27th September 2018
A small victory for the Animal Justice Party. Although the NSW Government will not support the AJP’s Right to Release Bill, it will implement sections of it by way of regulation.
The Hon. Niall Blair (Minister for Primary Industries NSW) second read speech to the Bill:
The Hon. Mick Veitch (NSW Opposition) gives support for the Bill:
ANIMAL RESEARCH AMENDMENT (REDUCTION IN DEATHS OF DOGS AND CATS USED FOR RESEARCH) BILL 2018
Second Reading Debate
Debate resumed from 21 June 2018.
The Hon. NIALL BLAIR (Minister for Primary Industries, Minister for Regional Water, and Minister for Trade and Industry) (12:41): On behalf of the Government, I make a contribution to debate on the Animal Research Amendment (Reduction in Deaths of Dogs and Cats Used for Research) Bill 2018. I begin by noting the overview of the bill. The object of the bill is to amend the Animal Research Act 1985 to require a person, as a condition of the person’s accreditation as a research establishment or the person’s animal research authority, to take all reasonable steps to home a dog or a cat that is no longer required by the person for animal research purposes unless a vet has determined that the dog or cat is not suitable to be homed. Such reasonable steps include socialising or training the dog or cat to ensure that the dog or cat is suitable for homing, causing the dog or cat to be given to a person or animal-homing organisation, or any other action taken in accordance with the code of practice under that Act.
The bill provides that a dog or cat is to taken to be no longer required by a person for animal research purposes if the dog or cat has been kept by the person for more than six months. Failure to comply with the proposed requirement is grounds for a complaint under part 4 of the Animal Research Act 1985 and may result in the cancellation or suspension of the person’s accreditation or authority. At the outset, I indicate that the New South Wales Government is committed to improving animal welfare and supports in principle the concept that research facilities should attempt to rehome animals and, in the first instance, better report on animals used for research purposes.
I have stood in this place many times and promoted the good work that our agencies and industries do to review, evaluate and improve animal welfare outcomes. I am equally happy to stand here and talk about the robust framework we have in place for animals, in particular dogs and cats, involved in research. Those in the House will also know that I am not afraid to review current legislation, to consider the views on all sides of Government and to take a deep dive into ensuring we have not left any aspects unturned. That is what I have done with this bill brought forward by the Hon. Mark Pearson. I acknowledge the work of the Hon. Mark Pearson and his team in this area. The Hon. Mark Pearson has identified a gap in our animal research reporting and I have taken on board what he and his team have suggested. I have listened to his arguments and today, while I cannot support the bill in its current form, I will be acting on some of the aspects within it—which I will talk to shortly.
In New South Wales the use of animals for research is regulated by the Animal Research Act 1985, which sets out stringent requirements designed to protect the welfare of the animals used. All research institutions must also comply with the Australian Code for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes. Research institutions must be accredited under the Act and research must be carried out under the approval and monitoring of an establishment’s animal ethics committee. The required membership of the animal ethics committees is set out in the code and must include a veterinarian, a researcher, an animal welfare representative and an independent representative. Each application to the animal ethics committee must include detailed information, including the justification for the use of animals as well as the impacts of all parts of the research project on the animals and how those impacts will be minimised.
The source of animals must also be assessed. Accredited research institutions under the Act are audited for compliance with the legislation by government veterinary inspectors from the NSW Department of Primary Industries and assessed by the Animal Research Review Panel [ARRP]. The panel is a 12-member, ministerially appointed body under the Act, and includes scientific and animal welfare representatives. Where institutions or individuals are found to be in contravention of these requirements, penalties of up to $17,600 and 12 months imprisonment can apply. Domestic dogs and cats are used in a wide range of research projects. In 2016, 1,230 cats and 4,275 dogs were used for research, and the vast majority of those projects involved only observations or minor interference.
Many of these dogs and cats are not housed in laboratories but live at home with loving owners. Some examples of these research projects include palatability trials to assess dog and cat food; production of tick antiserum for the treatment of dogs and cats affected by tick intoxication; cats housed long term as blood donors; dogs and cats used in clinical trials to develop new treatments for dogs and cats; observational behavioural studies of privately owned dogs and cats; and educational use for teaching students how to care for and handle dogs and cats, often with privately owned dogs and cats. Again, it is important to note that the majority of animal research involving dogs and cats in New South Wales is for projects that focus on observations or for minor interference, with many of the animals living at home with loving owners.
I will now turn to the details of the bill. The bill seeks to amend the Animal Research Act 1985 to require animal research institutions and individuals to take all reasonable steps to home a dog or a cat that is no longer needed for research purposes, unless a vet has determined that the dog or cat is not suitable to be rehomed. The bill further proposes that dogs and cats should be kept for research purposes for only six months or 12 months with the approval of the Animal Research Review Panel, and that the panel should be responsible for coordinating rehoming activities via a publicly accessible database. Finally, the bill proposes that a dog or a cat used for research purposes should not be euthanased without the approval of the responsible animal ethics committee.
