State urged to dump “outdated” ban on dogs in bars

Bar Josephine owner Aaron Donato with patrons Steve with Emma and Mark with Ollie.

By Benjamin Millar

Councils are calling on the state government to consider scrapping controversial laws banning dogs from local cafes and bars.

Star Weekly last week reported that Footscray’s Bar Josephine, billed as a ‘dog-friendly’ venue on Maribyrnong Council’s website, has been warned by the council not to allow dogs onto the premises or it faces stiff fines, after the council received a complaint from the public.

The council told the bar it was breaching state food safety laws that ban animals from indoor areas where food or beverages are served.

Maribyrnong mayor Sarah Carter raised an urgent motion at last week’s council meeting calling for the state government to review the laws, claiming they fail to reflect modern life in Melbourne.

Cr Carter said the Bar Josephine situation shows there is a need for “some immediate advocacy” regarding clarity around the “outdated” laws.

“What I have found is there is a lot of confusion and there is no single interpretation of these laws,” she said.

“They really need to be updated. If we think about the way that Australians dine, socialise, even our relationship with our pets, it’s changed.”

Cr Carter’s motion was unanimously supported.

The council will now write to the Victorian health minister seeking clarity in regards to the promotion and implementation of the laws and work with other Melbourne councils seeking a consistent interpretation of legislation in regards to allowing dogs into premises.

“Maribyrnong doesn’t hate its pooches, it loves its pooches… we have a lot of love for our four-legged friends in Maribyrnong,” Cr Carter said.

“Surely there are some venues where it can be safe and appropriate to allow the family dog to be present, such as Bar Josephine.”

Cr Mia McGregor said being forced to implement state laws at a local level leaves the council stuck in a difficult position when complaints are made.

Hobsons Bay Council will also write to the Department of Health requesting a review of the existing laws.

The council wants the state to consider whether the laws are still appropriate considering changing public sentiment, while also protecting the health and wellbeing of the community.

“Council officers are not actively patrolling for dogs in cafes, bars and restaurants, but would be legally bound to investigate any food safety concerns submitted by the public,” a spokeswoman said.

The council has not officially fined any local businesses for breaches, indicating it would prefer to alert businesses to the act requirements in the first instance.

Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said her department has been working with local government Environmental Health Officers to ensure greater consistency in the administration of the Food Act and the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code.

“While I understand the strong desire to have our four-legged family members with us at all times, alcohol is treated as food under The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code – which was agreed to by all relevant federal and state governments.”