Shire Matters with Mark Speakman: Zero tolerance for animal abuse

Mark Speakman with his dogs Ralph (labrador) and Lucy (golden retriever).

Mark Speakman with his dogs Ralph (labrador) and Lucy (golden retriever).

A society's morality could be measured in the way it defends the defenceless. Last week the NSW Legislative Assembly (lower house) voted to pass a government bill that introduces the toughest penalties in the nation for animal welfare offences. The bill now goes to the Legislative Council (upper house).

As chance should have it, 20 February - three days after the passage of the bill - was "Love Your Pet Day", a day to set aside a bit of extra special time with our furry, fishy or feathered friends. Australians love their companion animals. In fact, we have one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world. We also have the highest expectations when it comes to ensuring their protection.

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment Bill 2021 will help to meet those high community expectations by introducing a strict penalty framework that reflects the seriousness of animal cruelty offences.

The penalty increases include the following:

Failure to provide food and shelter: increases from $5,500 to $16,500 for individuals, per offence, with corporate penalties increasing from $27,500 to $82,500.

Cruelty: increases from $5,500 and/or six months' imprisonment per offence, to $44,000 and/or 12 months' imprisonment for individuals. The corporate penalty will increase from $27,500 to $220,000.

Aggravated cruelty: increases from $22,000 to $110,000 for an individual and from $110,000 to $550,000 for a corporation.

Animal cruelty is cowardly and sickening. We also know that there's a firmly established link between animal abuse and violence against humans. Turning a blind eye to these vile acts is not an option; we must send a clear message that violence, no matter what form it takes, or against whom it's directed, will never be tolerated.

The novelist Orhan Pamuk wrote the beautiful line, "dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen". It's a joy to return home to my dogs at the end of a long parliamentary sitting - and last week, Ralph and Lucy Speakman even congratulated me on a "job well done"!