Dod Amendment Bill - Committee

Hon LYNN MacLAREN: I want to make some comments on clause 1 and ask the minister some questions so that I am sure we will all be illuminated further about the intricacies of this bill.

My question is basically this: could the minister please explain for my constituents and for the record why we are going down the path of trying to identify dangerous dogs by breed? As I indicated in my speech in the second reading debate, there is quite a bit of evidence that legislating on the basis of restricted breeds does not work. I am concerned because I do not believe the minister’s reply to the second reading debate explained why we are doing this when, for example, the RSPCA has said that restricted-breeds legislation does not work; the Australian Veterinary Association has said that restricted-breeds legislation does not work; and Bill Bruce from Canada, the advocate for what is known as the Calgary model and who will be here at the end of this week, has said this also.

There are 13 000 signatures on a petition saying that this approach to dangerous dog identification does not work. If I could get from the Minister for Local Government a clear explanation of why the government is continuing to go down this road, that would be very helpful to us in debating the rest of this bill.

Hon HELEN MORTON: I could almost give my second reading response again to respond in full to the comments the member has just made about the Calgary model, because the member would then have some understanding that the Calgary model has been considered and it certainly has been taken on board in the development of this legislation. The Calgary model is based on a by-law in the city of Calgary, Canada, that focuses on dog education and stronger enforcement rather than the banning of specific breeds.

The city of Calgary undertakes an extensive dog safety public awareness campaign. It also focuses on punishing the behaviour of the dog, not the breed. That is well understood. The city of Calgary has put in place significant penalties, including for chase and bark incidents. Officers are also empowered to declare specific dogs as dangerous, which results in higher licence fees, muzzling rules and restrictions on dog handlers. It has been reported that the number of aggressive dog incidents in the city of Calgary has decreased as a result of that legislation.

It is important to note that this legislation contains a number of elements of the Calgary model, because it enables dogs that have attacked or have repeatedly threatened to attack to be deemed dangerous on the basis of their deed, not the breed. That component is already in this legislation. What I am saying is that we are dealing with both—we have picked up from the Calgary model the deed aspect, and we are dealing also with the breed aspect. The provisions around dogs being declared dangerous have been strengthened, and the penalties have been increased. I therefore seriously wonder why people can continue to say that this is not a better piece of legislation to put in place when there is a known breed of dog that is significantly more dangerous than other breeds.

I have provided to the member, in both questions on notice and questions without notice, a number of statistics. I have also provided, through my second reading response, statistics from the United States and New South Wales, and other places, about the number of dog attacks. Although we are talking about five breeds that are dangerous, only one breed in Western Australia will be placed on the banned list. A number of scientific studies in the United States and Canada have shown that pit bulls are overwhelmingly the greatest contributors to fatalities and serious injuries from dog attacks. Between 1979 and 1994, pit bulls were responsible for more than 35 per cent of deaths from dog attacks; and between 1994 and 2005, pit bulls were responsible for 35 per cent of attacks that resulted in death or serious injury.

Fatalities were most often reported when children were attacked, with 70 per cent of victims being under the age of 10. This propensity to attack and cause serious injury is also evident in the statistics on dog attacks kept by the New South Wales government. There is a significant level of information around pit bulls and the way in which they attack. I therefore do not think there is any problem with our taking the best of the Calgary model, plus this restricted breed, and incorporating that into this new piece of legislation.

Hon LYNN MacLAREN: I know that there is a range of statistics that we can use, but I do not seem to have the same statistics that the minister has. I am referring to page 11 of an Australian Veterinary Association paper of 2012, which contains a graph of the number of dog attacks in New South Wales. This is very concerning to me, and this is the reason I am bringing this matter to the attention of members. That graph shows that the number of dog attacks has increased considerably regardless of pit bull involvement.

My concern is that we will pass this bill, and Western Australians will rightly expect the number of dangerous dog attacks to reduce. However, that will not be the result of this bill. I believe that is the essence of why we should not try to restrict any particular breed, as has been pointed out by the Australian Veterinary Association and the RSPCA.

The statistics that I have indicated that over time—it depends on which slice of time we look at—the dog breeds that have been dangerous have been German shepherd, Doberman, greyhound, Rottweiler and American pit bull. This will be my final question on this matter in clause 1. In the list that I have of dog attacks in New South Wales, kelpie is six per cent, Rottweiler is 5.7 per cent, Jack Russell terrier is 4.7 per cent, German shepherd is eight per cent, all types of bull terrier is 7.9 per cent, Doberman is 1.2 per cent, and all types of heeler is 6.3 per cent. If we want to go down this road of restricting one particular breed as being the dog that is dangerous—in addition to the dogs that are declared dangerous no matter what breed they are—why have we chosen the pit bull? Why have we not chosen other dangerous dogs that are involved in fatal attacks?

