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Testify – The Inquiry into Puppy Farm legislation commences

November 10, 2016 - 19:26 -- Editor

Last night it was an almost full house in the Legislative Council Committee Room in Victorian Parliament House to listen to evidence being given at the Inquiry into the Domestic Animals Amendment (Puppy Farms and Pet Shops) Bill 2016.

This is the Inquiry called by the Coalition and Shooters and Fishers into Labors legislation to close down puppy factories and cease the sales of puppies and kittens in pet stores in Victoria, as it has a mandate to do after going to the election on the promise to do so.

The role of this committee, according to the committee itself is;

“to inquire into and report on any proposal, matter, or thing concerned with agriculture, commerce, infrastructure, industry, major projects, public sector finances, transport and education.”

While these things may all be well and good, given the bill in question has animal welfare at its core, it is fair to say this is an inquiry that has finance at its core and delaying the legislation as its key objective.

Perhaps a committee who see their role in terms of areas like welfare, criminality, accountability, compliance, and consumer expectations would have been a more appropriate committee, although I’m not sure one exists. However even if it did, I don’t think the puppy farmers and their lobby groups would have pushed their right-wing mates to have an Inquiry before that committee.

Inside the committee hearing room

Inside the committee hearing room

I arrived to catch the last part of the testimony of Rob Spence, CEO of the Municipal Association of Victoria, who was with Claire Dunn, Manager Environment & Regulatory Services.

Their principal issue was that they were not consulted by the Ministers office in relation to the legislation. Their testimony was that many others within the council system had been consulted however including management and inspectors, some were bound by confidentiality meaning there was likely others consulted that they were not aware of. It would seem apparent from their testimony that those who are actually at the coal face have been consulted while those sitting behind oak desks and attending meetings and functions didn’t.

Diddums.

Still, the Liberals sighed and huffed and puffed about the lack of consultation as they asked their leading questions of the witnesses about costs and consultation.

Then it was time for Debra Tranter founder of Oscar’s Law and Glenys Oogjes of Animal Australia to give evidence.

It would seem that this evidence was not something of interest to Liberal MP Bernie Finn who promptly left the room only to return at the end when it was time to ask questions regarding the evidence he wasn’t in the room to hear.

The evidence presented by Debra and Glenys was of shocking cruelty and breaches of both law and industry code by puppy farms that are currently legal and are also registered with Dogs Victoria. Also presented were veterinary reports and animal psychiatrist reports on dogs that have come from mass breeders such as Banksia Park Puppies.

Debra Tranter was the only witness to come in with copies of evidence and details of he evidence in a folder, it appeared that both Debra and Glenys were the only ones that had enough respect for the committee and the matter to prepare, it was a terrible shame that some on committee didn’t have the same levels of respect in return.

One of the regular pieces of commentary and questioning that came particularly from the Chair, Liberal MP Joshua Morris, was attempts to align this legislation to the total greyhound racing ban that Mike Baird back-flipped on in NSW recently.

Many fear this comparison, however it is one that I believe should be welcomed as there are some key differences.

Mike Baird’s greyhound ban was a “captains call”. It was made as a result of a government inquiry that showed systemic cruelty and criminality, it showed an industry deemed beyond repair.

This Labor Party puppy farm legislation however was campaigned on as policy in the lead up to the last state election. Both Daniel Andrews and Minister Jaala Pulford spoke to a rally making a commitment to putting this legislation forward on the steps of parliament. It is the complete opposite of Baird’s “captains call” in that regards.

Jaala Pulford - Sticking by her commitment

Jaala Pulford – Sticking by her commitment

The Baird greyhound ban was heavily criticised for punishing the whole industry for the acts of a few. Whether you believe that or not makes no difference, this puppy farm legislation does not end the sale of pets or puppies in Victoria. What this legislation actually does do however is segregate the good guys and punish the bad. It puts restrictions and conditions, such as vet checks and decent standards of shelter into law, things that the good guys currently do at any rate and the bad guys refuse to do. Yes this may force some of the dodgy breeders interstate, but that is a problem for those states to deal with and should have no impact on Victorian legislation.

Finally the proprietors of Upmarket Pets, Mary and Greg Kirby gave their evidence. Some may recall previous articles on this store and its questionable use of security camera footage and its fine in store display of a dead rabbit.

