These amendments are primarily aimed at increasing the capacity of the Act to enable the regulation of matters relating to the health, safety and welfare of animals, as distinct from the prohibition of cruelty to animals. Over time, community expectations and scientific understanding of the needs of animals have put greater emphasis on animal welfare, and Australian governments have moved to make animal welfare requirements mandatory. The proposed amendments will assist in responding to these changing priorities.
The need for the Act to be amended was identified when attempts were made to implement, through regulation, the national standards and guidelines for land transport of livestock. At this time, it was identified that the Act does not authorise relevant regulations to be drafted, and consequently would not allow national standards to be adopted. Amendments are also needed to properly monitor compliance with the Act.
Western Australia and the Australian Capital Territory are the only two jurisdictions that have yet to regulate the national standards for land transport of livestock, which were endorsed by all states and territories in 2012. The proposed amendments to the Act will enable these and other standards, such as those for cattle and sheep (endorsed in 2016), to be implemented in Western Australia.
What changes to the Act are proposed?
The main changes to the Act as detailed in the Animal Welfare Amendment Bill 2017 are:
The introduction of a new division and regulation making powers. The Act does not currently authorise regulations providing for the health, safety and welfare of animals and related matters. To remedy this, Part 3 (offences against animals) has been restructured to include a new division and clearly provide for regulations to be made dealing with matters that are, or are likely to be, encompassed by current and future national standards.
Additional provision for prescribed acts of cruelty to an animal by a person in charge of the animal. This amendment, together with the existing general provisions for prescribed acts of cruelty by a person, whether or not the person is in charge of the animal, will be used to implement, by regulation, the mandatory part of the standards.
The power to limit the application of current defences and prescribe new defences to a charge of cruelty. This change is needed because future regulations will be drafted and adopted and defences that already exist in the Act may undermine actions to enforce the prohibition of cruelty. By making this amendment, the application of these pre-existing defences can be limited and the standards can be enforced.
The creation of a new class of inspectors (designated general inspectors) with powers to enable monitoring of compliance with the Act. Under the Act at present, the powers of entry to non-residential places and vehicles without the owner/occupier’s consent are limited to situations where there is a reasonable suspicion of a cruelty offence or in limited circumstances under a warrant. There is no capacity to enter without the owner/occupier’s consent to investigate possible breaches of the regulations or to verify compliance with the Act in the absence of grounds to suspect a cruelty offence. The Bill will provide for a new class of general inspector, designated by the Minister and having power to enter non-residential places and vehicles for the purpose of verifying compliance with the Act and regulations, as well as official directions and court orders.