Animal Protection Bill 2018

Animal welfare in the Northern Territory (NT) is currently regulated under the Animal Welfare Act (1999) (‘the Act’). This Act came into effect in March 2000 with objectives:

  • to ensure animals are treated humanely
  • to prevent cruelty to animals
  • to promote community awareness of animal welfare issues.

The current Act covers the welfare of animals in the care of humans, as well as those in their natural environment.

The Department of Primary Industry and Resources (DPIR) Animal Welfare Branch (AWB), is the administrative arm of the Animal Welfare Authority. Each year the AWB receives more than 520 reports relating to matters of animal welfare. The Branch averages between seven and 11 successful prosecutions for animal welfare offences each year.

In 2014 the NT Government commenced a review of the Act. Submissions from key stakeholders and interested members of the public were supportive of updating the NT’s animal welfare legislation to enhance animal welfare outcomes.

For the past 18 months DPIR has been liaising with the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee and other key stakeholders to draft a new Animal Protection Act to replace the existing Act.

Overview of the introduced Animal Protection Bill

On 8 February 2018, the Minister for Primary Industry and Resources introduced the Animal Protection Bill (‘the Bill’) into the Legislative Assembly. The prepared Bill aligns and builds upon the existing regulatory framework in the Territory, with clearly defined rights, roles and responsibilities for government, industry and the community for animal welfare matters.  Some of the key new initiatives covered in the introduced Bill are outlined below.

  • The new Act will assign administrative power to the Chief Executive Officer of the regulatory agency, rather than an Animal Welfare Authority. This is to increase accountability and transparency of decision-making.
  • The statutory requirement for the Minister to establish an Animal Welfare Advisory Committee will be retained.
  • Individual scientific users of animals for scientific purposes will need to be registered, rather than the current practice of only licensing premises.
  • Accredited animal ethics committees will have increased oversight for research projects they approve, and it will be an offence to contravene a condition of a project approval granted by a committee.
  • Regulations can be used to prescribe and enforce codes of practice and standards relevant to animal welfare.
  • Animal welfare directions and improvement notices will be able to be issued to anyone providing inadequate care to animals, with penalties for those who do not comply.
  • Under controlled circumstances, authorised officers will have the power to enter land surrounding a building, without a warrant or written consent from the occupier, to check on the condition of animals at risk. Prior to an entry authorised officers must first take reasonable steps to try to contact the occupier.
  • Authorised officers will have the power to enter premises where a registered person is keeping or using animals for scientific purposes, or where those premises are used for greyhound racing or related purposes, without the occupier’s consent or a warrant provided that entry is undertaken at a reasonable time.
  • Where racing greyhounds are kept, it will be an offence to keep other animals on the premises that may be used for blooding greyhounds (e.g. rabbits and possums).
  • An animal will be automatically forfeited from anyone found guilty of a cruelty or a related offence against that animal. A person can apply to the CEO DPIR to have the animal returned if they agree to comply with stringent conditions imposed to protect the ongoing welfare of the returned animal.
  • A person convicted of three animal cruelty or related offences within a five-year period will automatically be banned for five years from being in control of an animal.
  • Drivers will be required to appropriately restrain dogs riding on the tray or back of motor vehicles while travelling on public roads.
  • Under controlled circumstances, an authorised officer will have the power to destroy an animal (or have it destroyed) humanely and without unnecessary additional suffering, if the animal is so severely injured, diseased or in such poor physical condition that it is cruel to keep it alive.
  • Penalties will increase for animal cruelty and related offences, including failing to provide an animal with an adequate level of care, to deter such acts and more appropriately punishing those convicted of such offences.
  • The maximum term of imprisonment under a new Act will increase from two to five years and the maximum fine will increase from 200 penalty units (currently equating to $30,800) to 500 penalty units (equating to $77,000). Note that one penalty unit currently equals $154.

Next steps

The introduced Bill has been referred to the Legislation Scrutiny Sub-Committee. The Sub-Committee will call for public submissions on the draft Bill and, if deemed necessary, hold a public hearing.

It is anticipated that the introduced Bill will be debated by the Legislative Assembly in the May 2018 Sittings.

Further information

The Bill, as introduced into the Legislative Assembly, along with copies of the Explanatory Speech, Explanatory Statement and Human Rights Compatibility Statement, can be accessed on the Department of the Legislative Assembly website.

For any further information regarding the Bill, please call DPIR on (08) 89996567 or via email to: info.dpir@nt.gov.au.

Last updated: 27 March 2018