The NSW parliament has introduced a raft of changes to animal cruelty legislation, that could now see offenders slapped with the nation's harshest penalties.
The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Bill 2021 will amend the previous legislation penned in 1979, and increase penalties to both individual offenders and businesses that treat animals harshly.
Under the proposed legislation, anyone caught assaulting an animal could face 12 months' jail time, which is a doubling of the previous penalty.
The financial penalty for cruelty to animals will also increase from $5,500 per offence to $44,000.
Additionally, the failure to provide adequate food or shelter would see offenders paying up to $16,500 in fines as opposed to the previous $5,500 penalty.
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Businesses that fail to provide for animals will incur an $82,500 fine instead of the previous $27,500 penalty.
In a statement, the RSPCA said the Bill "reaffirms the commitment to reforming and updating the animal welfare legislation in NSW to better align with community expectation".
Independent state member, Dr Joe McGirr, said the new penalties are about recognising that cruelty does not always come in the form of violence.
"Some of the [previous] legislation understands cruelty to animals as being physical, but the way animals are treated can impact them as well," Dr McGirr said.
"Cruelty is not just physical. Treatment can also affect the way an animal behaves. I did have a dog that was affected by its previous car and quite frankly that dog had anxiety."
Animal Welfare League CEO Mark Slater said the new legislation would be welcomed for its improvement to the definition of cruelty.
"The legislation recognises things like trigger stacking as being evidence of cruelty in some cases," Mr Slater said.
"Trigger stacking is when an animal is flooded by triggers and becomes volatile all of a sudden. They may be reacting to an environment or the sound of a voice, and their response might not be in line with the situation. That's when someone might get bitten without warning."
Changing the laws, Dr McGirr, would be the first step to eradicating the problem of animal cruelty in society.
"Increasing the penalty is never the total solution," he said.
"Increasing the penalties is a good measure for two reasons. Firstly, it's a deterrent, and secondly, it sends a message about what society values.
"But the government has indicated it will be looking to widen the approach and the indication is they will be looking to do that this year. I'm looking forward to having more discussions on it this year."
In NSW, the RSPCA has the power to investigate complaints of cruelty.