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Animal Welfare Amendment Bill 2022

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 26 October 2022

Tags: Animal Welfare, Legislation

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, Tasmania's animal welfare laws are 29 years old and they are well overdue for substantial reform. While the Greens will be supporting the amendments in this legislation, we are also putting forward our own series of amendments. There are five amendments, which we have circulated, that we believe will contemporise the act and strengthen the rights of animals on this island.

It is unarguable that since the Animal Welfare Act 1993 was written and passed by parliament, science has moved on, in terms of our understanding of animal brains and behaviour but also community expectations have moved on as well. There is a much, much stronger and clearer understanding across the community that we need to have very robust animal protection laws and that the laws we have now in Tasmania are not up to scratch.

When you have a look at some of the polling, in terms of the community mood, the Australian Alliance for Animals' submission to the act review talks about polling by Roy Morgan Research, which in March of this year, found that 98 per cent of Australians consider animal welfare to be important; 94 per cent support laws that ensure animals are provided with a good quality of life; 97 per cent support laws that ensure animals are protected from cruel treatment; 80 per cent support government doing more to protect animal welfare; 74 per cent support the creation of an independent body to oversee animal welfare; and 85 per cent support animal welfare laws reflecting community expectations and best available science.

While we acknowledge that the amendments before the House today take the Animal Welfare Act forward somewhat, in many ways the amendments are not that substantial, in terms of recognising the intrinsic rights and the sentience of animals, and also in making sure that animal welfare officers and the inspectorate have all the powers that they need to protect and save animals from cruel treatment, aggravated cruelty or neglect.

We recognise that these amendments have been put forward in good faith but I just remind the minister that the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee recommendations total 65. I have had this document for nine years, which is why it is so dog eared. We have followed quite closely the progress of reform in this area when you hold it against the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee report. The Animal Welfare Advisory Committee is made up of some very mixed and varied stakeholders, from scientists and animal welfare legal representatives to the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association, the Local Government Association of Tasmania, Tasmania Police, sporting and recreation animal users, UTAS and the Australian Veterinary Association. Animals Australia is on the AWAC, as is the RSPCA. Both of those organisations made very solid contributions to the review process.

Of those 65 recommendations made by the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, including one that we moved for a few years ago, which was to recognise the mental suffering of animals, 14 still have not been implemented even with these amendments. When you look at the composition of AWAC, you would not call them a radical body. This entity consulted very widely in developing its recommendations for reform of the act, and agreed by consensus that these 65 recommendations should be made to government.

We have not yet had what is necessary for animal welfare reform: that is reform that instead of looking at animals through the lens of what use they are to us and only allowing the law to respond when an animal is suffering neglect or cruelty, we need laws that place an emphasis and an understanding on the rights of animals. We are but one species on this planet with myriad species that we share this planet with, yet we are driving countless species to extinction. We are responsible for industrial agriculture processes which are a form of torture. Our laws have not caught up yet.

An indication of how strongly so many Tasmanians feel, for example, about the cruelty behind greyhound racing and the fact that it is publicly subsidised, the Greens tabled the largest ever e petition in the Tasmanian parliament's history, with around 13 500 signatures of people calling on the Government to end the public subsidies to the greyhound racing industry. As we know, if the subsidies ended, so would the industry end, because it is not an industry that can stand on its own two feet.

We have a series of amendments which have been put forward by either the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee or by Animals Australia in their submissions. Our core amendment is one that recognises the sentience of animals.

I am not going to go through the provisions in the legislation. Both the minister and Ms Finlay have done that. I will read into the Hansard a letter that was published in the Mercury newspaper signed by Dr Katrina Ward, a veterinary specialist; Dr Megan Alessandrini, CEO of Companion Animal Network Australia; Jan Davis, CEO of RSPCA Tasmania; Michael Sertori, CEO of Dogs' Homes; Carol Hughes, president of Dogs' Homes; Melissa Fraser, president of Tasmanian Dog Walking Clubs; and Greg Irons, Bonorong Wild Life Sanctuary director. This is a plea for the Government to contemporise our animal welfare laws by recognising that animals are sentient beings that have intrinsic rights, not just to exist, but to a good life. The letter says:

In the next week, the Tasmanian Government will be reviewing submissions made towards the Animal Welfare Amendment Bill. Our group of animal welfare organisations of activists have co signed a submission calling for the Act to include recognition of animal sentience.

