You’d be forgiven for thinking that the very existence of national environmental laws creates an obligation on Environment Ministers to protect the environment. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Instead, their obligations are limited by the objects and duties that are specified in the law. And in the case of our...
A review of New South Wales’ suite of animal welfare laws is currently underway, but the notable exclusion of the concept of animal sentience has animal welfare advocates concerned that NSW is lagging behind other states—and the world—when it comes to protecting the wellbeing of companion and farm animals.
Animal welfare group Humane Society International says NSW is out of step with current community expectations when it comes to recognising animal sentience. In 2019 the ACT acknowledged animal sentience in the objects of the Animal Welfare Act (1992), and Victoria is currently undertaking a review of its Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 that is expected to incorporate animal sentience in a similar way.
Overseas, the European Union, Quebec and New Zealand have all legally recognised animal sentience. The UK has a bill before its parliament right now, sponsored by the UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to establish an Animal Sentience Committee with functions relating to the effect of government policy on the welfare of animals as sentient beings.
The decision to leave animal sentience out of animal welfare reform in NSW is also out of step with developments in international trade, in particular the Free Trade Agreements currently being negotiated between Australia and the UK and the EU which will include animal welfare chapters that recognise animal sentience. Unfortunately, we have already seen a backlash in the UK from farmers and consumers who are concerned by Australia’s poor animal welfare standards.
The charity is also disappointed that the discussion paper overlooks the long called for proposal for an Independent Office of Animal Welfare. In 2020 a NSW Parliamentary Committee recommended the NSW Government establish an independent statutory body, the Independent Office of Animal Protection, to oversight the animal welfare framework.
Animal welfare is a policy area where there can be tension between powerful industry self-interests and the interests of animals. The Department of Agriculture with obligations to promote animal industries as well as administer animal welfare laws can often get caught in the middle. An independent adjudicator is important for the public to have confidence in the integrity of the system.
Nicola Beynon, Head of Campaigns for Humane Society International, says, “Anyone who spends five minutes with their pet dog knows it is sentient with its own set of feelings and fears. Farm animals are no different. Preventing cruelty to animals means taking care of both their physical and psychological needs. A modern animal welfare regime recognises sentience.”
HSI says the NSW discussion paper includes some important positive measures but failure to recognise animal sentience and incorporate more independence into the system will let the community down. The recognition of sentience in law and a regime free from conflicts of interest is vital to ensuring the welfare of animals is protected at the highest possible standard. It is not too late for NSW to bring its animal welfare legislation in line with community expectations.
HSI’s submission to the discussion paper is here.