The Greens have introduced a Bill to NSW Parliament that, if passed, would see animal sentience explicitly recognised in our animal welfare laws.
There is strong scientific consensus on the fact that animals are sentient — thinking, feeling beings with individual personalities and the capacity to experience a range of positive and negative states, from joy to fear, pleasure to suffering.
In recognising that animals have a range of positive and negative physical, mental and emotional experiences, this law reform also extends the existing duty of care of animal caregivers to ensure that animals in their care are free from unnecessary pain to also include the responsibility to provide the animal with the opportunity for positive experiences like comfort, interest, pleasure, and enjoyment.
In practice, providing opportunities for positive experiences includes simple things like a varied diet, shade and shelter, and room to play, move, interact, and live a good life.
The Bill has been developed in close consultation with the Sentient Animal Law Foundation, animal welfare law experts with a focus on legal reform that provides for a life enjoyed, not just endured, to animals.
Quotes attributable to Abigail Boyd, Greens NSW MP and Animal Welfare spokesperson:
“Anyone lucky enough to have animals in their life knows well that every individual animal has its own unique personality, fears and interests.
“The science on animal sentience has been settled for decades, but NSW’s animal welfare laws are stuck in the past. Until we recognise the basic fact that animals are thinking, feeling beings, we can’t move forward to meet the community’s expectations for how we should treat animals.
“Since the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act passed through our Parliament in 1979, science has advanced, pet ownership has increased and community expectations have progressed — but the law has remained stagnant.
“The NSW Government views animals as products only, but the public and industry knows that each animal is someone, not something. Any horse trainer, cattle farmer, or pet owner will tell you that every animal is unique.
“Our laws are built on a fiction that animals aren’t sentient. Until we remedy that, we can’t have a sensible discussion about the ways we use animals or the standards we hold animal industries to.
“NSW has the opportunity to join the world’s animal welfare leaders like the ACT, the UK, France, and New Zealand in legally recognising that animals are sentient.”
Quotes attributable to Dr Ian Robertson and Dr Daniel Goldsworthy of the Sentient Animal Law Foundation:
“A good life for people and animals is about more than just avoiding suffering.
“Sentient animals experience not just pain, but also pleasure, and the passing of this Bill would demonstrate the genuine commitment of the NSW government to implement truly modern standards of animal welfare with law that does more than just prohibit being cruel to animals. This Bill extends anti-cruelty laws by adding a responsibility to also provide animals with opportunities to experience comfort, interest and pleasure.
“This Bill reflects the latest scientific knowledge, delivers on the expectations of the NSW public and organisations who believe in animals being given a good life, and further elevates NSW's reputation as a leader for animal welfare at home and abroad.
“In summary, this Bill is good for NSW’s industries, its people and NSW animals because it promotes consumer trust, and provides practical government support for the NSW farmers, businesses and communities who are already heavily investing in improving the lives of their animals.”
The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment (Animal Sentience) Bill 2022 would amend the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979, the primary piece of legislation governing animal welfare, to include a recognition of the sentience of animals, and their ability to subjectively feel and perceive the world around them.
The Bill defines sentience of an animal to mean the animal’s capacity to feel or experience both negative and positive physical, mental, and emotional states, and creates a responsibility not just to prevent negative experiences, but to provide opportunity for positive experiences.
The text of the Bill can be found here, and Abigail Boyd’s second reading speech can be found here. Footage of the speech can be downloaded here.
The Sentient Animal Law Foundation is a law reform charity that focuses on putting the modern-day concept of positive animal welfare into law, policy and practice with a legislative definition of sentience that establishes responsibility for an animal's negative and positive states. The law reform replicates existing best practices of farmers, businesses and communities who, in addition to not being cruel to their animals, also provide them with opportunities to experience comfort, interest and pleasure.