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Wednesday, 11 February 2015
Page: 481

Senator BACK (Western Australia) (15:39): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill and to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

I thank the Senate for the opportunity to introduce the Criminal Code Amendment (Animal Protection) Bill 2015. This bill amends the Criminal Code Act of 1995.

Malicious cruelty to animals is illegal and is totally unacceptable to the Australian community. If such action has occurred then it is in the interests of the animal or animals at risk and the wider community that such an event is investigated with the least possible delay.

The bill defines malicious cruelty to animals as unlawful activity that is engaged in for the purpose of inflicting unnecessary pain, injury or death upon domestic animals.

The animal protection bill is aimed at enhancing the protection of domestic animals by ensuring that evidence of abuse or malicious cruelty is reported to relevant authorities as soon as practicable and that photographic or other visual evidence is presented to these same authorities without unreasonable delay.

Secondly, the bill makes it illegal for a person to engage in conduct that destroys or damages property used in carrying on a lawful animal enterprise, or belonging to a person who carries on, or is otherwise connected with, an animal enterprise. Such action has the capacity to place at risk the safety and wellbeing of animals housed or husbanded in such a facility as well as to interfere in the lawful activities of the person or persons conducting this enterprise.

Division 383 of the bill deals with failure to report malicious cruelty to animals.

The bill seeks to amend the Criminal Code by ensuring a person who observes and makes a visual record of any activity they believe to be malicious cruelty to an animal or animals has committed an offence if firstly, they fail to alert the relevant authority with responsibility for animal welfare and secondly if they fail to provide to this authority the visual record they have taken of the event.

The person making the record must advise the relevant authority within one business day and hand over the visual record within five business days. This would take into account a circumstance in which the person observing the incident in a remote location has adequate time to make contact with the relevant authority.

There can be no reasonable excuse to delay the reporting and subsequent provision of a confirmatory record of an event of alleged animal cruelty in achieving the outcome of limiting malicious cruelty.

Visual evidence of malicious cruelty, such as photographic material, is a powerful weapon to support the observation of the person observing the incident. Such evidence could be of value in any subsequent prosecution of a person or persons alleged to have inflicted malicious cruelty.

The person taking the visual record is not bound in any way to make such a judgement. All that is necessary is that they believe the act observed and recorded is one of malicious cruelty. In such a situation they are obliged to report this event and provide the visual imagery as evidence within the timeframes identified in the bill.

Circumstances do occur when a routine act of animal husbandry may appear to an observer to be malicious when it is undertaken for sound health or disease preventative purposes or to ensure a safe working environment.

At all times the primary objective of this division of the bill is the welfare of the animals believed to be the victims of malicious cruelty.

It is simply unacceptable to delay action being taken to stop an act of malicious cruelty to an animal or animals for the purposes of publicity or to maximise media impact.

I reject the argument that circumstances may favour a case in which someone may want to accumulate a number of incidences of alleged malicious cruelty before drawing this to the attention of authorities.

The case against a perpetrator is strengthened if a number of alleged incidences are recorded and reported while still acting each time to attempt to discourage or prevent further cruelty.

The relevant authority in the jurisdiction where an alleged activity has occurred is responsible for establishing the accuracy of an alleged act of malicious cruelty, to establish if such an act was in fact malicious and, if satisfied, to take the necessary action under the statute by which the officer is authorised to act.

Division 385 of the bill deals with interference with the conduct of lawful animal enterprises.

Australians value highly privacy and the right to engage in lawful activity without the threat of intrusion or interference by others.

This bill penalises anyone who seeks to destroy or damage property or cause fear of death or serious bodily injury to any person engaged in the conduct of a lawful animal enterprise.

It will be an offence if a person threatens, harasses or intimidates anyone associated with the conduct of a lawful animal enterprise with the intention of interfering with the carrying on of the enterprise. This includes targeting a person operating the enterprise or their close family members, their staff and/or contractors.

Furthermore any person who engages in criminal trespass, or who damages or vandalises property is guilty of an offence under the provisions of this bill.

Under the provisions of the bill, a range of penalties apply depending on the extent of economic damage and/or bodily injury inflicted.

Illegal entry to an animal enterprise has the potential to cause significant adverse impact on animals as well as humans attending to them. Many animal enterprises are created as minimal disease facilities in which the animals have little or no resistance to many organisms including viruses, bacteria or parasites endemic in the wider population for that species.

Invasion of such housing can expose these animals to the threat of introduced diseases leading to their loss of amenity or productivity, infectious disease or death.

In 2014 vandals gained access to a cattle and sheep enterprise in Western Australia during heatwave conditions. This facility was engaged in constitutional trade and commerce. The activists cut supply of water for livestock, destroyed equipment and severed hydraulic brake lines on vehicles used for transporting animals. Had these actions not been detected and remediated by diligent operators, both human and animal lives would have been placed at significant risk.

There have been recent examples where activists allegedly entered the roof space of an intensive piggery in the late evening to place monitoring equipment in the roof of the area in which sows give birth. Not only was this action dangerous to the individuals themselves but could have caused significant stress to the animals at a critical stage in their reproductive cycles.

Significant biosecurity risks could result from illegal entry by unauthorised persons into a high-security facility in which a lawful animal enterprise is being operated.

The Australian economy benefits as a result of being free of many devastating animal and bird diseases. This is best evidenced by the significant cost, and often inconvenience, experienced by people entering the country at our airports and ports.

This legislation gives emphasis to the importance of maintaining vigilance and it highlights the risk to our international reputation and the livelihoods of countless Australians if a breakdown of quarantine was to occur through the misguided attempts of any person to breach the security of such facilities and the protection of animals housed within.

The wider community has no tolerance for those who illegally invade private property for whatever purpose. No person has the right to endanger people going about their legal business on their own property or that of their employer.

The bill is not designed to apply to the exclusion of a law of a state or a territory to the extent that the law is capable of operating concurrently with the bill.

Division 383 does not seek to interfere with or limit or infringe on any constitutional doctrine of implied freedom of political communication or to affect the law relating to legal professional privilege.

The provisions of the bill do not apply to conduct which is peaceful picketing or a legally sanctioned peaceful demonstration. It will have no application with any action being undertaken in good faith related to, for example, an industrial dispute or other industrial matter.

The bill is designed to protect the activities of law-abiding citizens engaged in lawful enterprise.

It is a sad indictment that, in a country such as Australia, it becomes necessary to introduce laws to protect animals and our citizens against a minority who believe they are above the law, who seek to take the law into their own hands, to invade the privacy of those engaged in their own lawful pursuit or who would use some activist zeal to put lives and livelihoods at risk.

A person who withholds from authorities footage of suspected malicious cruelty to animals for days, weeks, or even months, is not acting in the best interests of animal protection.

The need to take immediate action to minimise risk to an animal, to facilitate its removal from danger, and to ensure other animals are not similarly put at risk, is compelling.

I commend the bill to the Senate.

Senator BACK: I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.