OPINION: Animals need an advocate in Canberra

Tony Abbott took Australia backwards on animal welfare. It’s time to undo his cuts and give animals a voice in the capital.

OPINION: By NICOLA BEYNON on APR 29, 2016 | The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect the views of Animals Australia.
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At any one time, Australians have in their care 76 million sheep, 29 million cattle, 600 million chickens, and 33 million companion animals. It is a responsibility the Australian community feels deeply and expectations for the welfare of these animals is increasing.

Retailers are responding to the rise of the conscious consumer and starting to market higher welfare produce, a trend that would benefit from government support.

In contrast to consumer attitudes, in late 2013, the Abbott Government defunded Australia’s Animal Welfare Strategy, disbanded the Australian Animal Welfare Advisory Committee and devolved all responsibility for domestic animal welfare matters to the states and territories. A strange way to treat a growing public policy concern.

The system as it stands is a patchwork of animal welfare laws, standards and practices which are failing Australian animals and community values, as well as creating reputational risk for industry. The issue bounces from one expose to the next.

Even industry groups have lamented the lack of animal welfare frameworks with Mick Keogh Executive Director of the Australia Farm Institute referring to the system being "disjointed and fragmented" with "standards set state by state and by organisations such as supermarkets".

World Animal Protection wants to see Australia return to a competitive position on animal welfare. With an election around the corner, we are calling for renewed leadership and the establishment of new national frameworks to drive progress in animal welfare practices across the country. Our recommendation is for an Independent Office for Animal Welfare.

An Independent Office would have standard setting functions and provide a forum for robust debate between all stakeholders (producers, retailers, consumers, animal welfare experts and advocates) — ensuring responsible ministers receives balanced, well informed advice.

Let’s be honest, existing laws and standards still allow for systemic cruelty to be inflicted on animals. Cruel practices that are being outlawed in other countries.

Cruel practices that are out of step with community values, with more than nine in ten Australians considering some common animal production practices unacceptable, including keeping hens in battery cages, using sow stalls, de-beaking chickens without pain relief, and puppy farming

Australia needs to keep up. World Animal Protection is concerned that without a national champion, progress in animal welfare will stall. And it isn’t just animal welfare groups concerned with the lack of national coordination, with 75 per cent of Australians supporting the re-instatement of a national body focused on improving animal welfare by the federal government.

With a Federal election not far off, now is the time to remind our elected officials of the issues that are important to Australians. An Independent Office for Animal Welfare would lead our way to a better future — both for Australians and for the animals in our care.

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