IF GIVEN the opportunity, the president of the Australian Law Reform Commission would amend Australian law to include a Truth in Animal Welfare Act.
That amendment would come, said David Weisbrot, if the hypothetical discussion suggested at a University of NSW animal law seminar — that compassion for animals be included in the Australian constitution — were true.
Weisbrot said that while Australia has good legislation around the prevention of cruelty to animals: “we have exceptions to the general rule being defined by practice.”
Katrina Sharman, corporate counsel for animal welfare group and event organiser, Voiceless, raised the hypothetical question after visiting Indian animal rights lawyer Raj Panjwani said that “the role of judiciary was so important” in preventing animal cruelty.
The event — organised by Voiceless and supported by UNSW — attracted a crowd of legal professionals, students interested in animal law and those concerned with animal welfare. A sign that animal law is fast becoming a significant factor in Australia law, Weisbrot said, is that UNSW’s first Animal Law course has created a trend across academic institutions. “Animal law is now taught or soon to be taught in eighty schools across Australia,” he said
The drawcard for the audience was Panjwani, whose achievements in India have changed the landscape of the Indian food industry, tourism and entertainment. Notable to the panel discussion following Panjwani’s presentation, was the fact that his arguments for animals in Indian courts were usually primed off the fact that compassion for animals is enshrined in the Indian Constitutions.
Once a corporate lawyer in India, Panjwani said his passion for animals was always strong but it wasn’t until the late 1980s that he found himself dealing with India’s Animal Protection Act of 1960.
He has recognised the power of the judiciary in fighting for the protection of animals but believes the need for such judiciary will only go so far. “In 20 to 30 years’ time, the role of judiciary will come to an end because people themselves will believe in compassion,” he told Lawyers Weekly.
Sharman believes that, rather than an instrument of protection, “the law is used as a veil of obscuring cruelty in Australia.”
Sharman said that the systematic abuse of animals is a situation transcending jurisdictions, with animals suffering in the name of science, conservation, food and environmental protection.
“We know society’s abuse of animals is so widespread it’s hard to know where to start,” she said. “But in Australia, farm animals and factory farming could be a good place.”
Meanwhile Weisbrot suggested that another hypothetical reform could be to follow India’s lead in labelling laws. The Indian legislation, achieved in part by Panjwani, states that all food products be labelled with a green or orange button to signify their animal content. Upon hearing this Weisbrot said, “I’d also like to see much better food labelling laws and unleash consumer power. I’m confident Australians would vote with their pocket.”
Weisbrot also addressed some fundamental differences in the language used between India and Australia. “The Indian constitution asks Indians to show compassion. Our constitution reads more like a manual you get with a toaster or a microwave,” he said.