As Australians begin to prioritise their party choices in the lead-up to this year’s election, some will take into consideration the country’s animal welfare policies. Although we might see ourselves as a nation that despises cruelty to animals, very few of us realise that legally sanctioned acts of animal cruelty happen every day in Australia. Are our laws protecting animals, or are they doing everything but?
Australian Welfare Laws are Failing Animals
By Tijan Biner
Under the Australian constitution, legislative responsibility for animal welfare rests solely with state and territory governments, all of which claim to have up to date and comprehensive welfare legislations in place. However, animal welfare falls short in Australia due to a lack of robust national frameworks.
Code of Practice or Code of Cruelty?
In March 2010, ACT Greens MP Caroline Le Couteur addressed the ACT parliament on the inconsistency of animal welfare legislation, claiming that domestic animals are well-protected, while farm animals are subject to legalised cruelty. The deceiving and very popular “animal welfare speak” was used by industries, governments and legislations to persuade the public about the true treatment of factory farmed animals.
“The Animal Welfare Amendment Bill 2010 makes a minor change to the existing Animal Welfare Act”, Le Couteur said.
“It simply gives the minister the power to make mandatory codes of practise under the act. This will mean that in future the minister can introduce mandatory codes of practice in the ACT.”
This bill only allowed for possible future changes, but in actual fact, perpetuates the system of animal welfare, making its codes of practices highly unsatisfactory in relation to factory farming.
Specific laws and languages are very carefully used to justify inhumane and cruel farming systems.
For example, a media release from Chief Minister and Minister for Territory and Municipal Services, Jon Stanhope, titled “Improving the welfare of caged hens“, said that these new regulations would “allow the ACT to continue to lead the nation”. This same language was used by the Australian Chicken Meat Federation in a publication stating that “concern for bird welfare is backed by government and industry standards which ensure birds are kept comfortable and are treated humanely”.
It is this type of language that disguises the inhumane treatment behind factory chicken or pig farming. The code allows pigs to be permanently confined indoors with severe limitations to carry out their normal behaviour through the use of sow stalls. Mother pigs cannot turn or move and have only enough room to lie and be suckled.
This same code allows the permanent confinement of chickens to tiny wire cages on a floor space smaller than an A4 sheet of paper. The codes also permit the docking of piglet tails and the cutting of chicken beaks without any sort of pain relief.
Very few Australian’s are unaware that animals raised for food do not receive the same legal protection from cruelty as domestic animals, and governments and animal industries would prefer it to remain that way.
Protecting animals or attacking activists?
As upsetting as the scenes of factory farming, live baiting, live exporting, cosmetic testing or any other mistreatment are, the public still wants to know about it.
We value the truth far more than taking part in a trade, sport or industry that goes against our moral values.
It’s often through the hard work and dedication of activists, journalists and investigators that we’re able to see what goes on behind closed doors. We would not have known the brutality behind the greyhound industry if Animal Liberation Queensland and Animals Australia had not released footage to Four Corners.
The federal Criminal Code Amendment (Animal Protection) Bill 2015 was recently introduced, aiming to “enhance the protection of domestic animals by ensuring that evidence of abuse or malicious cruelty is reported to relevant authorities as soon as practicable”.
This may sound fairly reasonable, but the content of the bill does not reflect it’s intent and has nothing to do with animal protection at all. Its primary intention is to protect the trading and commercial animal industries by prohibiting such investigations that have been so successful in exposing animal cruelty.
The bill requires anyone who records animal cruelty to immediately report the footage to relevant authorities within one business day. Those who fail to comply will face a fine of more than A$5,000.
This means that the bill will effectively stop private investigations from taking place, and for those that do, the process is hardly worth it. In most cases, authorities may visit the premises and execute, at most, a search warrant. Sometimes evidence may be required to support a prosecution and other times there will be no need, with matters being dealt with on a ‘case-by-case basis’.
There is only one intention behind this proposed bill: to protect animal industries from public scrutiny by keeping the public in the dark about animal cruelty.
The Australian government has failed animals once again by hiding this proposition with the misleading cover-up of “enhancing animal protection”.
Perhaps they should allow activists to continue their fundamental public service of providing the public with their right to know – a key aspect of a properly functioning democracy.
Animal welfare requires leadership. We need renewed and robust frameworks to drive progress for animal welfare.
Leading animal advocacy organisations such as World Animal Protection, RSPCA, Animals Australia and Voiceless encourage the implementation of different national frameworks for animal welfare.
World Animal Protection and the Animal Justice Party recommend an Independent Office of Animal Welfare (IOAW); a legislative independent body responsible for reviewing and consulting on standards to progress animal welfare.
“Australian animals need leadership at the highest level to coordinate the development of improved and enforceable standards for animal welfare”, Nicola Beynon, Head of Campaigns at World Animal Protection said.
“An Independent Office of Animal Welfare will help give those animals currently suffering under poor welfare practices a chance at a better future”.
In 2011, the Labor party voiced their support for the creation of an IOAW, and in 2015, the Greens reintroduced a bill for it into federal parliament. By implementing a national framework through an IOAW, this would coordinate states and territories on legislation and enforcement and allow Australia to be recognised internationally for proper practice in animal welfare.
Public support is also evident, with thousands of people having signed a World Animal Protection petition in favour of the body.
An updated rating on the Animal Protection Index is soon to be released next year, which provides the Australian government with the opportunity to change their stance on animal welfare.
Hopefully, our government can strive to establish and apply a new model of legislation that other countries across the world can endeavour to replicate.
Sign the World Animal Protection petition and tell governments to “stop clucking around” by clicking here.
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