ACT Introduces Bill to Improve Dog Registration Laws

Tuesday 20 April 2021 @ 9.41 a.m. | Legal Research

On 31 March 2021, the Domestic Animals Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 (ACT) (‘the Bill’) was introduced to the Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly by Chris Steel, Minister for Transport and City Services (‘the Minister’).

In his second reading speech, the Minister described that the Bill seeks to introduce a:

“best practice, comprehensive annual dog registration … at no additional cost to dog owners ... to promote safe and responsible dog ownership”.

The need for an updated dog registration system

In May 2019, the Canberra Dog Model (‘the Model’) was introduced by the ACT government in response to a 2018 independent expert review into dog management. The Model provided for 10 actions to achieve the goal of Canberra becoming “a world leader in dog management”. One of these actions was to introduce a system for annual dog registration.

In his second reading speech, the Minister explained that the current system, a one-off lifetime registration system, was “no longer fit for [its] purpose”. The Minister stated that the the current system was limited due to lack of provisions, such as:

  • a requirement for dog owners to “update their information when a dog passes away, when they move outside of the ACT, or when dog ownership is transferred to someone else”; and
  • capacity to record contact details to allow for communicating with dog owners.

These shortcomings mean that Domestic Animal Services are unable to provide targeted services. The Bill seeks to make amendments for a registration system that could remedy these issues.

Proposed amendments

The Bill proposes an annual dog registration system, which the Minister said would ensure that Canberra has “up-to-date information on where dogs live and who owns them”. The Minister assured that there would be no extra expense for dog owners. The Minister said that the Bill had been drafted so that there would be minimal burden for dog owners, noting that the onus would be on the government to send reminders to owners when their dog registration is due.

The Bill also seeks to make it a strict liability offence for a dog owner to not update their dog’s registration under certain circumstances. Furthermore, the Bill proposes to expand the types of information that can be recorded about dogs and their owners. Specifically, the Minister said that the information to be recorded will not be limited to contact information. The registration system will also have capacity record information about former owners and details regarding whether an owner or keeper has been found guilty or convicted in relation to an animal welfare offence or other offences under Domestic Animals Act 2000 (Cth). 

What do the proposed amendments mean for the Canberra community? 

The Minister stated that these proposed amendments would enable better education and encourage responsible dog ownership, leading to reduced risk of dog attacks for the general public. He also said that the improvements in up-to-date data about dogs would allow lost dogs to be more effectively identified and returned to their owners.

The Minister commented that should the Bill be passed and assented to, the registration process would be facilitated by a new “digital dog database”. This database would also function as a platform to communicate with dog owners in regards to responsible ownership.

The Minister acknowledged that dogs are “an integral part of [the] Canberra community”, continuing on to say that “they are sentient animals” who “provide joy and enrichment to their owners’ lives”. According to the ACT’s 2019 pet census, there are over 51,000 dogs in the Canberra community. Should the Bill be passed and assented to, it will provide a mechanism for more responsible and practical dog management.

The Minister concluded his second reading speech by stating:

“I am confident that the provisions in this Bill will strengthen how dogs are managed in the ACT, whilst ensuring that dog owners do not face unreasonable cost or bureaucratic burden … We will be able to better educate the community on responsible dog ownership, re-home lost dogs more quickly and keep the community and pets safe”. 

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Domestic Animals Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 (ACT), second reading speech, and  other explanatory materials available from TimeBase's LawOne service

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