This opinion piece was first published in The Advertiser on October 22, 2018.
The equal right to legal protection for all humans is enshrined in the Australian legal system. But for animals, it’s a very mixed bag.
Not only does it depend on what kind of animal it is, but also on where it lives.
When it comes to Australia’s animal welfare laws, George Orwell was right: “All animals are equal but some are more equal than others”.
Every state and territory has its own animal-welfare laws. These have evolved from simply prohibiting acts of animal cruelty to actively promoting animal welfare, and incorporating the concept of a duty of care for anyone with animals under their custody and control.
For those animals covered by South Australia’s Animal Welfare Act, RSPCA’s legal powers to prevent harm are restricted. We would like South Australia to follow WA’s lead with the addition of four words to our Act — “likely to cause harm”.
Far better to have the legal power to remove animals from situations likely to cause harm than the current situation where our inspectors have to wait for harm to occur before they are authorised to take this action.
All sentient animals deserve legal protection from suffering, yet our laws lag behind those interstate. The shooting of native waterbirds, for example, is banned in all major states except SA and Victoria, despite evidence up to 40 per cent of birds are injured and often left to die slowly.
SA and Victoria are also the only two states that still allow jumps racing, where horses are almost 19 times more likely to be killed than in flat racing.
Similarly, no law exists within SA’s Act to prevent cruelty towards a fish or an aquatic invertebrate (including octopus, squid, cuttlefish, lobsters, crayfish and crabs).
SA and WA are the only two states that specifically exclude fish and aquatic invertebrates from animal-welfare legislation, despite ample scientific evidence of their capacity to feel pain.
Weak puppy farm legislation, low penalties for breaches of prohibition orders, no recognition of interstate prohibition orders, poor protection for animals used in entertainment — the list goes on.
It’s time for a comprehensive and transparent review of SA’s animal welfare legislation which currently gives the appearance of having cherry picked many of the weakest protections afforded by interstate laws.
Community views and expectations have evolved significantly since the Act’s inception 33 years ago, but the legal protection we afford animals has fallen behind. It’s not about leadership, it’s about just catching up.
Paul Stevenson is the chief executive officer of RSPCA South Australia. He wrote this opinion piece as part of our Combat Cruelty campaign, in which we’ve released full details of almost every cruelty case RSPCA South Australia prosecuted last financial year. See the files and take our Combat Cruelty pledge: www.combatcruelty.com