As I have alluded to previously, the Government supports the intent of the bill, which is to improve rehoming rates of domestic dogs and cats used for research. However, the bill contains provisions that are not clearly defined and would result in perverse outcomes; it shifts the compliance burden from industry to government; it is inconsistent with the Australian Code for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes; and it is not supported by the Animal Research Review Panel. The bill does not define “reasonable steps”, nor does it recognise that not all dogs and cats used for research will be suitable for rehoming or that rehoming is not always the best welfare outcome for an animal. The bill also does not recognise that not all vets will have the necessary expertise in animal behaviour to decide whether a dog or cat should be rehomed.
Further, a limit on the time that cats and dogs can be used for research projects would lead to perverse outcomes because many more cats and dogs would need to be used. The bill suggests that cats and dogs should be kept for research purposes for only six months or 12 months with the ARRP’s approval. It must be noted that some research projects can continue for many years with little to no negative impact on the animal. In many cases, the animals remain in the home and may receive low-level treatments of new tick and flea products, for example. Limiting the time that an animal may be kept for research purposes would lead to many more dogs and cats being used in research trials.
The bill proposes that the panel should coordinate rehoming activities. However, this would shift the compliance burden from industry to government. There is an existing requirement under the Australian code that the fate of animals used for research must be approved by the animal ethics committee as part of the research project approval. The bill proposes that a subcommittee could also perform this role. However, this is not permitted under the Australian code. Finally, the bill is not supported by the Animal Research Review Panel. For those reasons, the Government does not support the bill in its current form.
The Government is dedicated to safeguarding animals used in research and acknowledges that there is a need for better information to guide research institutions and individuals and help them to understand what “all reasonable steps” are. Rehoming cats and dogs used for research is difficult, and unfortunately not all animals are able to be rehomed. The Animal Research Review Panel understands this issue well and has established a subcommittee to develop comprehensive guidelines for research institutions to help improve rehoming rates, because it is a complex area. These guidelines are expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2019.
I make it known that if the New South Wales Liberals and The Nationals return to government after March next year and if I am the Minister responsible, it is my intention to review the guidelines very carefully and, in consultation with ARRP, research institutions, rehoming bodies and other key stakeholders, develop a mandatory code of practice by way of regulation change under the Animal Research Act 1985. I have been advised that we are unable to make a regulation change without an existing code of practice. As the industry experts, the ARRP will develop the guidelines in the first instance, which will then be used to develop a code of practice from that point forward.
This area requires change and we need a mandatory code of practice in this space. I make that clear. If I am no longer the Minister after the March election when the deadline is up, I will chase up the issue with my ministerial colleague. I do not expect it to occur, but if I am sitting on the other side of the Chamber I will advocate from that position. This area requires change. The industry must develop the guidelines from which we draft the code of practice and then put in place regulations to ensure the code is mandatory. In the interim, we agree that better information and data need to be collected about what happens to cats and dogs used in research when a project is completed.
I pay credit to the Hon. Mark Pearson. I listened to his second reading speech and his comments about the lack of data from the institutions around rehoming. I left the debate, went to my office and asked my agency to give me the numbers. But I could not get them. I am not saying that there is underperformance in this area; we simply do not know how many attempts have been made and, as Minister, that is not acceptable to me. I do not accept we do not gather that information or report on it. It is in the interests of the industry to report on the information and be able to say that it is making progress in this area. But at present there is an information gap.
We will work with the Animal Research Review Panel to ensure that rehoming is adequately considered and reported by institutions that use domestic cats and dogs for research. I encourage those interested in this issue to visit the Animal Ethics InfoLink, which houses all the relevant information in this space. Included on the site is a list of reporting forms that research institutions must use. “Form L – Animal Use Statistics” will be updated this year to include the need for research institutions to report on what happens to dogs and cats after they have been used for research. Reporting cycles follow the calendar year, so this additional information will be collected as of January 2019. I could not find the information easily but that will change as a result of this bill. The information will be provided over the next reporting year, starting in January 2019. That is a good outcome. It does not require legislative change, but it should occur.
This bill will not achieve its intended purpose of reducing the number of deaths of dogs and cats used in animal research, and the Government therefore opposes it. I raised with the member when we discussed the bill that its title—the Animal Research Amendment (Reduction in Deaths of Dogs and Cats Used for Research) Bill 2018—is misleading. It insinuates that a large number of animals are dying during research, and I do not think that was the member’s intention. The statistics report a figure for “death as an end point” for cats—which means the approval for an animal to die during testing. There has not been such an approval since 2010. From speaking to the Hon. Mark Pearson—I will not verbal him; he will have an opportunity to address this issue when he replies to the debate—I gather that the bill does not seek to address the fact that dogs and cats are dying during research. As I said, the vast majority of research is observation and involves minor interference. The issue is what happens to the animals when they are no longer used for research and testing. The member will have an opportunity to address that issue in reply. Perhaps the bill should have been titled “Animals Used for Research Rehoming Bill”. That is my observation in relation to that matter.
