Animal Welfare (Live Baiting) Amendment Bill

10 September 2015

Mr SPEIRS ( Bright ) ( 17:01:56 ): 'He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.' Those were the words of Immanuel Kant, the 18th century philosopher and they are perhaps even more relevant in 21st century Australia than they were in 18th century Europe. In 2015, our world is very different from Kant's and, when it comes to animal welfare, we are faced with a range of additional pressures which leave animals vulnerable to exploitation and cruelty.

I am fortunate enough to be able to stand in parliament and advocate for the people who I represent. That includes issues which confront people in my electorate, but I also believe that this position gives me the opportunity to discuss issues that confront humanity, and that includes animal welfare.

I believe that animals, whether wild or domesticated, are part of our ecosystem and our society. I am not a vegetarian and I do believe that animals can be harvested for our sustenance, but this is a privilege, not a right, and with such a privilege comes responsibility: a responsibility to treat animals with dignity, a responsibility to avoid any sort of animal cruelty and a responsibility not to exploit animals for our own indulgence. As stewards of this planet, we are given much responsibility but equally much is expected of us, and those who make a living out of animals have a duty of care to ensure that those animals are treated well.

This line of thinking means that I have significant personal reservations against many forms of intensive animal farming and the use of animals for sporting indulgence. There is a balance here obviously, but it is a balance that often gets out of kilter.

This brings me to the bill which is before our parliament today: the Animal Welfare (Live Baiting) Amendment Bill 2015. This is the state Labor government's legislative response to the exposé by the ABC's Four Corners in February 2015. This program was an excellent example of investigative journalism, something which I believe has an important place in our democratic processes and which should be encouraged.

The government's bill has taken a long time to get into this chamber. The ABC aired Four Corners in February 2015, yet it has taken seven months for the government's legislation to reach the House of Assembly for debate. Meanwhile, the Liberal Party introduced laws into parliament within two weeks of the shocking revelations on Four Corners.

At that time, the Liberal Party sought to amend the relevant legislation to require bullrings to be licensed. Bullrings are enclosed circular greyhound training facilities surrounded by a fence, usually with a pole in the centre and a rotating arm from which a lure is attached and rotated. Licences for bullrings would enable trainers to be located and monitored. The Liberal Party had been informed that bullrings have been used previously in South Australia, and that if live baiting is happening, it is most likely to occur using bullrings.

We have been reassured time and time again by Greyhound Racing SA that live baiting does not occur in South Australia. The government takes them at their word, hook, line and sinker. I do not take them at their word, and I have significant reservations about Greyhound Racing SA and their self-regulation approach to looking after their industry. I think it is a case of the fox being put in charge of the henhouse.

The assurance by Greyhound Racing SA that live baiting does not occur in South Australia does not sit well with me. We can take them at their word and we can hope that it does not happen here, but we know that a significant portion of the greyhound racing industry is located in quite isolated areas within regional and rural South Australia. Whether greyhound racing uses live baiting is really something that is very difficult to ascertain. Is it happening? We can cross our fingers and hope it is not, but I do have my personal doubts.

The state government chose not to support the Liberal Party's legislation, and instead we had to wait a further six months until legislation was introduced. The bill which is now on the table goes some distance to reassuring people that the state government has the welfare of animals as one of its policy priorities. But, does it go far enough? That is the question.

The bill seeks to create new offences for live baiting, releasing an animal from captivity for the purposes of it being hunted or killed, selling or supplying an animal for the purposes of live baiting, and keeping an animal for the purposes of live baiting. These new offences have penalties attached to them, including a maximum fine of $50,000 or up to four years' imprisonment, which is substantial in terms of the level of penalty imposed and will hopefully provide an appropriate deterrent.

The bill also seeks to beef up Greyhound Racing SA's inspectorate, refocusing it to include detection of potential animal cruelty and improving protocols with the RSPCA and SAPOL. Again, this is part of the entire process that personally does not sit with me very well at all, because, as I just said, the idea of the henhouse being patrolled by the fox does not sit comfortably with me. I would prefer, as the RSPCA would prefer, a stronger, more independent government-run inspectorate to be put in place. Again, that is my personal view.

I note that the RSPCA disagrees with many of the state government's assumptions which underpin the bill, and they have a significant disagreement with the government's viewpoint that, because South Australia has not in the past prosecuted any owners or trainers for live baiting, the industry does not need to undergo any genuine reform. The RSPCA have claimed that the industry has told them that there are dogs in operation which have in the past been live baited interstate.

When the Minister for Racing was asked about this recently, he accused the RSPCA of grandstanding. This is deeply disturbing, and such an approach to be taken by a government minister troubles me, because it appears that he is not taking a fair-minded view to this very difficult policy area which has raised huge concerns in our state. The RSPCA also believes that the greyhound racing industry should be, as I previously mentioned, regulated by a strong independent body, not a system of self-regulation, whether that is beefed up or not.

I will support the bill, as the Liberal Party will, and I hope that it is successful in creating a robust legislative framework through which greyhound racing can work in South Australia. I am proud of being an advocate for animal welfare in this parliament. It is one of those things which we must always keep a watchful eye on, improving legislation and where appropriate taking action, whether that is in response to the views of our constituents or in response to investigative journalism such as we saw from the Four Corners program.

Animal welfare is not simply the domain of the Greens party. There are many members of the Liberal Party who are committed to this cause and it is with disappointment that I have to count on the government's lack of speed in getting reforms moving in this area. Their efforts to date have been slow, pale and their effectiveness will be told in time. I hope no more animals need to suffer while we wait to see if the government's legislation is effective. I commend the bill to the house and urge its speedy progression into South Australian law.

Extracted from Hansard