Reforming NSW's Broken Pound and Shelter System

Abigail spoke today in support of a Bill to enforce stricter rules for pounds and shelters across the state, the first step to reforming our broken animal shelter system.

Abigail said:

On behalf of The Greens, I support the Companion Animals Amendment (Rehoming Animals) Bill 2021, which seeks to amend the Companion Animals Act 1998 to require councils to take additional action before an animal can be euthanised. A council must attempt to rehome a seized or surrendered healthy or treatable animal by approaching at least two rehoming organisations. The Greens believe the bill is a largely uncontroversial first step in an urgently needed complete overhaul of New South Wales' broken pound and shelter system. I sincerely thank the Hon. Emma Hurst for introducing the bill to begin that process. I note that the Department of Primary Industries is currently overseeing the first review in four decades of New South Wales' animal welfare and protection legislative framework, but I also recognise that the review is long behind its original schedule and that animals are being needlessly euthanised in our pounds every day. Therefore, it is appropriate to make this small change to the current framework now and to save lives while the review is ongoing.

The tragic and preventable killing of 15 dogs in a regional council pound in August of this year exposed just how necessary pound and shelter reform is. Our animal shelter system is deeply broken. Now that no member in this place can deny knowing that, the plight of impounded animals must be an ongoing focus of this Parliament. In spite of the Government's rhetoric, the welfare outcomes of the tens of thousands of animals that have passed through and so often died inside our pounds over the past few decades have been continually overlooked and de‑prioritised by successive New South Wales governments and Ministers. However, if we pass the bill today we must also recognise that fixing our pounds will require a holistic overhaul of legislation and oversight mechanisms, greatly improved support and funding for local councils from the State Government, and significant financial and social investment in education programs.

I acknowledge that the killing by shooting of those 15 dogs and puppies was brought to light by animal welfare activists. In particular, I thank Animal Liberation not only for its work in exposing this incident but also for its effective and committed work with Bourke Shire Council and other councils since then. Bourke council has ceased euthanising impounded animals by shooting and has confirmed that all future euthanasia will be undertaken by a licensed veterinary practitioner or a trained and competent person. As with all social progress, we owe that step forward to people who care taking action. Advocates, activists and concerned members of the public continue to expose and act to end appalling conditions, abhorrent animal suffering and complete disregard for the welfare and rights of impounded animals. I note also that animal activists working in the pound space have been calling for years for substantial audits. The Minister for Local Government committed to that when I questioned her during the most recent budget estimates hearings in the wake of the Bourke shooting scandal.

Council pounds are essential public services and must be treated as such. For years activists and advocates have been calling for the introduction of meaningful legal protections, improved regulatory oversight, financial and best practice policy support from the New South Wales Government for councils running pounds, and public transparency and accountability. However, because they are under‑resourced, under‑regulated and de‑prioritised, many council pounds are run down, do not meet basic welfare standards and do not allow any public access. In contrast, private shelters and volunteer rescue and rehoming organisations, none of which receive public funding, do much of the heavy lifting and continue to achieve the greatest success in saving lives, rather than taking them. The bill recognises that by requiring council pounds to allow animal rescuers to take animals off their hands when they would otherwise be killed. In Victoria and Western Australia [WA], the important role played by private and volunteer rescuers is recognised. Annual grants are available to support their crucial work. New South Wales must follow the lead of Victoria and WA by introducing grant schemes to support those dedicated individuals and organisations in continuing their vital, life‑saving work in our communities.

In the interests of engaging with the ongoing animal welfare reform review and noting that the Companion Animals Act will soon be overhauled, I provide the following comments on the specifics of the bill and its intent, which The Greens would hope to see incorporated into any new legislation. Firstly, we believe legislation should recognise the same rights to rescue for all species and that those protections should not be determined by the place of impounding. Animals impounded in shelters managed by the RSPCA and the Animal Welfare League NSW and those that are not classed as companion animals but are impounded nonetheless, are deserving of equal protections. However, I recognise that the ability to make those changes does not exist under the current legislative framework.

Secondly, the requirement for an impounding facility to take reasonable steps to advertise the animal as available for rehoming should be clarified in regulations to specify the necessary steps to avoid any ambiguity. Thirdly, transparency demands that the records that an impounding facility must compile and retain regarding action taken before destroying an animal should be made publicly available and reported on annually by the Office of Local Government. Finally, The Greens would like to see that in any instance where an impounded animal is in need of immediate or urgent care and the impounding facility cannot or will not provide that care, the animal must be released to a rehoming organisation under an immediate duty of care rather than being destroyed. Similarly, the method of disposal is a key consideration. We must legislate acceptable methods of euthanasia to ensure impounded animals are never again shot.

I put on the record The Greens' endorsement of Animal Liberation's 15‑point plan to reform the New South Wales pound and shelter system, which calls on the New South Wales Government to implement a number of recommendations. There are about 15 in all. In the interests of time, I will not list them now, but they are publicly available. I would hope that the Government has gone to the trouble of reading the Animal Liberation's demands. They were formulated after a considerable amount of work to identify the holes where reform is needed. The welfare of animals in our pounds should not be a partisan issue. The Greens look forward to continuing to work with the Hon. Emma Hurst, the Government, the Opposition and, most importantly, the dedicated animal activists and advocates to reform animal pounds and shelters in line with progressive animal welfare practices and the very clear expectations of the public.

 

The full debate can be found in Hansard, here.

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