Why does Australia need Independent Offices of Animal Welfare?
Australia presently lacks adequate government leadership or direction on animal protection matters.
In 2013, the Coalition effectively withdrew funding and support for every animal protection initiative and advisory body that previously existed at a federal level.1 As a result, structures that enabled non-industry stakeholders to contribute to the development of animal protection standards and policies were terminated.
We also have a situation where responsibility for regulating and governing animal protection laws is consigned to government departments – namely the Department of Agriculture and its state or territory equivalents – that inadequately represent the interests of animals.2
These departments are responsible for both protecting animals and promoting the profitability and productivity of animal use industries - objectives that can come into conflict.3 This conflict has dire consequences for animals, as commercial interests too often trump even the most basic interests of animals.4
Government reluctance to prohibit the use of battery cages and sow stalls, and an ongoing commitment to expanding Australia’s live animal exports trade, clearly reflects this prioritisation of profitability over animal welfare.5
Worse still, Australia’s animal protection standard-setting processes are disproportionately influenced by animal use industries. Animal protection standards, which are purported to protect the welfare of animals, are effectively prepared by industry, for industry, and with the assistance of industry funded and/or commissioned animal welfare science.6
As a result, Australia’s animal protection framework is lagging far behind its international counterparts,7 is becoming increasingly inconsistent with public expectations,8 and critically, is failing to protect animals.
What would an Independent Office look like?
The establishment of a federal Independent Office of Animal Welfare could resolve many of the problems outlined above.
It would demonstrate genuine government leadership in animal protection, and give Australia a better chance of keeping up with international best practice and community expectations. Importantly, the Office would remedy the underlying conflicts and pro-industry biases that exist in the current framework.
To maintain its independence, the Office must be a distinct statutory authority falling outside the Department of Agriculture. Ideally, the Office would be responsible for:
- Providing balanced advice to government on animal protection issues at a national level;
- Co-ordinating the development and implementation of animal protection standards, including the Australian Animal Welfare Standards & Guidelines;
- Facilitating input from a balanced and diverse range of stakeholders in the standard-setting process, including from animal protection groups and independent animal welfare experts;
- Commissioning internationally recognised and impartial animal welfare science to inform the development of animal protection policies, laws and standards;
- Standardising the various state and territory animal protection frameworks; and
- Monitoring and enforcing animal protection laws within the Office’s jurisdiction, such as overseeing the live animal export regulatory regime at a federal level.
As the lack of leadership and conflict of interest also exists at a state and territory level, a federal Independent Office of Animal Welfare must also be responsible for facilitating and coordinating the implementation of similar Offices in each domestic jurisdiction.
It’s time for an Australian Independent Office of Animal Welfare
The establishment of a federal independent body has already received support from the Australian Labor Party,9 the Australian Greens10 and the Animal Justice Party,11 although it is important to note that the parties differ on the power, role and responsibility of such a body.
This position is consistent with community expectations. A 2016 national survey found that most Australians would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supported the establishment of an independent body to improve standards of animal welfare at a national level. A further 84% of Australians believed that the Federal Government should set goals for animal welfare and have a plan to meet them.12
Precedent also exists for the establishment of similar statutory bodies in other jurisdictions, with expert and independent animal welfare advisory bodies already operating at a national and supranational level in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Canada and the European Union.13
It is time for the Australian Government to show leadership, and to give animals an independent and effective voice in government processes.
Help us improve Australia’s animal protection laws today:
- Learning more – Find out more about animal law issues and factory farming by contacting Voiceless and exploring our other Issues Pages and submissions.
- Contacting your MP – Put pressure on our political leaders, and ask them to commit to an Independent Office of Animal Welfare.
- Donating to Voiceless – Help us continue to provide a voice for animals and fight for stronger legal protections for animals by donating today.
Last updated July 2016
- 1. Including the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy (which was relegated to states and territories), the Australian Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, the animal welfare subdivision within the Department of Agriculture, and the Live Animal Exports – Improved Animal Welfare Program.
- 2. See, for example, Goodfellow, J. ‘Regulatory Capture and the Welfare of Farm Animals in Australia’ in Cao, D, White, S. (eds) Animal Law and Welfare: International Perspectives (Springer, 2016) 195.
- 3. Ibid.
- 4. Matheny, G. and Leahy, C. ‘Farm-Animal Welfare, Legislation, and Trade’ (2007) 70(1) Law and Contemporary Problems 325, 328 as cited in Mundt, A, ‘Australia’s Need for An Independent Office of Animal Welfare’ (2015) 1 Global Journal of Animal Law 7.
- 5. See, for example, the comparison between the Government’s aggressive expansion of the live export trade as compared to the ongoing live export animal cruelty investigations: Barnaby Joyce MP, ‘China: new market for livestock export’ (Media Release, 20 July 2015) < http://www.agricultureminister.gov.au/Pages/Media-Releases/china-new-mar... >; Animals Australia, Exposing Live Export Cruelty (2016) < http://www.animalsaustralia.org/investigations/live-export/ >.
- 6. See, for example, Goodfellow, J. ‘Regulatory Capture and the Welfare of Farm Animals in Australia’ in Cao, D, White, S. (eds) Animal Law and Welfare: International Perspectives (Springer, 2016) 216-220; the development of the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines, for example, depends on findings from Government funded Research and Development Corporations, many of which include representative bodies of animal use industries: Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, Rural Research and Development Corporations (23 September 2015) < http://www.agriculture.gov.au/ag-farm-food/innovation/research_and_devel... >.
- 7. Australia received a ‘C’ ranking for animal protection in a global comparison, see World Animal Protection, Animal Protection Index (2014) < http://api.worldanimalprotection.org/ >; the European Union, for example, has already banned the battery cage. See European Union Council Directive 1999/74/EC of 19 July 1999 on Laying Down Minimum Standards for the Protection of Laying Hens  OJ L 203/53, art 5(2) < http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:1999:203:0053... >.
- 8. Siobhan O’Sullivan, ‘Australia increasingly uncomfortable with animal cruelty’ (20 September 2011) The Conversation < https://theconversation.com/australia-increasingly-uncomfortable-with-an... >.
- 9. Australian Labor Party, Positive Policy: Protecting Animal Welfare and Boosting Agricultural Profitability (2016) < http://www.100positivepolicies.org.au/protecting_animal_welfare_and_boos... >.
- 10. The Australian Greens, Animal Welfare and Rights (2016) < http://greens.org.au/animal-welfare >.
- 11. Steve Garlick, ‘The 2016 Federal Budget and Animal Wellbeing’ (4 May 2016) The Animal Justice Party < http://animaljusticeparty.org/the-2016-federal-budget-and-animal-wellbeing/ >.
- 12. World Animal Protection, New research reveals Aussies want strong animal welfare commitments this election (5 April 2016) < http://www.worldanimalprotection.org.au/news/new-research-reveals-aussie... >.
- 13. In the European Union, the Directorate-General of Health and Consumers is responsible for animal welfare; New Zealand and India have statutory bodies to advise government – the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee and the Animal Welfare Board, respectively. See Dr Jennifer Ford, ‘Advance Australian animal welfare: The urgent need to re-establish national frameworks’ (World Animal Protection, 2016) 6 < http://www.worldanimalprotection.org.au/sites/default/files/au_files/adv... >.