I thank the Hon. Mark Pearson for bringing this issue to our attention, and for helping to identify opportunities for the Government to further strengthen the existing regulatory framework for research animals. It is a noble attempt. I understand that drafting legislation can be challenging and there may be line-ball discussions with Parliamentary Counsel about the wording and including time lines. I think the provision about the length of time that animals may be used for research should probably have been worded better. However, the bill will result in better animal welfare outcomes. I am happy to have worked with the Hon. Mark Pearson on this issue, and I appreciate the time that he and his staff dedicated to sitting down and discussing the issues with us.
I am proud that we can make the reporting changes immediately. I reiterate that I have put the industry on notice about the code of practice. We expect it to develop the guidelines quickly and then we will move to ensure that there is a code of practice in regulation going forward. I again congratulate the Hon. Mark Pearson on the principle of what he is attempting to do in this bill. However, the bill has some unintended consequences and we cannot support it in its current form. I hope that we have been able to go some way towards addressing the concerns that the member has identified. For the reasons I have outlined, the Government opposes the bill.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Mr David Shoebridge): I shall now leave the chair. The House will resume at 2.30 p.m.
The PRESIDENT: Order! According to sessional order, proceedings are now interrupted for questions.
ANIMAL RESEARCH AMENDMENT (REDUCTION IN DEATHS OF DOGS AND CATS USED FOR RESEARCH) BILL 2018
Second Reading Debate
Debate resumed from an earlier hour.
The Hon. MICK VEITCH (15:32): I lead for the Opposition in debate on the Animal Research Amendment (Reduction in Deaths of Dogs and Cats Used for Research) Bill 2018. The object of the bill states:
… this Bill is to amend the Animal Research Act 1985 to require a person as a condition of the person’s accreditation as a research establishment or the person’s animal research authority, to take all reasonable steps to home a dog or cat that is no longer required by the person for animal research purposes unless a vet has determined that the dog or cat is not suitable to be homed. Such reasonable steps include:
(a)socialising or training the dog or cat to ensure that the dog or cat is suitable for homing, or
(b)causing the dog or cat to be given to a person or an animal homing organisation, or
(c)any other action taken in accordance with the Code of Practice under that Act.
The bill provides that a dog or cat is taken to be no longer required by a person for animal research purposes if the dog or cat has been kept by the person for more than six months. Failure to comply with the proposed requirement is grounds for a complaint under part 4 of theAnimal Research Act 1985 and may result in the cancellation or suspension of the person’s accreditation or authority.
I put on record my appreciation of the Hon. Mark Pearson and his office for providing me with a greater understanding of the bill. Once the Hon. Mark Pearson had made his second reading contribution, I made a request to meet with him. I met with the Hon. Mark Pearson and his staff on two occasions and was provided with a briefing note. Many people had not given consideration to the issues that were raised by the member. He has shone light on an area that for a long time had not been drawn to our attention, if at all. I concur with the comments Minister Blair made in his second reading contribution prior to the lunch break. He said that the Hon. Mark Pearson has tested not only the Minister’s departments but also all members in this House about what this legislation means. It is difficult for Opposition and crossbench members to get legislation passed in this Chamber. But the Minister said in his second reading contribution that, even though the Government will not support the legislation, there will be action. The Hon. Mark Pearson should take that as a victory.
The Hon. Rick Colless: It’s a big achievement.
The Hon. MICK VEITCH: I acknowledge the interjection from the Hon. Rick Colless. Not only did the Minister say that he had already put action in place, particularly concerning data, which was clearly lacking, but also he gave a commitment to seeing that the intent of the legislation—even though I suspect it will not be passed in the Chamber—will be carried through. The Hon. Mark Pearson should be heartened by the Minister’s comments. Even if he does not receive the Government’s vote, the Minister has taken note of the issues identified and is putting in place some measures to address them.
A number of issues were raised with me when I started consulting with groups about the legislation. In my second meeting with the Hon. Mark Pearson I raised some of those concerns, and I hope that he will address them in his speech in reply. I concur with the Minister’s comments about the title of the bill. We do not always have a choice on these matters and Parliamentary Counsel will often dictate the short title of the bill. In this case the short title of the bill does not reflect what the Hon. Mark Pearson is trying to achieve. Currently the legislation covers dogs and cats and I wonder whether there are plans to expand it in the future. Dogs and cats are not the only animals used for animal research. I would like the Hon. Mark Pearson to clarify what his intentions are in the future. In my view, it may be that the bill inadvertently captures council-operated pounds. As such, a specific provision excluding pounds should be included in the bill. I would like the Hon. Mark Pearson to give his view on how the legislation applies to council pounds when he replies to the debate.
