DOMESTIC ANIMALS AMENDMENT (REUNITING PETS AND OTHER MATTERS) BILL 2021

Second Reading

Mr D O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (16:10): Thank you for the acknowledgement, Acting Speaker Edbrooke, and I would also like to begin with an acknowledgement of the member for Sunbury. That was an exercise in completeness, his ability to talk about the Suburban Rail Loop and the government’s Big Build program in a debate on a domestic animals amendment bill about reuniting pets with their owners. So well done, member for Sunbury. However—

Members interjecting.

Mr D O’BRIEN: You are not going to get out of here as easy as that. There is one serious issue that you have not yet addressed that 88 members of the chamber and probably the 40 in the other place would like you to fix—that is, the issue of your constituent in Diggers Rest. I hope the member will take action soon, and if any members are still having issues with it, I can talk to you about the email rule that will help address the situation for those that are still getting the said emails. Only members will know what I am talking about, but anyway.

Ms Hennessy interjected.

Mr D O’BRIEN: I did not use the name, member for Altona, but now that you have, Hansard may well pick up the interjection, so thank you for doing that.

Look, this is a good piece of legislation. As the member for Murray Plains, the Leader of The Nationals, indicated, we will not be opposing this, in part because we took basically the same commitment to the last election. It makes sense that when a dog or cat—any pet—is handed in to a vet, we actually utilise the technology afforded to us by microchips and allow them where possible to return any lost pet to its rightful owner. That is effectively what this legislation does. There are some other elements to it, and I will go to those in a moment.

We currently have a situation where councils are the only organisations authorised to reunite people with lost pets and to use the microchips, other than those vet clinics that have a special agreement—an 84Y agreement, as per section 84Y of the Domestic Animals Act 1994. So this really is quite a commonsense change and one that is supported by this side of the house too, because we know that, as the member for Sunbury indicated, many pets are part of people’s families. There is devastation when pets are lost, and any process that will safely and accurately return pets to their rightful owners is certainly to be supported.

There are a number of other changes. The government has made previous legislation, in particular the puppy farms legislation or changes to commercial breeders, and there are a number of minor changes to this legislation as well to follow up some loose ends on that legislation. We opposed that legislation at the time, and as the member for Gippsland South, certainly at the time of the legislation the Wellington shire had the largest number of commercial breeders registered in the state. I have not had an update and I am not sure what has happened since then, but many of the concerns that we raised at the time have actually been borne out. Banksia Park Puppies at Stradbroke in my electorate is a fantastic facility and the most professional organisation you could come across. The Hams family runs that facility. It was the target of much of that legislation at the time. I think they had over 100 females breeding and were the biggest in the state. We said this would drive things underground, it would drive people interstate, and whilst Banksia Park are still there, they have indeed invested in other facilities interstate.

The other issue that we raised at the time in respect of the proposed legislation was that this cuddly notion that rather than being bred on a farm or bred in a large facility we should have all our pets, all our dogs, bred in front of the fire, sitting on a beanbag with a family around them, would in fact drive up the price of pets for everyday Victorian families. The government is probably lucky because in the intervening period we have had COVID, where there has been massive demand for pets, but not surprisingly the price of dogs in particular has gone through the roof. I know from talking to Banksia Park they have done their best to keep prices reasonable. They have a massive waiting list of people trying to get their dogs. So many of the issues that we raised concerns about in fact have come to fruition. Likewise there are a number of others in my electorate. I just looked up Unique French Bulldogs, a breeder in my electorate; 55 000 people like its Facebook page.

Ms Addison: 55 000?

Mr D O’BRIEN: 55 000—I am a little bit jealous, to be frank. It is not surprising; what is on my page is nothing like how cute the French bulldog puppies are. But it is another breeder in my electorate that does a fantastic job, employs a number of people and is meeting a demand in the market.

The other thing that I just wanted to touch on briefly that both the Leader of The Nationals and you, Acting Speaker Edbrooke, mentioned in introducing me is the changes with respect to greyhounds. Yes, I am a greyhound owner, and like most greyhound owners I have become a convert and a member of the cult. I strongly endorse the comments of the Leader of The Nationals that they are a wonderful pet. I am pleased that clause 17 of the bill clarifies that muzzles only need to be worn by Greyhound Racing Victoria greyhounds. I note the irony too that for the first time in a long time we are here without muzzles in this chamber, so I am pleased also that this legislation clarifies that requirement. I must say I am a bit surprised; I actually thought that requirement for greyhounds to wear muzzles had already been removed. Perhaps this is simply clarifying that GRV-registered greyhounds must continue to do so. But for those greyhounds who are either bred as pets or are rehomed after being in the racing industry, this bill clarifies that they do not need to be muzzled. That is a good thing. Like many people, I grew up thinking that greyhounds were inherently dangerous animals, because you only ever saw them with a muzzle on. Now that I have got one and now that I have had a bit more to do with them as well in my role as an MP, nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact the member for Murray Plains was heading down a misleading path with respect to Maisy the greyhound. He did say something about her not being a threat to rabbits. The only creature that does need to be concerned about a greyhound is indeed a rabbit, and I can confirm there are no rabbits on my property anymore at the moment—touch wood. Maisy has had a bit to do with that. She has actually done the job very well, and she has done that obviously without a muzzle. But she would not hurt a human or a flea if they came near her. Put a running rabbit in front of her, or a hare, and that is a different story.

But I think that it is good that this is being done, because the Greyhound Adoption Program (GAP)—and there are other individual organisations rehoming greyhounds throughout the state—run a really good program. You can see just walking the streets, whether it is in Melbourne or regional Victoria, that the greyhound pet industry has really taken off. People have realised the value of these beautiful animals. They are all a bit different, but as the Leader of The Nationals said, Maisy is known for sleeping a good 23½ hours a day. One walk up our 600-metre driveway is pretty much enough. Through COVID it was difficult for her because of the number of times we would take her—two or three times a day. She was literally almost going to hide out the back because she had had enough.

They are beautiful animals, and I strongly support the racing industry. It is, again, in my electorate a huge employer. We have got a number of trainers. The Sale Greyhound Club as well is a big part of our community and actually puts a lot back into community groups and charities in the region, but we have improved greatly in terms of looking after the dogs as well when they get to the end of their racing lives. For the record, Maisy did not really even get there. She had one race, was scratched from another and came sixth, so that is why she was moved on. And again for the record—I think I have said this to the member for Wendouree before, or it might have actually been the member for Buninyong—Maisy’s first owner and breeder is actually from that area and she keeps in touch. And literally it takes about 3 minutes after I have put a Facebook post up with Maisy in it for Peter Desmond to be commenting. He does a great job, and it highlights just how much the breeders and trainers actually still love their animals even when they are no longer with them.

So certainly I endorse the comments that the GAP is a wonderful program rehoming greyhounds, and the decision to remove muzzles from them and make sure that greyhounds do not have to wear a muzzle will be a good thing in changing that perception of the breed and encouraging people to take up the pet option. The substantive part of this legislation, as I said, is common sense. We are not opposing it, and I commend the bill to the house.

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