The sheer diversity and strength of views about animal welfare will always present a challenge to consensus. Add to this the variety of animals that need to be considered in welfare policy and the achievements of the strategy from 2005 to 2013 have been nothing short of amazing.
The strategy has three broad goals:
- high national standards of animal welfare based on a concise outline of current processes
- sustainable improvements in animal welfare based on national and international benchmarks, scientific evaluation and research—taking into account changing community standards
- effective communication, education and training across the whole community to promote an improved understanding of animal welfare.
To achieve these goals the strategy brought together representatives of the states and territories, which are responsible for the regulatory aspects of animal welfare.
The strategy’s working groups draw ideas from government, industry and community groups from around the country to develop consistent, clear, science-based and enforceable standards and legislation.
At the outset of the strategy, stocktakes were completed on: community and stakeholder attitudes to animal welfare; existing animal welfare arrangements across the six major animal use sectors; education and training currently provided in Australia; and coordination and capacity for animal welfare research in Australia. These stocktakes provided a clear understanding of activities and key issues, as well as priorities and gaps in animal welfare arrangements.
Four key themes framed our examination of animal welfare in Australia: ethics, science and research, law and education. The stocktake illustrated a number of the strategy’s achievements within these themes and also looked ahead to future challenges. The selected case studies showcase the wide range of people and communities involved in improving animal welfare in Australia.
The ethics of animal welfare come from recognising that animals are sentient—that is, they have feelings and are able to experience suffering and pleasure. Over the years many stakeholders have developed codes of ethics on the treatment of animals.
Australia’s approach to developing and promoting sound animal welfare standards is to ensure that proper consideration is given to factors such as science, practicability, culture, economics, community values and ethics.
Science (research and development)
Australia is highly regarded in the international community for the calibre of its scientific research into animal welfare. Australia’s involvement on a number of international committees and in working groups means that we have access to the best animal welfare practices in the world.
Australia’s robust science community provides a wealth of research and development, and the strategy provides a framework to develop sustainable, scientifically based and accepted animal welfare outcomes.
One of the primary challenges facing the strategy is the Australian political system of federalism. Each state or territory has its own codes, standards and legislation for animal welfare; the strategy aims to improve consistency across these areas.
The Primary Industries Standing Committee is an existing cross-jurisdictional platform for regulatory discussions. The committee has representatives from all state, territory, Australian and New Zealand government agencies responsible for agriculture, food, fibre, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture industries and provides a framework within which stakeholders can work to harmonise their animal welfare arrangements in all sectors.
Australia is well served by animal welfare education programs, run at various levels in the community by a number of stakeholders. To make an accurate assessment of the breadth of training and education available, the Animal Welfare Strategy Education and Training Working Group conducted an audit of formal and informal programs.
This audit fed into an ‘education and training stocktake’, which informs the working group about measures required to develop a nationally coordinated approach to animal welfare education. Further work has been conducted to benchmark Australia’s approaches against international best practice.