AUSTRALIA’S FIRST animal law conference was so popular there was a waiting list of people hoping for cancellations so that they could attend.
Academics, solicitors, barristers and students gathered at the University of New South Wales last Friday to hear about the latest developments in animal law from Australian and international experts.
Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett opened the sell-out conference saying that while the public is becoming increasingly concerned about animal welfare issues, the Federal Government has failed to act on these concerns.
“The lack of interest in animal welfare at a federal level means Australia has been forced to continue with its hodgepodge of state and territory animal welfare legislation, with its selective and often poor enforcement record,” Bartlett said.
Among the speakers was Peter Sankoff, lecturer in animal law at the University of Auckland who examined why the welfare construct fails to protect animals from suffering.
Sankoff pointed out that due to exceptions in the law as they are presently drafted, reasonable and justifiable pain and suffering are allowed. Situations that have been held to be reasonable and justifiable include rodeos, for the purpose of human entertainment, and the cropping of dog’s tails for aesthetic reasons.
Another New Zealander, Deidre Bourke, co-chairwoman of the Animal Rights Legal Advocacy Network in New Zealand spoke about the regulation of animal experiments in Australasia and proposed it was time people stopped shying away from the issue due to its emotive nature.
“Although debate surrounding animal research always focuses on its importance in terms of saving human lives this needs to be put in perspective. Only a small amount of research is conducted for medical purposes. In New Zealand the figure is between 5 per cent and 12 per cent of the research conducted. The vast majority of research undertaken, almost universally, falls into three main areas: agricultural research, research for commercial purposes and basic biological research. The latter is a kind of generic ‘catch all’ category for basic investigatory research not obviously relevant to any one of the more specific categories available,” Bourke said.
Angela Radich, chairwoman of the NSW Young Lawyers Animal Rights Committee said the success of the conference was a reflection of the general interest in animal law and welfare throughout the community.
“It’s a sign of the growing acceptance of animal law within the mainstream legal community and lawyers are really interested in this issue and have real concerns about the current laws and how they fail to protect the majority of animals,” Radich said.