Microchip law: Green rebellion saves farm dogs

By Audrey Young

Working dogs will be exempt from microchipping after a dramatic split in Green Party voting in Parliament last night allowed a National Party amendment to pass.

The Labour-led Government was virtually ambushed by the rift, receiving only a 30-minute warning through a cellphone message to Prime Minister Helen Clark before the vote began at 5.30pm.

It is the first significant vote the minority Government has lost since it was formed last October.

The vote was also a shock and embarrassment for senior Greens co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons, who has argued against microchipping, but said that if it becomes law, working dogs should not be exempt.

Federated Farmers vice-president Don Nicholson applauded the exemption, saying: "We're pretty chuffed about it. This whole thing should be tossed right out."

But New Zealand Kennel Club president Lesley Chalmers said: "It really is a total kick in the pants for urban dog owners and anybody who is a compliant owner will be penalised financially. It really is just another tax."

Mrs Chalmers said city-dwelling dog owners were paying the price while farmers were getting away without having to register their dogs.

Compulsory microchipping for all newly registered dogs was to begin on July 1.

Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta said the Government would proceed "as best we can".

Helen Clark said through a spokesman she was disappointed that the majority of the Greens had not kept the party's assurance that an exemption would be opposed.

Jeanette Fitzsimons last night said she was disappointed with what had happened.

She and Metiria Turei opposed National's amendment to exempt working dogs.

But the other four Green MPs - Sue Bradford, Sue Kedgley, Keith Locke, and Nandor Tanczos - voted for the amendment, enabling it to squeak in, 61 votes to 60.

Jeanette Fitzsimons said she had expected dissent from some of her MPs, but not from enough to change the law.

"I feel the position that Metiria and I have taken has been principled all the way through and was the right decision. They have a different view."

She said she had been away from Parliament yesterday at a workshop, and did not find out what was to happen in the House until she returned.

"We had a conversation about it. I drew their attention to the implications."

She was also forced to justify the dissent of her fellow MPs, saying the Greens did not enforce a party line on matters that were not party policy.

She would not discuss the consultation with Labour, but Government sources said Helen Clark received a cellphone message from Jeanette Fitzsimons about half an hour before the vote.

Jeanette Fitzsimons took issue with Helen Clark's claim that the Greens had broken an assurance.

"If we had promised the Government our support for the legislation and then done this, that would have been unprincipled and we'll never do that. But we were in opposition to the Government on this. We wanted the opposite of what they wanted, so in that sense we didn't owe them anything."

The Bill was introduced in 2003 following a public outcry after seven-year-old Carolina Anderson was mauled at a family barbecue in Coxs Bay park.

Last night Carolina's father, John, declined to comment, saying the microchipping issue was not part of his submission.

Mr Locke did not believe the vote had undermined Jeanette Fitzsimons' leadership, and said the party had split its vote several times.

"Our whole focus has been getting rid of all microchipping. The main aim of those who voted in favour of exempting farm dogs is that it is a step to getting rid of all microchipping," Mr Locke said.

CHIP-FREE

* Farm dogs will be exempted from microchipping.

* The law also exempts guide dogs, hearing ear dogs and companion dogs.

* Dogs kept by the police and other Government departments, those which work in pest control and those owned by security guards are also exempt under the definition of working dogs.

- additional reporting Ruth Berry, NZPA

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