Anyone who has been reading The West Australian of late would see that hundreds of dog attacks occur each year. Many different breeds are involved in those attacks. If we go down this road of identifying only the pit bull as a dangerous breed, two things will happen. The first is that all pit bulls, and all dogs that look like pit bulls or are mistaken for pit bulls, will be treated as dangerous dogs. The second is that a lot of other dogs that are dangerous will not be picked up as dangerous dogs. We need to have a clear understanding of the bill that is before us. I completely support declaring dogs as dangerous and imposing additional requirements to ensure community safety. No-one disputes the fact that we need to do that. However, I have lot of sympathy for people who own a dog that may have some pit bull in it, or that is a pit bull, because those dogs should not be captured by this approach that is being taken to restricted breeds. That is not just because of my compassion for these constituents. It is based on evidence from around the world that restricted-breed legislation is ineffective.

Hon HELEN MORTON: The comments that the member made about the RSPCA and the Australian Veterinary Association were also looked at by the people involved in drafting this legislation. Both the RSPCA and the Australian Veterinary Association have stated that they do not support breed-specific legislation. That is fine; we understand that. However, the RSPCA states that there is a strong genetic component in a dog’s propensity for aggressive behaviour, trigger point for aggression and capacity to inflict serious injury. The Australian Veterinary Association, in its August 2012 report on dangerous dogs, states at page 2 —
While genetics are an important factor, the impact of the environment and learning are critical to the behaviour of a dog. The tendency of a dog to bite is dependent on at least five interacting factors:
• heredity (genes, breed)
• early experience
• socialisation and training
• health … and
• victim behaviour …
Unfortunately, this report is flawed by its use of statistics. On page 6, the report states that —
The Pit Bull Terrier has been the target of recent state legislation, despite data that the breed is responsible for no more attacks than a number of other breeds.

It quotes the New South Wales raw data on attacks, failing to take into consideration the size of the population of this breed and thus the demonstrated aggressiveness of the breed. For example, in 2009–10 in New South Wales, there was, in fact, one attack for every 29 pit bull terriers. The report argues that breed-specific legislation has failed because it has not reduced the number of attacks by this breed or the percentage of the breed that attacks. It does, however, show that the proportion of dog attacks carried out by pit bulls has decreased. Perhaps this is, in fact, evidence that the controls have had some effect.

The Australian Veterinary Association, in its draft paper “Elements of effective dog legislation”, states, according to my notes—

While all dogs can bite, it is recognised that the size of the dog plays a significant role in the potential harm that can be done. Data based on medical surveys have identified that certain breeds are more likely to cause injury requiring medical attention than others. Bites from large breed dogs are more likely to do more serious damage to the victim.

I will respond to the particular statistics from New South Wales, because, as I recall, it has the best contained statistics around dog bites et cetera.

Hon Lynn MacLaren interjected.

Hon HELEN MORTON: Yes. In New South Wales, the Companion Animals Act 1998, as amended in 2008, requires that councils report to the New South Wales Division of Local Government, within the Department of Premier and Cabinet, information on dog attacks within 72 hours of receiving the information. A dog attack can include any incident in which a dog rushes at, attacks, bites, harasses or chases any person or animal other than vermin, whether or not any injury is caused to the person or animal. In March 2012, the department released a report covering council reports of dog attacks in New South Wales in 2010–11. Eighty-seven attacks were by purebred pit bull terriers, with 2 567 pure–breed pit bull terriers on the register. This represents an attack rate of 3.4 per 100 dogs on the register. Only Tibetan mastiffs had a higher attack rate, but as only two attacks occurred, with 43 on the register, the numbers are too small to draw a conclusion about the aggressiveness of that breed. That is the problem when we are dealing with some breeds that have very small numbers.

Of cross-breed dogs, pit bull terriers accounted for 50 attacks. With 1 287 cross–breed pit bull terriers on the register, this represents an attack rate of 3.9 per 100 dogs on the register. This was the fourth highest rate of attack after St Bernard, British bulldog and Dogue De Bordeaux, but these accounted for only four, six and four attacks respectively—so we must be careful when we use very small numbers of attacks, and very small numbers of dogs—and had registered numbers of 58, 101 and 87. The pure–breed pit bull terrier had the highest rate of attack in 2005–06 and 2007–08, the second highest in 2006–07 and 2009–10, and the third highest in 2008–09. The cross–breed pit bull terrier had the highest rate of attack in 2006–07, 2007–08 and 2008–09, the fourth highest in 2005–06, and the fifth highest in 2009–10.

