Second Reading – Domestic Animals Amendment (Puppy Farms and Pet Shops) Bill 2016

I rise to speak on the Domestic Animals Amendment (Puppy Farms and Pet Shops) Bill 2016. I rise to oppose this bill, backed up by hundreds of emails and phone calls to my office since these laws were first proposed 12 months ago, but I support the amendment put forward by my colleague.

It was quite obvious there was wide opposition to the government’s proposed bill, and that is why they pulled it and said they would consult widely. Apparently this bill we have today is a better bill, but if it is a better bill I struggle to understand why there are 30 pages of amendments. It is clearly not a well-written bill if at the last minute we have still got 30 pages of amendments.

It is obvious to me that it is not a good bill, because it is very obvious — and I have heard it in the house today — that there is so little understanding of animal welfare. It is something I very much prioritise, having spent probably 15 years as an advocate for it in my agri-political involvement prior to entering this place.

The bill has the guise of protecting animals, which is a very valid cause and one you will never have to convince me of, but what this bill actually does, even with the amendments, is paint every animal breeder with the same brush. Yes, there are people out there, whatever sort of operator of any sort of business, who do not do the right thing, but they need to be brought to the attention of the law, and the department has a role to play to enforce the rules and laws that we have. We should not create a situation where we make it impossible for people to do business by putting more and more layers of regulation in place, actually making the animal welfare outcomes, which those opposite say they want to improve, much, much worse. Let us make sure we get the department doing its job and the minister doing her job — that is, to understand real issues around animals, agriculture, productivity and the things that will help animal welfare, not hinder it. Putting more and more criteria in for businesses to struggle with is only going to allow less opportunity for animal welfare to shine and be harnessed as an opportunity to do even better.

True people who know animals and work with animals understand that that is what the business is centred around. For our family business, the dairy farm that my husband and my sons now operate, the animal is the centre of that business; it is what we prioritise. During calving at 10 o’clock at night we are out checking the cows. If one of them is in labour, you do not go to bed without setting the alarm for 2 o’clock, and at 2 o’clock you get up again, you check that cow and if she is in trouble, you deliver that calf — or you go back to bed and you go back and check her again at 4 o’clock. You know your animals; you are looking at them; you are observing them. That is what is happens in puppy breeding arrangements as well.

It is ludicrous to put a cap on the amount of animals per breeder. You do not run a business by capping your opportunity, because the more you can grow that business the more, in these instances, you can have people observing and looking after the animals, so you can often do a better job. Like somebody said, we have a 1000-cow farm; does that mean we are not doing a good job? I find that incredibly insulting. I have never ever left an animal to suffer. In fact I own a space blanket — I do not think too many other farmers even know what they are, but it is a blanket that you put over a human when they are cold to raise their body temperature — and I use that on my cows. We care about our animals because we know our animals.

I remember being in England a few years ago. I went to visit some animals that were housed and I thought, ‘This is a bit out there for me’, because I had not been involved with housed cows before; ours are free in the paddock and that seems normal to me. I went to a farmer discussion day and I heard them talking about the mattresses and making sure the mattresses fit properly and about the diet that they used, which is different to the diet of animals when they are outside. I felt like I was back in the mothers group I had been in when my first son was born, because they were talking about the mattress size, the diet — all the sorts of things that you would imagine a mothers group would discuss.

I find it incredibly outrageous that the member for Prahran said they are all really bad. I bet he has never visited a dog breeding operation, because if he had, he would have seen how clean the environments are. Clearly there are some operators who are acting badly, but I would be the very first to say that we do not tolerate animals being treated badly, so throw the book at them.

This bill really shows me that the Minister for Agriculture has no understanding of how to actually make things work better or harness it. We have such opportunity in agriculture, including with breeding dogs, and we need dogs on the farm as well. Our dog Gypsie gets the cows every morning and night. You just try and stop her! She knows her job. I wait at the gate, the motorbike stops and in she goes and gets the cows by herself — the stragglers that are at the back. Come calving time she gets tied up, because you do not put a dog in a paddock when a cow is calving, as they do not like each other at that time. So we know our animals, and we do not do things that do not reflect that knowledge and understanding.

I remember being in an animal welfare discussion with some people from around the community — there were some educators and there were some department people — and a woman who had come from Melbourne to the meeting, which was out in western Victoria, said that on the way to the meeting she had seen a cow giving birth in the paddock. She thought that was really inappropriate and that we should get a screen and have that available to put around the animal to protect her privacy while she was giving birth. I actually sat in a meeting where somebody once said that. And I think that is what I have heard here today: more of the ridiculousness of people not understanding how businesses that operate with animals actually work — and work well.

I see dogs in apartments nowadays when I am in Melbourne. I see people taking dogs up and down high-rise apartments, and I find that strange, but it is just different for me — it is not wrong. What I do in the country with animals is not wrong either. It is about respecting each other and understanding that when you are not in somebody else’s business, do not judge until you actually really get involved and understand it. That is what has not happened here. Consultation has not taken place with the real people on the ground who are doing a very good job.

This is a political ploy to appease some people. It is absolutely outrageous, and it offends not only the dog owners, I am sure — they certainly told me. As I said, I received hundreds of calls and hundreds of emails — but also from other animal businesses. What is next? Are we going to shut down dairy? Shut down wool? Shut down beef? Honestly we do a great job in the country, and I think we should be embracing the opportunities. South-West Coast has the biggest farm output in the state, and it has the second-biggest output in the country. We need to find ways to increase productivity. Caps and these sorts of regulations are doing the exact opposite.