Australia was colonized by Britain in 1788 and only achieved independence from Britain in 1901. At independence, the Commonwealth of Australia was formed as a federation of sovereign States and territories, of which there are now eight. We celebrated our centenary in 2001, so we are still a relatively “young” country in terms of our legislation.
Each State and Territory has its own Government and most legislative powers are delegated to the States. Australian legislation has been modelled on the British “Westminster” system of legislation. The Commonwealth or “Federal” government has control over the finances and tax collection, but cannot dictate to the States regarding local State legislation.
As a consequence of this relationship, our animal welfare legislation is different in each of the six states and two territories. The role of the Commonwealth Government is to try to coordinate legislation to keep the various aspects as uniform as possible. In relation to animal welfare, they do this via the National Consultative Committee on Animal Welfare (NCCAW). This committee, chaired by Professor Ivan Caple, dean of the University of Melbourne Veterinary School, includes representatives from all the main animal industry “stakeholders.” They include the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA), animal welfare organisations such as the RSPCA , animal rights groups, the national dog and cat breed societies, as well as representatives from government, the livestock industries, the farming community, and various other industry and community groups.
The recommendations of NCCAW are called “policies” or “recommended codes of practice.” While it is not compulsory for State legislatures to adopt these, they are taken into account when framing animal welfare legislation in the various States.
The other main factors affecting animal welfare legislation are the animal welfare aspects of the livestock industries and how they affect trade between Australia and New Zealand and our main trading partners. The main impact of these concerns is in the live animal food trade to such areas as Indonesia and the Middle East.
A review of the animal welfare legislation in Australia would show that it is far from uniform in detail, although the broad principles are similar. Some State acts are in desperate need of review. The Western Australian act is dated 1920 and the Queensland act is dated 1925. There have been some recent acts reviewed and the Victorian, New South Wales (NSW), Australian Capital Territory (ACT), and Northern Territory (NT) acts are all fairly recent. All recent Acts carry specific references to cosmetic procedures. This is to be expected as the legislation reflects changing community attitudes to these procedures.
The Australian Veterinary Association also has policies that condemn various cosmetic procedures such as tail docking of dogs, ear cropping of dogs, de-vocalisation of dogs, and de-clawing of cats. These policies are constantly under review and have toughened considerably in the last five to ten years.
The major animal welfare societies have similar policies; these are usually more outspoken and have been held for longer than the published views of the veterinary profession.
Public pressure does achieve legislative change. The RSPCA and the AVA, in close cooperation with other animal welfare groups, have succeeded in having ear cropping of dogs made illegal in all States that have recently modified their animal welfare legislation.
The AVA has recently carried out a most successful national campaign against cosmetic tail docking in dogs and this has succeeded on two fronts. The NACCAW was successfully persuaded by our arguments to recommend AGAINST cosmetic tail docking and this information was passed to all State Governments supporting the anti-docking stance of the AVA and RSPCA. Shortly after this, the Australian Capitol Territory government passed a new animal welfare Act that specifically makes it illegal to dock dog’s tails for other than therapeutic reasons. Under this legislation, registered veterinarians are the only persons authorised to perform this operation. There was the expected opposition from various dog societies and the British Council for Docked Breeds, which has international links. However, their illogical arguments and publicity campaign only helped to persuade the politicians of both sides of the house to pass the legislation. This knowledge should be very useful to those persons who feel that politicians will not pass this legislation because of the fear of public backlash and loss of votes. I believe that it is VERY important to be able to demonstrate to politicians that there is strong community support for animal welfare legislation and to show that the extreme pro-docking groups are illogical, unscientific, and actually represent a VERY small group of people in the community—although they have a very loud “voice.” We now hope that there will be a flow-on effect to other States as the legislation comes up for review.
Ear cropping and de-vocalisation for other than therapeutic reasons are already effectively banned in all States of Australia and in New Zealand.
It would be fair to say that there is still a division of opinion in the veterinary profession with a few of our members still in favour of performing these procedures, however, our last survey indicated that the overwhelming majority of veterinarians (> 85%) were opposed to unnecessary cosmetic surgery in all species. There is some indication that the larger number of female veterinarians in the profession has had an influence in changing veterinary attitudes to animal welfare. In my practice, (14 veterinarians) all my associates have refused to perform any unnecessary cosmetic surgery.
I am happy to communicate any details of our work to members of the world veterinary community. The WSAVA World Assembly represents the 50 plus member associations of the WSAVA and has adopted a slightly modified version of the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals as the WSAVA Convention for the protection of companion animals. Each member association is being asked to ratify this convention and state that they embrace and endorse the principles of animal welfare it espouses.
Australian animal welfare legislation is generally available from the Internet on the WWW via the following URLs (web addresses):