Australian Labor Party (ALP) MP Melissa Parke told Australian Parliament earlier this month that the government was developing the office in response to the recent revalations of animal cruelty, both in Australia and in countries which import live Australian cattle. She said that work on a model for the office, which would be a statutory authority dedicated to animal welfare, policy, science and law, was “well advanced”.
However, in a statement released this week, Australian Greens spokesperson for animal welfare, Senator Lee Rhiannon, accused the ALP of dragging its feet over the establishment of an independent watchdog for animal welfare.
“Reports that a group of Labor MPs will again push for an Independent Office of Animal Welfare are wearing thin in the face of almost two years of feet-dragging by Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig,” she said.
“The Greens have long called for an Independent Office and we challenge Labour to walk their talk and introduce legislation into parliament before the election to create a real win for animal welfare.
“The ALP has had an Independent Office of Animal Welfare on the cards since 2011, but when I pressed Minister Ludwig on budget estimates over a year ago, he side-stepped the question. Labor’s ongoing stalling highlights the lack of political will on this issue.”
Animal welfare groups have called on their supporters to put pressure on the ALP to establish the office, which would oversee the country’s often-criticised live export system as well as developing national animal welfare policy.
“Our current system has consistently failed animals for decades, with the welfare of animals always coming second to the economic interests of the rural lobby. This is why we still have 500 million animals confined to cruel factory farms; why we continue to subject animals to the horrors of live export; and why dairy calves trucked to slaughter can be legally denied food for 30 hours,” said Animals Australia.
The debate on animal welfare in Australia reached a fever pitch this year, following a series of widely-reported cases of animal abuse in countries which import live cattle, as well as revelations of cruelty in Australian abattoirs.
Following the latest scandal, over the “brutal” slaughter of Australian sheep at the Al Rai livestock market, in Kuwait, the Federal Member for Hindmarsh Steve Georganas tabled a motion condeming the slaughter and calling for the “strongest possible penalties to be imposed immediately”. Georganas also called for the urgent conclusion of all cruelty investigations underway by Australian authorities.
Under the current system, the regulatory regimes for live animal and meat exports are administered and enforced by the federal Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF), which has been accused of impartiality due to its role as an agency with a core responsibility for ensuring profitable primary industry. Decision-making committees also tend to be dominated by industry and agriculture.
Proponents of the proposed office would remove this conflict of interest and speed up decision-making processes for the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines and the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock.
“So long as animal welfare remains under the domain of the Minister for Primary Industries, the interests of animals will come in second to the interests of agribusiness”, said Senator Rhiannon.