Members may wonder what I mean by that. Concerns have been raised with me that dogs and cats used in research have been possibly rehomed in a facility that is not a suitable placement for them and, therefore, they finish up in the council pound. Those concerns need a response from the proponent of the bill. It has also been suggested to me that the word “suitable” should be inserted before the words “person or group”. The dogs or cats should be rehomed with a suitable individual. The RSPCA is of the view that the criteria for suitability could be regulated easily. For instance, permanent residency was suggested so that animals coming out of a research environment can enter stable homes. It also has the capacity to avoid overwhelmed caregivers or potential hoarders. We often know of individuals in regional communities, in particular, who have lots of cats or dogs at their residence. They are well-intentioned individuals who provide accommodation for lots of animals but one wonders whether they have the capacity to meet the animals’ needs.
I do not know whether the legislation has the capacity to avoid overwhelmed caregivers from being overtaxed because additional ex-research companion animals may come into the rehoming network. In relation to identifying suitable homes for animals, rehoming is a specialised area—not everyone can rehome a dog or a cat. Not everyone has the physical dimensions that are required for rehoming. For example, a bull-mastiff or a Great Dane could not be accommodated in a 56-square-metre, single-bedroom unit in Sydney. Such rehoming would be inappropriate for those animals. Common sense needs to be applied to the capacity of individuals who want to be potential rehomers.
The Hon. Dr Peter Phelps: What about birds?
The Hon. MICK VEITCH: I should not respond to interjections but the Hon. Dr Peter Phelps has raised a very good point. In discussions about this legislation some groups mentioned mice. Mice and guinea pigs as well as birds are used in research. How are they being used, and to what extent? The Minister said that the datasets have failed. Following the Hon. Mark Pearson’s second reading speech, the Minister returned to his office and asked what sort of numbers we were talking about and the department could not tell him. We do not know how many animals are being used for research. So where do we go now? What is next? I will touch on other issues that have been raised with me. In answer to my request for input on this legislation, one respondent stated:
I am concerned that the bill in its current form could have unintended consequences leading to adverse ethical or animal welfare outcomes.
The respondent supported the intent of the legislation but is concerned about where it will take us into the future. We should all be mindful of unintended consequences when considering legislation. The respondent encouraged the concept of the rehoming of research animals being undertaken through an existing regulatory framework. That is what the Minister indicated in his contribution earlier today. The respondent continued:
Of particular concern is the prescriptive time limit of 6 months (or 12 months with additional regulatory approval) after which animals must be rehomed (subsection3). The underlying rationale is that the conditions inside research facilities would make animals incapable of adapting to life in a private home if held longer than this sort of timeframe.
No specific evidence was presented in the second reading speech, so I would like the bill’s proponent to address the views and concerns raised by this respondent. One organisation suggested that imposing arbitrary time limits may in fact increase the number of animals used in research as the turnover will be higher. That is one of the unintended consequences in this legislation. I ask the Hon. Mark Pearson to address that matter in his reply speech. Another respondent stated:
Also of concern is the bill’s proposal in subsection 7 that determination of an animal’s suitability for rehoming must be made by someone “who is not associated with an authorised person or licensed animal supplier” … There is also nothing in the bill to stipulate that a veterinarian undertaking the determination should have relevant experience.
Concern was expressed to me that not all veterinarians are conversant with the processes of the facility that is using animals for research. The wording in the bill needs to be strengthened to identify who is able to make that determination and what type of experience is required to do so. Another practical concern is the lack of provision for situations where an appropriate home cannot be found for animals that have been deemed suitable for rehoming. The concern is that there will be pressure to rehome an animal in an unsuitable place simply to meet the requirements of the legislation. That goes to the issue of arbitrary time limits. I ask the Hon. Mark Pearson to address that issue in reply. The concern is that meeting regulatory compliance quickly will put more pressure on facilities to rehome animals, and I do not think that is the intent of the bill.
This bill is well intentioned, and the Hon. Mark Pearson should take great heart from the fact that the Government has already commenced action on some aspects of it and the Minister has taken issues on board and is taking other actions. As I said earlier, it is not often that Opposition members—it is even rarer for crossbench members—have legislation pass this Chamber so prompting the Government to act is a good result. I would like the Hon. Mark Pearson to address the Opposition’s concerns in his reply speech. The Opposition will support the legislation if it is put to a vote. But at this point in time I ask the member to clarify those important matters for people who are engaged in this debate. They need some answers. I reiterate that the Opposition will support the bill.