Animal welfare laws in Australia are governed at the state and territory level and every jurisdiction has its own animal welfare Act. Each animal welfare Act adopts a set of industry-specific animal welfare standards (previously referred to as Model Codes of Practice for the Welfare of Animals). In order to promote nationwide consistency, the development of these standards is coordinated at a national level with input from all states and territories. The Australian Government, in conjunction with the states and territories, has begun a process of converting the existing Codes of Practice, which are mostly voluntary, into what are referred to as the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines. This process is jointly funded by state and federal governments and the relevant animal industry to which the particular Standards and Guidelines document relates. The Standards constitute mandatory legal requirements while the Guidelines are best practice voluntary recommendations.
The current process for developing Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines involves the formation of a Writing Group, which is responsible for drafting the standards, and a Stakeholder Reference Group, which provides advice and feedback on the drafts. Membership of the groups is made up of various government, scientific, veterinary, livestock industry, and animal welfare representatives. When a draft of the standards is complete a regulatory impact statement (RIS) is developed. The draft Standards and the RIS are then published to the public for a period of community consultation. At the conclusion of the consultation process, the Writing and Standards Reference Groups consider the public’s comments and produce a finalised draft. The finalised draft is then submitted to a meeting of agriculture ministers for consideration, and finally, endorsement. (Further information about the standards development process can be obtained here: http://www.animalwelfarestandards.net.au/
The RSPCA is concerned that the current development process has resulted in the production of inadequate animal welfare standards that are not sufficiently supported by science. The Standards and Guidelines produced to-date fail to raise the bar on animal welfare standards and simply reflect current industry practice.
RSPCA Australia believes that improvements in the standards development process would lead to stronger standards that would result in substantive improvements to animal welfare. The following principles are fundamental to ensuring an effective standard-setting framework:
- Independent and impartial governance;
- Fair and balanced representation and deliberations;
- Timely and accessible public consultation; and
- Transparent and accountable decision-making.
RSPCA Australia has developed a position paper on the development of animal welfare standards and guidelines (attached below), which sets out how these principles should be incorporated into the various stages of the standard setting framework for animal welfare.
In 2016, the Productivity Commission produced a report which recommends the establishment of an Australian Animal Welfare Commission to oversee and manage the standards development process. The RSPCA supports the Productivity Commission’s recommendations and developed a briefing paper on the report (attached below).