Over the six years that data had been collected and collated on dog attacks in New South Wales, the pit bull terrier, whether a purebred or a cross breed, had never been outside the top five most dangerous dogs, and five times it had headed the table. No other breed of dog has appeared in the top five of the 12 lists of most dangerous dog breeds, pure or crosses, more than seven times, compared with 12 by pit bull terriers. In New South Wales, 523 dog attacks over the six years were attributed to pit bull terriers.

Where I indicate that we are doing both, I believe that the community’s interest and community safety are best served by incorporating into this legislation both those dogs by breed and the pit bull terrier by breed.

Hon LYNN MacLAREN: I was very interested to hear those statistics, and I think it proves that it is just how we look at those statistics, does it not? Therefore, we should perhaps consider a lot of breeds to be dangerous and try to isolate whether they —
Hon Helen Morton interjected.
Hon LYNN MacLAREN: One of the problems that I have with what the minister just read to us from the RSPCA was a small clause that was left out of that quote. Just to finalise this, I feel it is very important that the RSPCA’s complete statement goes on the record. I will then take the minister’s stats on advice. Obviously, we are going down this road regardless of the counterargument. However, the RSPCA’s position is clear. As the minister said—I am quoting—

Our view, based on the available international scientific evidence, is that any dog may be dangerous and that dogs should not be declared as ‘dangerous’ on the basis of breed. While we recognise that there is a strong genetic component in a dog’s propensity for aggressive behaviour, their trigger point for aggression and capacity to inflict serious injury, these factors are not isolated to any specific breed.
That is the phrase that the minister left out at the beginning of her remarks. That is the phrase I am talking about in my proposed amendments on the supplementary notice paper, which I draw to members’ attention.
Clause put and passed.
Clauses 2 and 3 put and passed.
Clause 4: Section 3 amended —

Hon LYNN MacLAREN: I will move the amendment standing in my name, which is to delete line 21 on page 3 of the amendment bill, which is under the definition of “dangerous dog”. I will just describe it and then move it, for the benefit of Hansard. As the minister described, a dangerous dog has three components: a declared dangerous dog, a restricted breed dog, or a commercial security dog, which we know is trained to be dangerous. Of those three elements, I will move that paragraph (b), “a dangerous dog (restricted breed)”, be deleted from this bill. That will still enable us to declare dangerous any dog that is dangerous, whether it be a pit bull, a Japanese Tosa or any of those other five restricted breeds. Then, if, say, one-third of pit bulls are dangerous, that one-third can be declared through the process by which this bill declares any dog dangerous. It means that the two-thirds that would not be declared dangerous would not be immediately assumed to be because they are either a pit bull, part-pit bull or mistaken for a pit bull. I move —
Page 3, line 21 — To delete the line.

Hon HELEN MORTON: The government will not support this amendment. Just so we can look at the totality of the amendments that Hon Lynn MacLaren is seeking to put in place, this amendment and the one subsequent that cover lines 26 to 31 on page 3 look to knock out of the Dog Amendment Bill 2013 anything to do with dogs declared dangerous as a result of being a restricted breed. I assume that if this amendment is successful, Hon Lynn MacLaren will not necessarily go on to move the further amendments, but she might.

Hon Lynn MacLaren: I do have a point to make on the second one, so that is why I have moved it separately.

Hon HELEN MORTON: I think I have already put the argument on the government’s intention to pursue a “dangerous dog (restricted breed)” definition in the bill, and I have talked at length about the propensity of the pit bull terrier and pit bull-cross in that respect, and I think the government will continue to support that position.

Hon SIMON O’BRIEN: I just wanted to confirm—possibly the member could indicate—that it is line 21, or is it line 20, that we are proposing to —

The CHAIR: It is line 21.

Hon SIMON O’BRIEN: I am looking at bill 19–1.

Hon Helen Morton: It is 19–2.

The CHAIR: You need 19–2.

Hon SIMON O’BRIEN: So we are definitely talking about a “dangerous dog (restricted breed)”.

The CHAIR: I think you are being handed a copy now.