Sentience can be defined as the capacity of animals to perceive by the senses and thereby to consciously experience both negative and positive effects which are important to them and which influence their welfare.

In a nutshell, they are conscious and aware of both good and bad experiences. They feel suffering and enjoyment. Currently our laws are focused on punishing those who deliver unprovoked or unnecessary cruelty or deny basic survival needs such as food and water.

Our aim to include sentience as an overarching concept when considering welfare is simple and yet profound. It swings the focus from preventing bad outcomes to the provision of good welfare, meeting species needs, desires and emotional fulfillment.

The recognition of this word is important for the quality of life for the non-human species with which we share our ecosystem, environment, survival and families.

The Government should recognise it because it is basic. Think about it over your shared toast with your dog this morning or as you lay out the straw for your hens, as you avoid the fresh road kill or as you wonder how is the kindest manner to get rid of the rats in your compost bin.

We thank those individuals who have been advocating for this substantial and profound law reform, which is not novel. It has happened in many places in the world. Nineteen jurisdictions in the world, including in the EU and other Australian states and territories are moving towards or have, as is the case with the Australian Capital Territory, recognised sentience in its legislation. We thank those individuals and thank that wonderful network of groups and individuals who give voice to the voiceless, from Animals Australia to the Humane Society International, RSPCA, Let Greyhounds Run Free, Dogs' Homes of Tasmania, there are so many terrific people working to give voice to the voiceless and strengthen rights for animals.

Let us look at examples of failures in our treatment of animals that these amendments will not resolve. In industrial agriculture, some of those practices could certainly be made more humane. Just because it is legal does not make it right. What happens to dairy calves is something we should all think about deeply. Sow stalls: those incredible intelligent beings, pigs, and the way they are kept could do with improvement. We know that the horse racing industry is cruel. For members who did not see Caro Meldrum-Hanna's extraordinary and wrenching report on the cruelty in the horse racing industry from about three years ago, I recommend it if you have a tough stomach.

It showed the scale of slaughter and wastage of beautiful horses who are not fast enough anymore or are costing too much to feed in this country. It is disgusting. It revealed footage of former racehorses, terrified, being pushed basically into the grinder at an abattoir at Caboolture, just north of Brisbane. We know that there will be horse racing trainers and owners on this island, and we have been provided with information that tells us in all likelihood it is true, who make money from sending ex-racehorses off to the abattoir, off to the doggers. That is the side of the racing industry that most people do not see or think about. We should make ourselves aware of it.

We have seen the pictures. Some of those ex-racehorses end up at places like the greyhound trainer, Anthony Bullock's place, up on the Tamar, where they are shot, strung up from a tree and fed to Mr Bullock's miserable dogs. This is the same Mr Bullock who has been operating without a kennel licence for many years. Last week, the West Tamar Council, even though it had a discretionary power to say 'no' awarded Mr Bullock the kennel licence he has not had for so long. The greyhound racing industry, as we know, is banned in many parts of the world, including nearly every US state, except from about three US states, I believe.

We know this is a cruel industry and while we know that some changes have been made here, and we welcome and we helped to drive them, through the establishment of the parliamentary Inquiry into the Greyhound Racing Industry, it is still an industry that breeds dogs for profit. It is still an industry that allows dogs to be kept in cages that are about one metre by one metre square. If anyone wants to see a picture of how Anthony Bullock keeps his dogs I have them and will happily forward them to you.

Of course, this is about all creatures great and small. We know that one of the most miserable lives on the planet is lived by a battery hen. Battery hens live in cages that are about the size of an A4 page. Their entire existence is within that cage and they are in there to produce eggs, at mass scale, for human consumption. When we were in government we made sure that there was a treasurer's instruction issued to government departments that they needed to procure cruelty-free eggs. We also had some money set aside, which we negotiated through the sale of the old TOTE, to buy back battery cages. Government changes. Liberals came in and reversed that treasurer's decision and reversed the ban on 1080 poison - overnight. Overnight those hens, which potentially could have looked forward to a happier life in a paddock in the sunshine, were locked back up in their cages because of a change of government policy.

