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  • Tougher penalties for animal cruelty offences have been introduced in NSW to better reflect community expectations.
  • Victim-survivors of domestic and family violence and their companion animals will have greater protections as a result of recent legislative amendments concerning Apprehended Domestic Violence Orders.
  • Owners corporations have been prohibited from including blanket bans for companion animals in strata by-laws.
  • The commercial breeding and importation of dolphins and other marine mammals is being phased out in NSW.

Achieving better legal protections for animals has historically been an uphill battle, but in the past year there have been a number of promising victories for animals in NSW. This includes an increase in penalties for animal cruelty offences, the recognition of companion animals in updated domestic violence legislation, and a move away from blanket bans on keeping pets in strata by-laws. The commercial breeding or importation of dolphins and other marine mammals is also being phased out in NSW following recent legislative amendments, and the fight against puppy farmers has recently ramped up.

Increase in penalties

In March 2021, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment Bill 2021 was passed by NSW parliament.  The Bill was proposed largely to amend the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 (NSW) (‘POCTA’) in order to increase penalties for certain animal welfare offences. The amendments were pursued due to ongoing criticism that NSW has one of the most lenient animal cruelty laws in Australia. The NSW Young Lawyers Animal Law Committee (‘ALC’) wrote a submission in response to the Consultation on NSW Animal Welfare Reform – Issues Paper initiated by the Department of Primary Industries. The ALC’s submission stated:

‘There is strong support for increasing statutory maximums, as current penalties do not align with community expectations. A recent Animal Protection Index assessing the standards and efficacy of nations’ animal welfare regimes gave a grade between A (strong) and G (poor) …  Australia scored ‘D’ overall, a result worse than those recorded by India, Malaysia and Mexico, and considerably worse than the UK, New Zealand and Sweden.’

The new amendments to penalties include the following:

  • Failure to provide food and shelter: increase from $5,500 to $16,500 for individuals and/or six months’ imprisonment, with corporate penalties increasing from $27,500 to $82,500 for each offence (s 8);
  • Cruelty: increase from $5,500 and/or six months’ imprisonment, to $44,000 and/or 12 months’ imprisonment for individuals per offence. The corporate penalty will increase from $27,500 to $220,000 for each offence (s 5); and
  • Aggravated cruelty: the maximum penalty per offence will increase from $22,000 to $110,000 for an individual and/or two years’ imprisonment and from $110,000 to $550,000 for a corporation for each offence (s 6).

The amendments demonstrate a growing commitment to the reform of existing animal welfare laws in NSW so they better reflect community expectations.

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