Independent Office of Animal Welfare Speech

Friday 27 May 2016

Delivered at our 2016 Victorian Federal Election Campaign Launch by our candidate for Chisholm Nyree Walshe. Learn more about Nyree here

A research study, commissioned by Voiceless found that 90% Australians regarded the welfare of farm animals as important, and 60% agreed that farm animals deserve the same level of protection as companion animals. This study also found strong support for prohibiting the use of battery cages for egg-laying hens (67%) and prohibiting the use of sow stalls for pregnant pigs (57%). Another national study revealed that 52% of Australians believe that modern farming methods relating to the production of eggs, meat and milk are cruel.

Welfare Incidents
There have been incidents in intensive production and processing facilities for pigs, broiler chickens and ducks, and cases of cruelty involving dairy calves, pigs and sheep  that have all come to light through widely publicised cases in the past three years. In 2015 the greyhound racing industry was rocked by public exposure of live baiting practices, and saw a barrage of calls for greater regulation and transparency. The “puppy farm” industry also attracts regular public criticism. Australia’s live export trade has been another heated topic over recent years with 49 reports of mass mortality and suffering of animals during transport.

Diminishing public trust
Government regulations and their enforcement are failing to meet modern community expectations of animal welfare, which puts public trust in the farming industry at risk.

A study commissioned by the Victorian Department of Primary Industries found that the “humane treatment of animals” was one of the top three issues of public concern about farming in Victoria. A comparison with equivalent standards in other developed nations show that the current Australian farm animal welfare standards are falling short of best practice.

Agricultural departments exist primarily to promote profitability and productivity in primary industries. When these departments are also given the responsibility to enforce animal welfare regulations, conflict arises.

Our animal protection laws are lagging behind other developed nations
Australia is falling behind our international counterparts when it comes to animal protection. Despite several international jurisdictions committing to ban the conventional battery cage for layer hens, sow stalls for pregnant pigs, and formally recognising the sentience of animals in legislation, Australia lags shamefully behind. Australia was ranked C on the Animal Protection Index (API), falling significantly short of developed country peers ranked A such as Austria, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

Our laws are also failing to keep up with community expectations. Increasing numbers of consumers, retailers and restaurants are opting for higher-welfare produce or going completely cruelty-free. Public involvement in the animal protection movement also continues to rise, all pointing to a shift in community sentiment that is not presently reflected in Australia’s animal protection framework.

It’s time for an Australian Independent Office of Animal Welfare
Currently, the Department of Agriculture is responsible for animal welfare AND the interests of the farmers and producers who seek to maximize their profit through the sale / slaughter / use of animals. We believe this is a conflict of interest and consequently, animals are left unprotected as cases of animal abuse continue to be inadequately enforced. We believe that the only way to ensure animal welfare and protection laws are adequately enforced is for a separation of power between the interests of industry and the protection of animals from cruelty.

Political support for an IOAW already exists. In 2011 the Labor Party re-committed at its national conference to support the creation of an IOAW. In 2015 the Greens re-introduced a bill for an IOAW into federal parliament. Leading animal protection organisations including World Animal Protection, RSPCA, Animals Australia and Voiceless, actively encourage the establishment of national frameworks for animal welfare. The Australian Veterinary Association currently advocates for a national strategy and broad collaborative approach to animal welfare leadership at a national level.

Implementing a national framework through an IOAW would achieve a balance between commercial and community interests, provide coordination across states and territories on legislation and enforcement, and allow Australia to be internationally recognised for best-practice in animal welfare.

Reform  needs to address the issue of competing responsibilities of the agriculture departments so that the development and enforcement of animal welfare standards meets community expectations; is based on independent, internationally recognised science and is independent of industry productivity goals.

Reform would also greatly benefit wild animals kept in captivity, animals used for sport and entertainment, animals harvested from the wild and companion animals, all of which are of community concern.

An Independent Office of Animal Welfare should aim to:

  • Protect animals from cruelty and promote good animal welfare
  • Meet expectations of the public and consumers with regard to animal welfare standards and build their trust in the industry
  • Ensure nationally consistent, objective, evidence based standards

An IOAW is the strongest way forward to advance animal welfare in Australia. With such a large agricultural industry and many millions of animal lives in our care the urgency to do so is great. 

The Animal Justice Party is the only political party that proposes effective legislation to establish an IOAW and to end animal cruelty! No fine print, no devil in the details, just straight up, full stop, care for animal welfare.