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Animal welfare law reform could rein in horse owners' rights

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Victoria is proposing changes to animal welfare laws that could affect horse owners (Image by Tiana | Pexels)

The Victoria State Government has been accused of sidestepping the consultation process over proposed changes to animal welfare laws that could see licences brought in for horse events and commercial horse activity.

Animal Care Australia (ACA) horses and livestock representative Karri Nadazdy said as a major stakeholder, ACA responded to the 'Plan for Victoria’s new animal care and protection laws directions paper' in December 2020 and said no warning was given that licensing was under consideration.

Nadazdy tells Independent Australia:

The directions paper made no reference to licences other than existing rodeo and scientific research licence requirements and did not ask for feedback on changes to, or expansion of, current licence schemes. There was no reason for ACA, or the other 1,200 respondents, to comment on how reasonable these licences and additional regulations would be or whether there was any welfare benefit to animals.

The Government released a document entitled 'Victoria’s new animal care and protection laws plan' for comment on 2 September.

It is part of the reform process for the Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 and outlines 16 policy proposals it says were drawn from earlier rounds of consultation, including the directions paper.

Among them is a proposal to impose licensing requirements on, among other things, anyone showing or exhibiting animals for a commercial purpose, organising an event in which horses are used in sport, competition or recreation, transporting a horse for a commercial purpose, keeping a horse in an intensive environment for a commercial purpose, performing procedures on a horse (other than scientific procedures) and administering substances to a horse (other than scientific procedures).

It also sets out three areas of “controlled conduct” that would restrict some procedures to being only carried out by veterinarians.

The Government confirmed last week that this could cover dentistry and farriery.

Nadazdy says horse owners and anyone involved in the equine industry in Victoria should be extremely concerned about the proposed legislation:

As there was no community or stakeholder consultation in creating this list – and previous consultation has proven to be ignored – we do not feel assured that stakeholders or community will be consulted or more importantly, heard, before any new licences are introduced.

 

The range of activities on this list includes almost everything a horse owner would do with their horse when they leave their own property — commercial purposes could include attending a breed show with your mare, transporting your horse for a lesson with a private instructor, even keeping a horse in stables overnight on agistment could be considered to be an intensive environment.

Nadazdy explains further:

Recreation is not exempt either. Will we need a licence to ride on the local rail trail with a friend because we organised the activity?

 

This list is not exclusive to horses and applies to every other animal you own, too. How many licences will animal owners have to hold? What will it cost each year? Equestrian clubs have already been struggling to remain viable after lockdowns, with members cutting back on events with the rising cost of living. How does this help? Where is the welfare benefit?

Nadazdy says the Andrews Government has previous poor form for failing to consult properly with horse owners:

"This is not the first time the Andrews Government have completely sidestepped the consultation process. In 2019, the planning minister quietly introduced caps on the number of animals a household in Victoria can own without a permit, to five including a maximum of two horses."

The proposed authority for authorised officers such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) to enter private premises without consent or a warrant for licence checks is also of concern to Animals Care Australia.

Says Nadazdy:

"Licence checks are not an emergency situation — there is no reason an inspector should have the right to enter your property without your knowledge to check on your licence. Police don't even have this sort of power of entry."

Equestrian Victoria chairwoman Christie Freeman says it is important for members to take part in this round of consultation:

"The scope of the proposed legislation as currently outlined is very broad and ambiguous, particularly around the introduction of licences. Equestrian Victoria encourages its members to read and consider how these proposed changes could affect their day-to-day operations and provide feedback to the government to highlight the potential consequences."

Adds Freeman:

In particular, the Government has called for submissions to explore potential unintended consequences of the policies or potential gaps that will impact achieving the objectives of the policies. As horse people, we are uniquely placed to identify how the proposed laws can best work and to feed back any challenges or practical considerations while the legislation is in the drafting stages.

In response to ACA’s criticism that it made no reference to licences (other than existing rodeo and scientific research licence requirements) in the previous directions paper and did not ask for feedback on changes to, or expansion of, current licence schemes, the Victoria State Government provided the following statement:

The Animal Care and Protection plan is currently open for public consultation, where feedback can be submitted on sentience, care, cruelty offences and licensing. Any new licensing requirements would have further consultation before any regulations are drafted. We welcome feedback from stakeholders to inform further work on the new laws.

Victorians and other interested parties have until 16 October to comment and can click here to go to the consultation page.

Dale Webster is an inaugural recipient of a Walkley Foundation Grant for Freelance Journalism on Regional Australia. She publishes independently through her own title, The Regional. You can follow Dale on Twitter @TheRegional_au.

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