Right to Release - Speech introducing the Bill

On behalf on the Animal Justice Party, I am proud to introduce the Animal Research Amendment (Right to Release) Bill 2022. The aim of the bill is to give dogs and cats used in animal experimentation the right to be released. It will give these animals a chance to find a loving home where they are able to live out their lives. Many people in the community are not even aware that companion animals are still used in medical experimentation. It is a secret that the industry works hard to keep. Many universities and private research institutions have long phased out the use of dogs and cats. But in 2020 almost 1,000 dogs and 500 cats were still being kept and used in animal experimentation, just in the State of New South Wales. In 2020 no dogs and only 75 cats were rehomed. In 2019, no cats and only 30 dogs were rehomed.

These animals are subject to a wide range of invasive and often painful experiments. Although the details of these experiments are not reported in New South Wales, organisations like Humane Research Australia have exposed that in Australia beagles have been used for pharmaceutical drug testing, healthy greyhounds have been required to undergo heart surgery experiments, and kittens have been intentionally deafened at one day old to test cochlear ear implants. Until very recently we did not even know how many dogs and cats were used for research in New South Wales, because these statistics were not recorded or published. That did not occur until my colleague, the Hon. Mark Pearson, introduced the first iteration of this bill in 2018. The Government did not support the bill, leaving cats and dogs used in medical experimentation to continue to be killed at the end of experimental protocols, even if the animals were healthy and rehomable.

However, the bill did lead former agriculture Minister the Hon. Niall Blair to mandate basic reporting around the number and fate of cats and dogs used in research. Although I was not yet a member of Parliament, I worked with the Hon. Mark Pearson to develop the 2018 bill. The Animal Justice Party is opposed to the use of animals in experimentation. The reason we introduce this bill today is because there is a shocking lack of transparency in animal experimentation taking place in Australia. That lack of transparency has some extreme consequences for animals being used for experimental purposes. It means that many animals will not have a chance to get out of experimentation facilities. They will be born into medical experimentation, and they will die there. As someone who has been heavily involved in rehoming animals used in experimentation, I can tell you that this legislation is urgently needed.

I have met and spoken to many people within the field of medical experimentation on animals. I have had some very frank and open conversations about why cats and dogs may be killed at the end of research protocols, instead of being homed into loving families. The information I received was heartbreaking. They are killed because there is a fear that the public may discover animal experimentation using companion animals is continuing, and there may be backlash towards the industry. This is simply not a reason to kill animals who have already been subject to possibly cruel and painful procedures their entire lives. To stop them from even having the chance of a normal life is unacceptable. That is why I am seeking to legislate that attempts to rehome each animal must be made, so that these animals are at least given a chance.

One dog that I have been lucky enough to meet is Buddy. Buddy is a medical experimentation survivor. Scientists used his body in medical experimentation for eight years. I do not know what was done to him. Most people do not. He is one of the very few who have made it out alive. I had the pleasure of meeting Buddy some time ago. While his life is now full of love, kindness and puppuccinos, I cannot stop thinking about the other animals like Buddy who will be born into medical experimentation, and die there. It is in honour of Buddy that we bring forward this legislation today. The statistics show that very few dogs and cats are rehomed voluntarily. There is no cap on the number of years a dog or cat can be forced into medical experimentation procedures. There is no mandatory requirement to attempt to rehome animals used in experimentation in New South Wales. While the Animal Research Review Panel has guidelines on rehoming animals used in experimentation, they are entirely voluntary and animal research institutions are not required to follow them. This is despite the fact that many people and animal rescue organisations would be willing to help find these animals a loving home.

The bill has the support of several rescue organisations that have indicated to me that they have the capacity to take in and help rehome animals from experimentation. This is a simple bill that does two main things. First, it ensures efforts are made to rehome companion animals used in medical experimentation. Secondly, it introduces provisions to ensure animals have the best chance to be suitable to live in a family home and to avoid becoming institutionalised. I will now go through the provisions of the bill in detail. As I mentioned, the bill is a reworking of the original bill introduced by my colleague, the Hon. Mark Pearson, with some refinements based on feedback we received on that bill. We have taken on many points from the second reading contribution of the Hon. Mick Veitch to the 2018 bill, and we have consulted widely with people involved in animal experimentation and animal rescue.

The bill will insert a new part 6A into the Animal Research Act 1985, which specifically deals with rehoming. Compliance with new part 6A will be a condition of an animal research authority and/or accreditation under the Act, and noncompliance can be the subject of complaint to the Animal Research Review Panel. The two key provisions in the bill are proposed sections 54B and 54C. Proposed section 54B will require animal researchers who keep dogs and cats for experimentation to take reasonable steps to prepare those animals for rehoming—including but not limited to—by providing appropriate exercise, environmental enrichment, socialisation, handling and basic training while they are at the research facility.

