Launch of Parity Edition

(11.30am 26 July 2011, UTS Shopfront Suite 17, UTS Tower Building)

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the launch of this special edition of Parity. I'd like firstly to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, the traditional custodians of this land, and I pay my respects to the Elders, both past and present.

This "Homelessness and Pets" edition of Parity magazine brings together two of my long-standing concerns in quite a unique way. Both topics are the subject of a lot of research and interest - but rarely in the same breath!

Parity, produced by the Council to Homeless Persons, does an outstanding job of covering each month different issues connected with homelessness and the provision of services and housing to people who are homeless.

This month it's the topic of Homelessness and Pets and while, as I said, the two are not often connected, having looked through this edition, a marvellous logic becomes apparent - one that speaks to all of us who have been engaged in dealing with the plight of homeless people and the rights of animals.

A few years ago, when we were preparing the City's Homelessness Strategy, we spoke extensively to people who were, or had been, without a permanent home.

One commented that:

"Over the years I have met and got to know so many decent homeless people. Homelessness is the result of a set of circumstances that get out of control, and no two are exactly alike, and when you arrive, all illusion is swept away…and you ask yourself, Why do people look at me like that?"

It is eloquent and heart-rending testimony to the "otherness", the separate categories to which we can so unthinkingly relegate some of our fellow citizens.

Australia has the highest rate of pet ownership in the world, with almost two-thirds of Australian households currently having a pet and four out of five who've owned a pet at some time. Yet it has taken the Council to Homeless Persons to ask what we are doing for the people who - temporarily or otherwise - are without a home. What is happening to their beloved pets? And what are we doing to help them maintain their connection with that creature?

The many benefits of pet ownership are well documented, and local government can and should support it. Pet ownership helps to build community, it breaks down barriers between people and it brings measurable physical and psychological benefits.

They give great pleasure, teach responsibility and provide love, companionship and security - invaluable attributes most especially for someone experiencing homelessness.

In fact, it's been estimated that through their contribution to physical and mental well-being, pets save the national health bill over $4 billion each year.

The City of Sydney has worked hard to make our city a more dog-friendly place, expanding off-leash areas, providing education programs and services for pet-owners.

In my role as an Independent member of State Parliament, I also advocate on behalf of the approximately two million companion animals in NSW, and for responsible pet owners.

We are not yet a pet-friendly society and current restrictive policies mean pets are banned on trains, bus drivers can refuse to let them aboard, most apartments, retirement villages and rental properties have blanket bans on pets and homeless people are unable to take their pet to a shelter or refuge.

I've given notice in this current Parliament of a motion to set up a select committee to inquire into companion animal welfare.

The terms of reference I've proposed include investigation into the numbers of companion animals arriving in NSW shelters and pounds each year, and whether they are given another home, reunited with their owners, or euthanised.

The committee should also look at issues around the sale of animals from pet shops, their breeding and many other issues.

Importantly, it also should look into policies governing the admission of animals on public transport, and into apartments, retirement villages, rental properties.

I believe it could also look at policies on homeless people and pets and make recommendations regarding those.

As the editorial in this edition of Parity states:

For many people living homeless, "their pet is one of their main sources of love, constancy, support and sometimes protection. For some the choice between their pet an accommodation is no choice at all. They would rather sleep outside with their pet than abandon it. But none of the above is necessary or inevitable."

We can adopt some of the practices outlined in this journal and I would like to congratulate the guest editor, Dr Rose Searby, and Jennie Churchill and all those who made this Parity possible and brought this issue to light.

We can also change legislation but to get the inquiry I have proposed, we will need the support of government members, so I urge you all today to actively lobby your local MPs to ask for their support.

That way, we can show support for all pet owners, whatever their status.