Fact: Australian law offers very little protection for animals.
Many Australians don’t realise the startling defects in our animal welfare laws – how they exempt most animals from protection, how they permit profound and inexcusable cruelty, and how poorly enforced they are. Some 500 million farm animals, for example, are excluded from the protection of our existing animal welfare legislation by the Code of Practice ‘loophole’.
The treatment of animals in Australia is mostly governed by the various Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Acts (‘POCTAs’) for each State and Territory. However, unlike companion animals (cats, dogs etc), the treatment of farm or ‘production’ animals is not governed by this legislation, but by industry codes of practice.
For example, section 6(1) of Victoria’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 states that the Act does not apply to:
“Any act or practice with respect to the farming, transport, sale or killing of any farm animal which is carried out in accordance with a Code of Practice”
Nor does the Act apply to:
“… the keeping, treatment, handling, transportation, sale, killing, hunting, shooting, catching, trapping, netting, marking, care, use, husbandry or management of any animal or class of animals … which is carried out in accordance with a Code of Practice”.
The minimal animal welfare standards layed out in these codes of practice are barely enforced, and many allow extremely cruel practices to occur. This means that millions of farm animals daily endure housing conditions and acts of cruelty that would be illegal for a cat or dog. Codes of practice, for example, allow:
- the confinement of 23 chickens per square metre in indoor sheds prior to slaughter (420 million chickens each year)
- the docking of piglets’ tails, clipping of their teeth, and castration of male piglets without anaesthetic (5.7 million piglets each year)
- the confinement of laying hens in wire cages where their living space is smaller than one A4 sheet of paper (11 million hens each year)
In Victoria, there are codes of practice covering amphibians, caged birds, cats, cattle, deer, dogs, foxes, gamebirds, goats, horses, pigs, poultry, rabbits and sheep – whether they be captive or wild – as well as captive emus and reptiles. There are also Federal codes of practice for ‘the care and use of animals for scientific purposes’ and ‘for the humane shooting of kangaroos’. The codes of practice are policy documents endorsed by a Minister, and are not subject to a democratic vote within Parliament, unless a motion is put for their disallowance.
View the Codes of Practice, or their equivalents, in each state and territory: