Liberals accuse Labor of watering down Canberra dangerous dog laws

The ACT Opposition has accused the Barr government of watering down its dangerous dog laws and ramming through “tangential” clauses unrelated to the attacks which sparked it. 

Labor and the Greens passed 55 pages of amendments to a Canberra Liberals bill cracking down on the management of dangerous dogs in the ACT on Wednesday.

But Canberra Liberals leader Alistair Coe said the discretionary powers for the registrar Labor introduced was out of step with community expectations.

Labor’s amendments would mean it was only mandatory to declare a dog dangerous if it caused death or serious injury to a person.

It removes the requirement in the Liberals’ bill to declare a dog dangerous if it kills or seriously injures an animal however the registrar retains discretion to do this.

This means that dogs that kill chickens or lizards would not have to be declared dangerous.

“It seems the government does not support the idea of dangerous dogs by default and not released back into the community and that’s a threshold difference between the Liberals and Labor and the Greens on this issue,” Mr Coe said.

“For instance there’s a clause in the legislation which says if a dog is an unacceptable risk to the community it may not be registered. Surely if it is an unacceptable risk to the community it shouldn’t be registered.

“It just seems very odd you’ve got the Labor Party and the Greens siding with dangerous dogs and irresponsible owners over the rest of the community.”

But city services minister Meegan Fitzharris said the Liberals “misunderstood” the legal terminology in Labor’s legislation.

“There is no black and white in the new legislation around dogs that cause serious injury or death to a dog or a person,” Ms Fitzharris said.

“In fact we’ve gone even further because we will be introducing later this afternoon amendments which allow the registrar to euthanise a dog even if it hasn’t previously attacked.

“That’s an important preventative measure, it’s a strengthening of the existing legislation and I think it’s really important that we have measures in place through our legislation and enforcement which aren’t just about responding to an attack, but preventing that attack from happening in the first place.”

Mr Coe also accused the government of using the dangerous dog bill “as an opportunity to ram through some related but no particularly relevant issues”.

For example, the fines for taking a dog into a public place without equipment to dispose of its faeces increase from $150 to $750 under Labor’s changes.

But their amendments also give registrars the power to refuse or cancel a breeder’s licence if they are banned from keeping an animal. 

They can refuse to register a dog if it is not desexed or microchipped.

It also makes it a fineable offence to sell an  non-desexed dog or cat over a certain age without a licence. 

Ms Fitzharris said their changes would encourage all-round responsible dog ownership.

She said the issues of breeding and desexing were “inextricably linked” to dangerous dogs.

“Where you have illegal breeding of dogs you’re likely to then have irresponsible dog ownership,” Ms Fitzharris said.

“Where you have non desexing, particularly of male dogs, the evidence is really clear that those dogs are far more likely to attack than dogs that have not been desexed. It’s essential to prevention.”

Key changes

  • Dogs who seriously injure or kill people must be declared dangerous, unless there are special circumstances;
  • The fees from keeping a dangerous dog will rise from $186.50 to $750;
  • The owners of attacking dogs must exchange details with victims and report the incident to authorities at risk of a $7500 fine;
  • People can also be fined up to $7500 for provoking a dog to attack, such as poking or prodding it;
  • A new tiered system will be brought in to manage nuisance, harassing and dangerous dogs;
  • The registrar can declare a dog dangerous if they believe it is aggressive or menacing;
  • People who breach dangerous dog laws can be banned from owning animals;
  • The registrar can now destroy a dog in extreme circumstances if there is an unacceptable risk to the public;
  • The notice period for destroying a dangerous dog has been reduced from 28 to seven days;
  • The registrar can sell a dog that is suitable for rehoming;
  • ​Rangers can now seize dogs that are unregistered, unmicrochipped, uncontrolled in a public place; the carer fails to give the authorities their name or address; the keeper’s registration is refused or cancelled, the keeper is breeding without a licence or if the dog is illegally not desexed;
  • Dogs seized for attacking or harrassing must remain impounded until an investigation is complete.