The testimony came mostly from Mary Kirby and she told of how upmarket pets had three stores, one of which sold puppies, while the other two don’t.

In her testimony Mary told members that if they were unable to sell puppies, they would be forced to close. This news met with the predictable concerned groans and the shaking of heads from committee members and the audience that was stacked with pet industry people.

However, what I find alarming in this claim from Mary Kirby is that this would indicate that they are running two unprofitable stores. This indicates either a woefully bad business model or misleading and false testimony.

How much is that dead bunny in the window? - Another upmarket product from Upmarket Pets

How much is that dead bunny in the window? – Another upmarket product from Upmarket Pets

Let’s give Upmarket Pets the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s just a bad business model as further testimony indicated an absolutely woeful business model and also breaches of consumer law.

Greg Kirby stated that approximately 9.5 Million people walked through their Queen Victoria Market store a year, a pretty impressive number. Kirby also stated they sell approximately 550 puppies a year, that’s a hit rate of 0.00006% and I’ve rounded that figure up.

This number of puppies sold averages around 10.7 a week, or one and a half puppies a day.

The Kirby’s testimony was that the loss of the sale of puppies in their business would cost jobs. For example they currently claim to have” two full-time staff” employed doing only the paperwork on the puppies.

Two full-time staff to do paperwork on less than one puppy sale a day each?

Hardly the model of a healthy business I’d say.

Greg Kirby told the committee that with the right breed of puppy he could sell a thousand in a day.

Wow. Two years’ worth of sales in just one day. Based on that claim would seem that Upmarket Pets have a solid commitment to stocking the products their customers don’t want given their current rate of sale.

Greg Kirby holds a meeting with his business advisor Image - Herald Sun

Greg Kirby holds a meeting with his business advisorImage – Herald Sun

When questioned by Colleen Hartland, Mary Kirby spoke about their guarantee that puppies sold at Upmarket Pets come from good breeders. This guarantee didn’t hold up to the tiniest amount of security. Kirby was forced to admit that they had absolutely no idea of the conditions where their stock is sourced from or the welfare of any of the breeding stock on the premises that their puppies originate from.

The vet the Kirbys brought along to assist them Rohan Hart, quickly tried to pass this responsibility off to the council, however it is not council that is making the guarantee under false pretences.

Some may be  questioning a vets motive for vouching for an industry that thrives on the mistreatment of animals and causes disease and injury to so many dogs they can’t be numbered. To this I’d respond that you will never hear the local baker accusing the locals of eating too much bread. Many vets make an absolute killing (pardon the pun) out of an industry that is constantly mistreating animals.

Hart also kept telling the committee that

“adoption should not be legislated, the public must be given a choice”

Maybe Hart is referring to other legislation somewhere else in the world that I’m not aware of, but this legislation leaves thousands of registered breeders still selling puppies to the public.

Finally Greg Kirby gave testimony that Upmarket Pets have a cooling off period of seven days. Kirby proudly testified that if a customer changes their mind they can come back and return their puppy and only lose 25% of their purchase price.

This is an admission to a breach of consumer law. In fact, I would recommend the parliamentary committee obtain a list of these customers from Upmarket Pets so that they can be contacted and informed of their legal rights under Australian consumer law.

The code states in regards to a contract cooling off period;

A contract is an agreement made between two or more parties that is legally enforceable. Contracts can be written or verbal.

A contract arises when one party makes an offer and the other party communicates an intention to accept it.

You could be entering a contract by:

  • selecting a product in a shop and paying for it at the check-out counter

There are limited circumstances when consumers may end a contract without penalty and these can include:

  • if a cooling-off period applies.

A cooling-off period is a safeguard designed to give consumers the opportunity to change their minds about a purchase or agreement they have made.

Kirby implied that the cooling off period was a great service offered by Upmarket Pets when in actual fact it is a legal requirement. Upmarket Pets however are ignoring the “Without Penalty” part of consumer law and slugging their customers 25%. This is a direct breach.

This is not a “cost of doing paperwork” (although as we have seen they aren’t exactly Speedy Gonzales in that department) that the customer should bear. It is a cost of business that Upmarket Pets should legally bear.

Flawed business models, breaches of consumer law and deceptive guarantees, it’s no wonder the public are constantly complaining about the pet stores selling puppies.

The hearings continue next week.

 


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