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Should Australia have a national body to oversee animal welfare?

Given that animals play an important role in the lives of all Australians, the RSPCA strongly believes that we need a national government body to provide advice, governance and leadership on animal welfare issues. As a nation, Australia has one of the highest rates of companion animal ownership in the world. We also have significant livestock and other animal industries, as well as diverse and iconic wildlife. However, compared to many other countries, Australia is greatly disadvantaged due to a lack of guidance and oversight on animal welfare at a national level.

Most other developed nations have some form of national animal welfare advisory committee or other forum through which to progress and ensure consistency in animal welfare policy, including New Zealand, the UK, Canada, the European Union, and the majority of the nations within the European Union.

In March 2017, the Australian Productivity Commission released a report on the regulation of Australian agriculture following an extensive year-long inquiry. The Report included a comprehensive assessment of animal welfare laws and governance in Australia. It identified a number of significant failings in the way Australia currently develops national animal welfare standards. These include:

  • a lack of independence and transparency in the standards development process;
  • a failure to properly consider community values and expectations;
  • a lack of scientific basis for the standards; and
  • the presence of conflicts of interest on behalf of state and federal departments of agriculture in managing animal welfare responsibilities.

These findings reflect concerns previously expressed by the RSPCA (see RSPCA Position Paper on the Development of Animal Welfare Standards). To address these flaws, the Productivity Commission recommended that the Australian Government establish an Australian Commission for Animal Welfare. The Commission would be responsible for overseeing the development of national animal welfare standards, assessing the effectiveness of live animal export regulation and state/territory animal welfare regulation, as well as improving public understanding of animal welfare issues and industry best-practice.

The RSPCA supports the Productivity Commission’s recommendations. Establishing an Australian Commission for Animal Welfare would achieve a more proactive and informed approach to setting national animal welfare standards, improved national consistency in animal welfare regulation, and greater community confidence in livestock and other animal industries that animal welfare is being safeguarded. This concept has also been reflected in similar proposals to establish a national Independent Office of Animal Welfare, which would essentially perform the same function as a Commission but its responsibilities would extend beyond agricultural production animals.

The importance of animal welfare is recognised globally. The lack of national leadership on animal welfare influenced Australia’s relatively low ranking in the World Animal Protection Index, where legislation and policies of 50 countries were compared.

RSPCA Australia calls upon the Australian Government to implement the Productivity Commission’s recommendation to establish an Australian Commission for Animal Welfare as a matter of urgency.

Further information is provided in the RSPCA Information Paper, An Australian Commission for Animal Welfare, attached below.

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Updated on February 24, 2021
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