Ellen speaks up for animals

Speech to Victorian Parliament, 6 October 2015

It gives me great pleasure to rise and speak on this bill and affirm that the Greens will be supporting this bill, which strengthens enforcement of and compliance with the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986. 

As has already been mentioned, the bill clarifies offences relating to dogfights and cockfights, expands the ability of courts to intervene to prevent animal cruelty and increases penalties for offences of cruelty to animals. As has been mentioned, the bill implements some of the recommendations of the investigation into animal welfare and cruelty in the Victorian greyhound racing industry. 

Victorians were profoundly shocked by the revelations about live baiting in the greyhound industry that were revealed on Four Corners in February this year. I, and I imagine many other people in this place, received hundreds of letters from Victorians who were so concerned. They were horrified. There was sickened by these discoveries. Live baiting and blooding is simply a horrific, inhumane and cruel practice. It is illegal of course, but it depends on a really strong enforcement framework and really strong enforcement to ensure that it does not occur, and that simply has not been happening in the greyhound racing industry.

The previous member said that we should not overreact to these allegations, but I do not think this is an overreaction. This bill is a step in the right direction, but I actually think it is insufficient when it comes to animal cruelty. It is deeply concerning that Greyhound Racing Victoria, one body, is on the one hand responsible for animal welfare but on the other hand also responsible for the promotion of this industry. This form of self-regulation clearly creates a conflict of interest, and what suffers is the welfare of the animals. We have already seen that happen; we have seen the horrific consequences of this. If the government refuses to ban greyhound racing, at the very minimum it needs to introduce independent regulation of the greyhound industry.

 Greyhound Racing Victoria cannot continue to be both the promoter and police force for this industry. By way of context I want to talk a bit more broadly about cruelty to animals. Although this bill is a good step in the right direction, there are so many other things that we need to do as a Victorian community in this area. The laws we have in this state are simply not strong enough to protect animals. The profit motive and negligence expose animals to treatment that most Victorians would find really appalling and deeply distressing if they could see it for themselves.

 I draw to the attention of members a few issues in need of urgent attention here in Victoria, and our time in this Parliament is our opportunity to make a big difference in the lives of animals in this state with a few simple measures. We would start by banning sow stalls and cage eggs. We cannot keep cramming animals together in really horrific circumstances with no regard for their health or welfare simply because of a greedy desire to maximise profit at the expense of animal welfare. The Greens have long been calling for a swift end to jumps racing.

 This is a particularly barbaric form of horse racing that has resulted in numerous preventable deaths and horrific injuries of horses in this year alone. We could easily put an end to this by banning jumps racing, just like almost every other state in the country has done. We would not be the first, and indeed we would be almost the last state to do so. Something close to my heart is doing away with duck shooting. We need to put an end to this archaic and barbaric practice, and again we are one of the last states in the country that allows it.

 I am ashamed that we have not banned it. It not only results in horrific injuries to and the deaths of many water birds but also means that many protected and endangered birds are killed every year. That is not on. If we care about protecting biodiversity in the environment, we cannot allow duck shooting to continue. These are quite simple measures, but they need the will of members in this place and of this government to achieve them. We have not seen that will demonstrated so far. I want to raise a couple of other matters.

 The Greens have raised with the Minister for Agriculture and the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water the issue of the netting that is used by many people to cover their backyard fruit trees as protection from birds. A lot of people do not realise some of the netting they use traps endangered flying foxes. They often get caught in these nets resulting in quite horrific injuries and sometimes death. It is also quite dangerous for the wildlife rescuers who go out to collect them. We could ban inappropriate netting.

It does not mean people cannot cover their fruit trees — absolutely not. It just means they need to use nets with slightly smaller holes, so they do not inadvertently catch fruit bats, flying foxes, birds or other critters in those nets. We could very easily create regulations to prevent the sale of non-wildlife-safe netting. It would be a very easy thing for this government to do through regulation and something that I think would have a huge impact on wildlife carers and our endangered species. Similarly we need to better regulate and enforce prohibitions on opera house nets in private waterways.

These hurt and kill many platypuses every year. We also need much stronger regulations and compliance around glue traps, because these cause huge suffering to small animals. This bill is a good start. I am pleased to support it, but if we are taking small measures like this, we really should also be looking at the bigger picture. We should be making sure that the welfare of animals in our state is the highest priority and is not trumped by commercial or industry objectives time after time. Ghandi said, ‘The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated’. As lawmakers in this place we are entrusted with the responsibility to protect and advance our moral progress through the legislation we create. We have the opportunity to weave greater compassion and humanity into Victoria’s laws.

We can make sure that the principles of care and compassion towards all living things, not just towards human beings, are embedded in our laws. It is for these reasons that I am pleased to support the bill as a step towards a more compassionate approach to the treatment of animals in our state. We may seek to move amendments in the upper house to further strengthen the protection of animals in our state, but in the meantime I wish the bill a speedy passage.

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