The sad reality is that many dogs and cats have a difficult time adapting to normal life in a family home outside the research facility. Some dogs leave medical research without ever having walked on grass or walked on a lead. They may never have seen stairs or heard loud noises and, shockingly, some have not been socialised at all with other dogs or even humans. The provision will require researchers to take reasonable steps to ensure dogs and cats are provided with this basic level of environmental enrichment, socialisation, handling and training. This is not an onerous obligation and is something all facilities should be prepared to take it on. This will not only assist dogs and cats to be rehomed but it will also improve their overall quality of life. Enrichment, socialisation and exercise are the very basics of animal welfare, and something that we should expect all companion animals to be provided with.

Proposed section 54C requires that researchers must take reasonable steps to rehome a cat or dog once the animal is no longer being used for animal experimentation or if it has been kept for animal research for three years, whichever is sooner. Anyone who fails to take reasonable steps to do so is subject to a penalty of up to 30 penalty units. At the moment, cats and dogs can be kept for experimental purposes for their entire lives, being cycled through research experiments until they die of old age. This is simply inhumane and must not continue. Even the animals offered to rescue groups often require a long adjustment period or families who have a lot of experience with animals with special needs because the animals are so institutionalised and their bodies have been through so much. They often require extensive rehabilitation before they have any chance of living with a family. By capping the time that an animal can be used in experimentation, I believe some of those problems will be overcome.

The bill also specifies that a dog or cat must be rehomed to a suitable person or an animal rescue organisation. The two rescue groups that actively rehome animals from research right now are Beagle Freedom and Liberty Project. I acknowledge their tireless work in this space, which occurs without any government funding. While these organisations would be the natural choices for research institutions to reach out to, I hope that by requiring researchers to take steps to better prepare animals for rehoming and by limiting the time that animals can be used in experimentation, this will make it easier for other rescue organisations like RSPCA NSW, Animal Welfare League, Cat Protection Society and many other groups throughout New South Wales to also help these animals find loving forever homes. An animal can also be rehomed to a "suitable individual", which is someone who agrees to provide an animal with a home and appropriate care and who agrees not to use the animal for any further research and any other criteria set out in the regulations.

As part of taking reasonable steps to rehome an animal, the researcher will be required to give certain information to potential rehomers, including specifics on the health, physical condition and temperament of the animal in question, to assist these potential rehomers in determining whether this is an animal they can rehome. The bill also makes it possible for this information to be provided on an online database that is run by the department. That would be the most efficient and effective way to supply the information to potential rehomers. My hope is that if this bill passes the Government will set up this database. I have included a regulation‑making power in the bill to ensure that can happen effectively. Proposed section 54D clarifies that a person who rehomes a cat or dog through the process must not disclose any identifying information about the researcher. Several rescue groups identified this as an important aspect of the bill to ensure it receives the approval of researchers in the space.

Proposed section 54E provides that a dog or cat is not required to be rehomed if an independent vet with relevant expertise deems that an animal is unsuitable for rehoming. The vet must provide a certificate stating the reasons the animal was deemed unsuitable, and that document must be retained by the research facility as part of its record-keeping obligations. The intention of this proposed section includes, for example, a situation where it would be cruel to keep an animal alive. It would not include aspects such as the age of the animal or behavioural qualities such as timidity. The research facility must also keep records of the reasonable steps it has taken both to prepare an animal for rehoming and to rehome the animal, including records of its communications with potential rehomers and who the animal has been rehomed to.

The bill also builds on the current reporting requirements around cats and dogs used in medical experimentation and will require reporting of the number of cats and dogs that are rehomed as well as the number that are unable to be rehomed or are deemed unsuitable to be rehomed, including a summary of the reasons why. The bill will apply to dogs and cats currently being used in animal experimentation three years after the date of assent to ensure that it has a smooth transition into effect and to avoid a situation where there are suddenly too many dogs and cats for animal rescue organisations to take on. For any new protocols that are approved, the bill will take effect immediately on the date of assent.

The Parliamentary Counsel's Office has advised that the current reporting regime set out in section 24 of the Animal Research Regulation is not clearly supported by any regulation-making power in the Act, so we have inserted that power into the bill. The bill makes other minor changes concerning the regulations, including clarifying that a licensed animal supplier cannot accept or use an animal that has previously been used for experimentation. This is a straightforward bill that I am sure all honourable members can get behind and support. The community will never accept the killing of healthy companion animals simply because an industry wants to avoid transparency. Giving these animals the opportunity to find a loving forever home is the bare minimum that we can do for them. It is time to enshrine the right to release.

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  • Lucy Tassell
    published this page in Speeches 2022-05-31 14:05:05 +1000