Bill 2015. Taking this bill at face value, it places a one-year moratorium on the destruction of restricted breed dogs whilst a parliamentary inquiry into restricted breed legislation takes place. In previous debates regarding this matter — on previous bills and motions — the Greens have supported a review of how we can best prevent dog attacks. It is on that basis that we will be supporting this bill.

Our particular concern has centred on the ability of local government to implement legislation. There have been a number of Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) and court cases regarding the implementation of legislation — some, I note, at great cost to councils. One I think cost Monash City Council around $200 000. Many of these issues stem from the interpretation of the standards for identifying restricted dog breeds. The Greens raised concerns about these standards in debate around both the Domestic Animals Amendment (Dangerous Dogs) Bill 2010 and the Domestic Animals Amendment Bill 2013.

Ms Pennicuik, a member for Southern Metropolitan Region in the Council and the animal welfare spokesperson for the Greens, said in regard to the 2010 bill:

One of the main purposes of the bill is to provide that the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal … may review declarations of restricted breed dogs.

The bill also abolishes review panels. I am not quite sure why the review panels need to be abolished or whether they are not serving their purpose effectively. I have not heard any evidence of that. I am not quite sure why this measure is being taken in the bill and also I am not quite sure that VCAT will provide an expeditious or satisfactory process for people appearing before it, because very often it does not.

We are now seeing these concerns played out in many VCAT appeals and court cases at the expense of councils. It is the preference of the Greens that we have a wideranging inquiry that looks at not just specific breed legislation but the whole regime that is in place to prevent dangerous dog attacks. These attacks result in around 1500 hospital admissions and 5000 hospital presentations per year, and we know the primary victims of these attacks are children.

I prefaced my comments by saying the Greens will take the bill on face value, but we cannot ignore the fact that this bill is being brought forward in an environment where a number of organisations, such as the RSPCA and the Australian Veterinary Association, and other individuals and campaigners are opposed to any form of breed-specific legislation. I put it on the record that the Greens do support breed-specific legislation, as we have in the past, as a way of preventing dog attacks.

If we look at the coroner's report into the tragic death of a young child, Ayen Chol, recommendations from which were implemented in the Domestic Animals Amendment Bill 2013, it makes a compelling case for breed-specific legislation. I will read out some passages from this report. It quotes Dr Jane Dunnett, one of the expert witnesses, as stating:

Traditionally pit bulls were bred to be aggressive; they were bred to be intimidating; they were used as status symbols for want of a better term; they were used extensively and they still are for dogfighting, so the characteristics that those people would like are large, powerful dogs, strong jaws and a tendency to become aggressive very quickly and to become consistently aggressive and not back down.

The report goes on to state:

Her evidence as to temperament was that whilst she was wary of all dogs she treated, she was particularly wary of pit bull terriers because the dogs are exceptionally powerful. They will also become aggressive rapidly and without warning and that is a common characteristic of the breed.

A common argument against breed-specific legislation is that it is the deed, not the breed, but we know that quite often the deed is the injury or death of a child. That is really what we need to be focusing on when we are looking at these laws. Children are the primary victims of dog attacks and are at far greater risk from them. Any laws, regulations or other initiatives that come out of this review need to be centred on how we can best protect children from dog attacks. That is how the Greens will respond to any changes that come out of this review. Rather than watering down the current regime, we will be asking how we can best protect children in the community from dog attacks. The Greens will be supporting the bill.