Hon SIMON O’BRIEN: Thanks very much; the amendment makes a little more sense now. I was aware there had been a second print.

In relation to the amendment, I notice the supplementary notice paper contains some proposed amendments to clause 36, which obviously contemplates what might happen if this present amendment is defeated. I want to ask for advice on whether there are currently restricted breeds prescribed by regulation. Also, regardless of what happens with this bill, the regulations that currently exist obviously will persist, so, in effect, is the amendment currently before the Chair actually going to achieve, in the first instance, what the member moving it wants it to?

Hon HELEN MORTON: Hon Simon O’Brien is correct; these restrictions currently apply in the regulations. The Dog Amendment Bill 2013 will actually bring it into the legislation. If the government were to support the amendment, which it is not inclined to, then it would make no difference because the regulations would apply.

Hon LYNN MacLAREN: It is my understanding that the regulations that will be underneath the framework of this bill have yet to be drafted, and that this framework of the bill replaces the existing bill with the regulations as they exist. The bill will actually increase the strength of the framework around dealing with dangerous dogs, which right now sits in regulations, but as it moves up into the bill, and therefore the act, there are various other clauses in the act that will then apply to this definition we are debating. So my understanding is, yes, it is true that the regulations might be amended to make this a moot point, but it is also true that they might not be amended to deal with it. My understanding is that this would achieve what it is I want to achieve, and that it is simply that the government does not at this stage support it.

Hon HELEN MORTON: The only difference is an increase in the penalties for a breach. I am just trying to get my advisers to tell me what the increase in the penalties will be. But other than that, the provisions dealing with things such as wearing a muzzle and a collar will still apply.
Amendment put and negatived.

Hon LYNN MacLAREN: I move —
Page 3, lines 26 to 31 — To delete the lines.
This amendment is to the clause that further clarifies what is meant by “restricted breed”. I want to delete these lines because of, as I indicated during the second reading debate, the problem with identifying a dog with pit bull in it. At line 29 the definition of “dangerous dog” reads that it —
(b) is a mix of 2 or more breeds, one being a breed prescribed by the regulations to be a restricted breed;
There are significant concerns about the ability of rangers, and veterinary surgeons even, to identify a dog with aspects of a restricted breed in it. I am very concerned about capturing all kinds of dogs that should not be captured by this legislation. I move this amendment, knowing that the previous amendment weakens it somewhat, because I am keen to have those lines deleted. I could amend it, but I fear it would be a futile attempt to try to encourage support for this amendment, so therefore I will test the amendment as it stands on the supplementary notice paper.

Hon HELEN MORTON: The government does not support deleting those lines. This is the definition in the act around “dangerous dog (restricted breed)”. It means a dog that is a breed prescribed by the regulations to be a restricted breed, or is a mix of two or more breeds, one being a breed prescribed by the regulations to be a restricted breed. It is continuing the notion that a restricted breed is a dangerous dog, and therefore there will be certain requirements on owners in terms of how they manage those particular dogs. It does not, for example, mean these dogs have to be euthanased, nor does it prevent somebody from owning a dog; it purely outlines the arrangements those owners have to have in place to be able to manage those dogs.

Rangers will not be required to identify pit bull terriers in the field. Most people who own a pit bull know what they own. Hundreds of people have lobbied us as members of Parliament on the basis that they know, understand and love their pit bulls. They have responded to advertisements for pit bulls for sale, so they know the parentage when they acquire their dogs. On the registration form they will be asked to state whether they have a pit bull or
a pit bull mix. I expect that, because of the pride they have in those particular dogs, they will take responsibility and generally respond truthfully.

The legislation is about requiring people to take responsibility for their dogs. I repeat; it is not about putting down the dogs or indicating that people cannot own them. However, if people do not put protective measures in place, the ranger will issue an infringement notice. If, for example, someone believes their neighbour has a restricted breed dog, they may report it to local government and, after discussion with the owner, if the ranger believes it is a restricted breed dog, the ranger will advise the owner to put the protective measures in place. Again, if this is not done, the ranger will issue an infringement notice. If the owner believes they do not have a pit bull or have not committed an offence, they may choose to have the matter considered by a magistrate. I can only say that very few cases will get to that situation. Most people know, and take pride in the fact, that they own a pit bull terrier or pit bull terrier cross. If that is the case, the magistrate will make a determination about the breed of the dog on the evidence put before them.
I was looking previously for information about why this will be included in the legislation and the changes to the penalty for a breach. It will increase from a maximum of $5 000 to a maximum of $10 000.