I too am a dog person. I have always had large dogs, and our home has a golden retriever and a German shepherd, which keeps the house hairy. I rise to speak on the Domestic Animals Amendment (Reuniting Pets and Other Matters) Bill 2021. This bill will allow vets to return pets to their owners, which will be critical in reducing the period of separation and stress and avoiding additional transfers of the pets. The bill will allow vets to access the microchip register to make this process easier.
Currently lost cats and dogs can only be brought to council-authorised officers or vets and shelters under an agreement with the council. As our colleague has just mentioned, only 23 per cent of vets have such an agreement. In speaking with the Australian Veterinary Association I heard lots of support from those in the veterinary profession for this bill. In particular, an important aspect of this new reform is that it is an opt-in system. If vets do not have the capacity or time to offer the service, they do not need to.
We know how stressed and overworked and underpaid our vets are. Underinvestment in this profession has resulted in a veterinary workforce shortage. This has had severe implications on the mental health of the workforce and risks the quality of animal health. In fact some researchers reported that veterinarians are four times more likely to die from suicide than the general population and two times more likely than any other healthcare professionals. And just over 66 per cent of veterinary respondents said that they have experienced mental health conditions at some stage. Left unchecked, these issues have the potential to lead to the collapse of the sector, which poses a significant risk to the community at large.
I am wary that this bill adds yet another responsibility and burden to vets. Yes, this is an opt-in system, but we know already that those in this profession will push themselves to the limits to protect and assist our beloved pets. Lower rates of pay in this sector when compared to other professions such as medicine, engineering and dentistry combined with high levels of HECS debt and difficult working conditions paint a stark future for the industry. I want vets to be able to return lost pets to their owners, but I also want those in the industry to be paid sufficiently in return for the service that they provide to our communities. We should be encouraging more to enter the sector. We need to top up our investment in this area. If we do not do something, I expect only more and more of the veterinary workforce will leave the profession, seeking higher pay, normal hours and less stress.
Minister Leane would not be aware of this, so before I conclude my contribution I would like to raise that today is actually national war animal day, which recognises the important roles that animals have had and continue to play in the Australian Defence Force. As well we must give thought to those animals that serve in roles in law enforcement. This is a good bill. I commend this bill to the house.