Inconsistent animal cruelty legislation across Australia is putting vulnerable dogs at risk and could see New South Wales become the “puppy farming capital of Australia”, animal welfare advocates have warned.
NSW Animal Justice MLC Emma Hurst is calling for nationally-consistent puppy farm legislation after a Victorian man who pleaded guilty to a charge of animal cruelty was linked to a proposed dog breeding facility in NSW.
And the RSPCA said in a statement that the differing legislation between states was of concern.
Ms Hurst — who wants to see puppy farms banned — also criticised the weak legislation governing breeding facilities in NSW, especially when compared with Victoria’s laws.
Under Victorian legislation, the number of female dogs at a breeding centre is capped at 10, and the number of litters allowed per dog is limited to five, after which she must be retired.
However, Ms Hurst and animal welfare group Oscar’s Law say that no such limits exist to protect dogs in NSW.
“Following a Victorian [clampdown] on puppy farming, we are seeing puppy farmers surging across the border into NSW,” Ms Hurst said.
“We need every state and territory on board in regards to puppy farming otherwise we’re going to continue to see this issue with people just moving their businesses across the border.
“NSW is a particular target at the moment because we have some of the weakest legislation.
“The NSW Government has failed to outlaw this vile industry. While it remains legal, dogs in this industry will continue to suffer.
“Unless we want to become the puppy farming capital of Australia we need to introduce legislation urgently.”
A NSW RSPCA spokesperson did not confirm anecdotal evidence that breeders were relocating to NSW but said the differing legislation between states and territories could impact on animal welfare issues.
“There is a concern that the tightening of regulations in one jurisdiction will have consequences for neighbouring jurisdictions,” the statement said.
“Our position is that a scientific review of the animal welfare legislative framework is necessary in order to reduce the risk of poor animal welfare outcomes.
“We share community concerns that large breeding facilities may have a harder time meeting the veterinary and importantly, the behavioural needs of the companion animals they are breeding.”
Ms Hurst said she was finalising the drafting of puppy farm legislation that she hoped to table in the NSW Parliament in the next couple of months.
“The puppy farming legislation that we are tabling as part of the Animal Justice Party is very similar to legislation that has gone through in Victoria, and I know that other states are looking at pushing for similar legislation as well,” she said.
“There’s a lot of support for this kind of legislation in parliament. We hope to have the numbers in the Upper House and we hope that the government will really take this piece of legislation very seriously.
Ms Hurst’s comments follow revelations of a link between dog breeder Ashley Fenn, who has applied to the Murray River Council for approval of a puppy farm on the NSW-Victorian border, and Benjamin Geerling, on whose land the proposed facility would be built.
Mr Fenn wants to build a facility that could host up to 200 dogs and 120 puppies in Moama, in NSW.
Documents show Mr Geerling, from Shepparton in Victoria, owns the land where the proposed breeding centre is to be located.
Mr Geerling was banned from operating a domestic animal business in Victoria for 10 years in December 2018 after he pleaded guilty to one charge of failing to provide veterinary treatment to a sick animal at a breeding centre he managed at Tatura, near Shepparton.
“I am extremely nervous about the fate of these dogs if this puppy farm is approved,” Ms Hurst said.
“I have written to Murray River Council urging them to conduct further investigations into Mr Geerling’s potential involvement in the proposed dog breeding facility, and to consider any damning material when determining the development application.”
Mr Fenn said Mr Geerling would have nothing to do with the management of his proposed breeding centre in Moama or the welfare of the dogs, despite him being a former employee.
Mr Fenn said he was only leasing the land from Mr Geerling.
As previously reported by the ABC, a petition against this proposed puppy farm attracted almost 30,000 signatures in a week, and the Murray River Council received “a few thousand” submissions urging it to reject Mr Fenn’s development application.
Mr Fenn, a former state director and candidate for the Family First Party in Victoria, owned the Tatura animal breeding centre around the same time Mr Geerling committed the animal cruelty offence.
Mr Fenn said he was unaware of the animal cruelty charge until Mr Geerling pleaded guilty in court in December 2018.
The ABC does not suggest that Mr Fenn was in any way complicit in the animal cruelty that resulted in Mr Geerling’s charge.
Mr Fenn said people who were against his proposed breeding centre in Moama should focus their efforts elsewhere.
“Ms Hurst shouldn’t be nervous about the welfare of any animals unless she doesn’t have confidence in the current legal framework that we have in Australia, or those hard working men and women who enforce the laws,” Mr Fenn said.
An RSPCA NSW spokesperson said the organisation was participating in an animal cruelty legislative review as part of the Animal Welfare Action Plan started by the NSW Department of Primary Industries.
The spokesperson said the NSW Animal Welfare Code of Practice on Breeding Cats and Dogs had been in force since 2009 and related to legislation that was 40 years old.
Murray River Council Mayor Chris Bilkey has previously told the ABC the council’s decisions are constrained by Nsw laws.
The council will vote on Mr Fenn’s proposal either this month or next month.
The NSW Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall was contacted for comment.
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