There is the cruelty of puppy farms. I respect people's choices, but I always scratch my head when I see people buy pedigree dogs. It baffles me that someone would first of all want to spend that much money on a dog. Second, if you want to give a dog a good life, go to the dogs' home, or the RSPCA, because in my long experience of living with, and loving dogs, it is rescue dogs that are the best dogs because they are so grateful to have a good home. I do not think as a society we should be fostering puppy farms.

Then of course there is the shooting for sport and some of the cruelty that you see when shooters do not do a good job and leave animals suffering.

I wanted to go through some examples of animal sentience, because this is the foundation for our proposed amendment. One of the great survivors of the planet, an outstanding problem-solver that has been able to adapt to life on every continent, within every climatic extreme, except for Antarctica and the Arctic, are corvids - ravens and crows. They are the most extraordinary bird. Corvids remember faces. Corvids remember when a human has done something that they feel threatens them, or is designed to hurt them. Corvids remember what they regard, clearly, as good people and bad people. They are amazing communicators but they are also gift-givers. I have read stories of people who have been feeding their ravens and after some months they come to the raven feeding spot and there is a little gift made out of pine sprigs and a bottle top, that has been left there by the crows.

In Tasmania we have our own striking forest ravens, which are important to the ecology of this island. This article, which is in the Science Alert publication, simply says:

New research into the minds of crows has revealed a jaw-dropping finding. The canny corvids are not just clever they also possess a form of consciousness, able to be consciously aware of the world around them in the present. In other words, they have subjective experiences.

The article notes that:

[C]consciousness is difficult to pin down in animals that do not speak with words that we understand, but it is the ability to be aware of oneself and the world around you, to know what you know and to think about that knowledge, it enhances problem-solving and decision-making, at both of which crows excel.

Then there are beautiful pigs, one of the smartest domestic animals on the planet. Pigs are amazing. This is a paper by an entity called Compassion in World Farming. It is about sentience in pigs. It is referenced and very clear and well-written. It says:

Pigs have been shown to recognise other pigs and distinguish between familiar and unfamiliar ones and find being with unfamiliar pigs stressful. Pigs are social animals. They show an awareness of when they are alone compared to when they are with other pigs and they find being alone stressful as indicated by physiological and behavioural indicators of stress. Their individual personalities affect how they respond to this stress.

All of these statements I am making are referenced by research.

Pigs have memories. They are able to learn where food is hidden and remember that location after a period of time. Pigs can learn and remember where to find hidden food and learn to alter their behavior to their own advantage based on another pig's behaviour. This indicates an awareness of the actions of others, it also shows behavioural flexibility and the ability to learn and form memories.

These are believed to be markers of intelligence.

Pigs can use a mirror to find a hidden food bowl after being given an opportunity to learn about a mirror. This indicates that pigs can learn what a mirror image is and can use this information to solve a problem. Pigs can learn to find their way through a maze. Going through a painful experience affects their ability to learn. Pigs can experience pain as shown by multiple studies which have found pain receptors in pigs and behavioural indicators of pain. Such indicators include decreased or abnormal movements, abnormal postures, turning their heads towards the painful area, reduced feeding and vocalization such as squealing following a painful event such as castration without anaesthetic.

The fact that pigs are sentient is supported by a wealth of scientific evidence. They have individual personalities, and they are able to learn and adjust their behaviour.

Another story is from the New York Times, titled 'Dogs are People Too'. Anyone in here who is a dog lover knows that dogs learn words. My dogs understand going in the car. When you say 'car' there is frantic activity because they know that they are going to the park. At night time, when I want to take them outside for a leak, I say 'Do you wanna go outside for a wee?', and they get up and come outside for a wee. I do not know what my dogs' vocabulary is, but I know that dogs have, over millennia, been our primary animal companion, learned to communicate with us with their eyes and they understand some words. This article continues:

Because dogs can't speak, scientists have relied on behavioural observations to infer what dogs are thinking. It's a tricky business. You can't ask a dog why he does something and you certainly can't ask him how he feels.

This scientist used MRI scanning. He was able to train his own pet dog to sit still in the MRI machine, with earphones on, and he studied this dog's brain. He then went back to undertake the same work on a number of dogs. The scientist says:


Although we are just beginning to answer basic questions about the canine brain, we cannot ignore the striking similarity between dogs and humans in both the structure and function of a key brain region: the caudate nucleus.

