Domestic Animals Amendment Bill 2013

Mr CARROLL (Niddrie) — I rise to make a contribution to the debate on the Domestic Animals Amendment Bill 2013. At the outset I would like to highlight that, like previous speakers, I am a dog person. I grew up with dogs. They are man’s best friend. They are as much a part of Australian backyard folklore as the Hills hoist or the barbecue. However, we must not forget what has led to this legislation being before the house today. In preparing for my contribution tonight I looked at the finding of the inquest into the death of Ayen Chol, which was delivered on 28 September 2012. It was a gruesome case, and it is horrific reading. I will briefly discuss some of the matters that Ms Parkinson, the coroner who investigated the death of Ayen Chol, recorded in her finding.

Ayen Chol was a young four‑year‑old girl. She was born on 25 May 2007. Ayen’s parents were born in the Sudan, and in 2005 they came to Australia from Egypt. Ayen is survived by her mother, father and two brothers. On the evening of 17 August 2011 Ayen was at home with her mother, Ms Jaclyn Anciato, her aunt Ms Anglina Mayout, a cousin, Ms Achol Mawier, and other family members, including a number of children. Her father was overseas at the time. Ayen was inside the premises and in the lounge room of the property.

At approximately 8.00 p.m. Ms Mayout and Ms Mawier went outside the property to the street to load some items into a car. A dog, subsequently identified as a dog owned by the Josevski family and known to them as Rex, was observed to be wandering the street unattended. The dog was a four‑year‑old tan‑and‑white American pit bull terrier of solid build, weighing 39.5 kilograms. Ayen Chol was four years old and she weighed 20 kilograms. The dog rushed at the family members as they left the house. The dog was displaying aggressive behaviours — growling and showing its teeth. The family members reported that they managed to scare the dog off by waving their bags around and that the dog then ran across the road and appeared to be playing with some people there. The evidence is that the family members did not encourage, engage with or initiate contact or involvement with the dog. The dog left the premises across the road and again ran back towards Ayen’s family members, who were at their car.

Before I go on I would like to put on the record what led to Ayen’s death. Paragraph 17 of the findings describes Ayen’s mother, Ms Anciato, as stating that she and Ayen observed the dog attacking Ms Mayout and her daughter Nyadeng, and quotes her as saying:

During the whole attack my daughter Ayen was holding my leg very tightly. She was very scared and she was screaming. I was standing near the dining room table when the dog grabbed my daughter, Ayen, by the face and neck and pulled her away from me. She was holding onto my legs at the time. When the dog first grabbed my daughter, I heard her scream … and I never heard her scream again. The dog was shaking my daughter from side to side and was dragging her backwards into the kitchen. He dragged her to the fridge and he could not go any further because there was a wall. The dog would not let go of my child’s face, he was just shaking my daughter. I was hitting the dog with my hands and trying to pull the dog away, but he would not let go of my daughter … I then remember a man come in and he grabbed the collar around the dog’s neck and the dog let go of my daughter and the man took the dog out.

Mr Tony Josevski attended the premises with his father, restrained the dog and removed it. The evidence to date is that the dog had escaped the Josevski premises by way of an
open garage roller door.

This has led us to this legislation here today. I commend the government. This is not the first piece of legislation it has put forward in response to this incident. As previous speakers have highlighted, with the bill before the house the government is improving the legislation and trying to get the mechanisms right. Essentially what it is doing is putting the onus back onto dog owners. Owners of dogs that attack will be barred from keeping canines for up to 10 years, and if the ban is breached the owners face up to two years jail or a $34 600 fine. The onus of proof as to whether a dog is not a restricted breed will now lie with the owner, not the council. In the past the onus lay with the council, which cost taxpayers thousands of dollars in legal fees. In the absence of any contrary evidence the restricted breed will be presumed.

This is about making communities safer and strengthening people’s safety, and also about the state government realising its responsibilities. At the time of Ayen Chol’s death there was outrage in the entire national debate about dogs and dog laws. To his credit the federal member for Maribyrnong, Bill Shorten, then a minister, met with Ayen Chol’s parents in the days following her death. He also wrote an opinion piece that was published quite widely. The Daily Telegraph published his article with the headline ‘Big dogs and little men— The owners must take responsibility for tragedies’ on 24 August 2011. In the article he described every parent’s worst nightmare as standing there helpless as a vicious dog – or a ‘shark on legs’ – attacks your child. It is to Mr Shorten’s credit that he met with the family. I know that to this day they are pleased with the support they have received from not only the Australian community but also the state and federal governments and local members. The member for Keilor is in the chamber. She is also familiar with this situation and with what this poor family went through.

The Labor opposition supports this legislation. We fully support the government implementing the recommendations of the coroner. First and foremost in these is the recommendation that the Victorian Parliament expressly legislate to prohibit the breeding of restricted dogs and that a criminal sanction may attach to any such activity. A second recommendation is that the onus of establishing that a dog suspected regulatory authorities to be a restrcited breed dog is not a restricted breed dog to be placed on the owner of the dog and that the Domestic Animals Act 1994 be amended to this effect. These two recommendations have been wholly embraced by the government and will be implemented.

The coroner’s other recommendation – that the Domestic Animals Act 1994 be amended to require veterinary surgeons to report to regulatory authorities if they are called upon to treat or attend to any dog that is a restricted breed dog, or may be a restricted breed dog, that is not registered, neutered and microchipped – will be addressed by the Veterinary Practitioners Registration Board of Victoria in the form of a guideline that outlines the responsbilities of veterinarians to provide information to authorised public officers in the interests of public safety.

In relation to penalties, the coroner recommended changes to legislation to provide for an offence of breeding a restricted breed dog. The legislation before the house will make it an offence with a maximum penalty of 60 penalty units or six months imprisonment for a person to breed a restricted dog. The bill also provides a three-year limitation for filing a charge sheet for an offence, instead of the normal 12-month period.

Tonight many members have spoken about the responsibilities of local government. At the request of local government this bill will enable a court to make an order disqualifying a
person from being in control or in charge of a dog where that person has been found guilty of certain dog offences under the Domestic Animals Act 1994 or the Crimes Act 1958. The bill will make clear to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal that it may make an order for a council’s costs of keeping a seized dog if the declaration is affirmed, which is an important change. It helps councils get on to their other jobs, rather than having to be
the caretakers of dangerous dogs. It is a good step in the right direction for councils to be able to recover costs from owners of prohibited dogs.

In closing, it is a pleasure to speak on this bill. In remembering Ayen Chol, this legislation is important. It will help with community safety. It will make families, children and
everyone who is a dog lover feel safe in their communities. We hope the circumstances of what happened to Ayen Chol never again happen in any form. On that note, I commend the bill to the house.

 Hansard, Wednesday 27 November, 2013