Rich in dopamine receptors, the caudate sits between the brainstem and the cortex. In humans, the caudate plays a key role in the anticipation of things we enjoy, like food, love and money. …

Specific parts of the caudate stand out from the consistent activation to many things that humans enjoy. Caudate activation is so consistent, that under the right circumstances, it can predict our preference for food, music and even beauty.

In dogs we found that activity in the caudate increased in response to hand signals indicating food. The caudate also activated to the smells of familiar humans, and in preliminary tests it activated to the return of an owner who had momentarily stepped out of view.

In the morning, my dog knows when I put on my work clothes, because when the Saturday or Sunday clothes go on, my dog gets very excited. When you get home at night it is the sweetest thing, because it like the dogs are falling in love with you all over again. They experience emotions. The ability to experience positive emotions like love and attachment would mean that dogs have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child and this ability suggests a rethinking of how we treat dogs.

Now to my favourite story of animal sentience, the story of Alex the Grey Parrot - the only animal in existence, as far as we know, to have asked an existential question. Alex the Grey Parrot was bought in a pet shop in Chicago in June 1997, and his name Alex is an acronym for Avian Learning Experiment. His scientist carer, Dr Pepperberg, began training Alex with specialist techniques. He was taught to recognise a variety of different colours, objects, materials and actions, and he possessed a vocabulary of over 100 words to identify them with. He knew at least 50 individual objects, and could count quantities of up to six. The parrot was even reported to have an understanding of the concept of zero.

Possessing a distinct understanding of the words he used, Alex could also identify objects, despite them being different from ones he had been shown before. For example, if Alex was shown a plastic key that was yellow, he could distinguish it from one that was made of metal by its colour and material, while still labelling them both as keys. When presented with an object, he would be asked questions such as what colour, what matter, or what shape? He had a very high rate of accuracy with his responses.

His ability to understand and pose his own questions was a groundbreaking occurrence in itself, as he was the first and only non-human ever to ask a question. Sometimes he would get bored during the experiments, trying to create variations to the exercise by responding intentionally with incorrect answers, or by responding to Dr Pepperberg's questions with questions of his own. One of his most impressive moments was when he asked an existential question about his own appearance. Alex had been presented with a mirror and, after observing himself for a moment, he asked, what colour? He then learned the word 'grey' - the colour of his feathers - after having it taught to him just six times.

Alex died unexpectedly on 6 September 2007, at the age of 31 - much shorter than the average expected life span of a parrot in captivity. The last thing he was known to say was a few parting words during his nightly goodbyes exchanged with Dr Pepperberg. After she put him in his cage, he said, 'You be good, see you tomorrow, I love you'.

Dr Pepperberg and her colleagues were devastated by the loss. Alex's death even spurred a series of articles paying tribute to him in large publications such as The New York Times. That research is ongoing.

Animals are to be formally recognised as sentient beings in the United Kingdom, and I understand have also been recognised as such by the Australian Capital Territory. There is also movement towards recognising sentience in other jurisdictions. We might get to that in the Committee stage of the bill.

The first Australian jurisdiction to recognise animal sentience was the Australian Capital Territory in 2019. The Victorian government has also flagged its intention to recognise animal sentience in the current review of its act. The Western Australian government has recently endorsed a recommendation to amend the objects of the Animal Welfare Act 2002, to:

expressly recognise that animals are living beings able to perceive, feel and have positive and negative experiences.

While it does not actually say, specifically recognising the sentience of animals, that is effectively the definition of sentience. Sadly, Australia has been given a D grade in the World Animal Protection Index, because we have not legally recognised the sentience of animals. It is actually coming up as an issue in trade talks between Australia and the UK, and Australia and the EU, where there is a concern that our animal welfare laws are weak and need strengthening.

We need strong laws to protect the rights of animals. We are the creature that zoologist Desmond Morris, in his famous book, described as 'the naked ape'. We are the most aggressive and destructive animal on earth. We are the most powerful animal on Earth. That gives us enormous responsibility not to see ourselves as the superior point of the life apex on Earth, because we are just one piece, one part, of this biosphere.

Mr Deputy Speaker, our history has been one of abusing and using animals to our own ends and needs, and we have to do better than that. You cannot look into the eyes of a dog, or a pig, and not see that they are sentient. We hope that there is support for our amendments.