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Your guide to proposed changes to animal welfare laws in SA

30 Apr. 2024 7 min read

Heard about changes to the Animal Welfare Act but not quite sure what it means or how it will affect you? We have you covered with this guide.

Whether you have pets at home, work in the agriculture sector, enjoy fishing, or simply appreciate our unique and vibrant native species – animal welfare is an important subject to many of us.

You may have heard about the Animal Welfare Act review.

Last updated in 2008, the state government committed to undertake this review to ensure the laws governing our treatment of animals were modernised and in line with community expectations.

Now, a draft version of the Bill, incorporating all the changes identified throughout the review process, is out for consultation and you have an opportunity to share your thoughts before it is finalised.

Here’s everything you need to know.

What is the Animal Welfare Act?

The Act is the primary piece of legislation concerned with animal welfare in South Australia and aims to prevent harm and ill treatment of animals and protect their welfare.

What’s happening?

A review of the existing Act has been taking place since early 2023.

The first stages gathered feedback from the community about what they thought about the Act and changes they’d like to see made, which informed the development of a range of reform opportunities.

These were then tested with key stakeholders to better understand what affects these changes may have.

Now, a draft Bill incorporating the reforms identified throughout this process has been released for public feedback. This provides the community with a final opportunity to give their feedback before the Bill is finalised.

What are the key changes being proposed?

Seven key reforms were identified as part of the review process. These underpin the changes being proposed to the Act, and include:

  1. Update the purpose and include objects in the Act – to better explain why the law exists and help the reader interpret its intent.
  2. Better recognise animal sentience – to acknowledge that animals experience feelings, both positive, such a pleasure, or negative, such as pain and fear.
  3. Broaden the definition of an animal – to allow the law to cover more types of animals by removing the exclusion of fish, and including cephalopods (squid, octopus, cuttlefish) for scientific purposes.
  4. Introduce a ‘duty of care’ provision – to create a positive requirement to provide a minimum level of care.
  5. Improve regulation, oversight and transparency of the research and teaching sector – to enable greater transparency, accountability and address community concerns.
  6. Increase the ability to administer and enforce the Act – to provide appropriate powers and ability to hold to account people that do not meet animal welfare requirements, preventing cruelty and promoting welfare.
  7. Contemporise the governance and administrative provisions for the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee – to ensure that animal welfare advice comes from a transparent and diverse group.

What does this mean for me?

The Act sets an expectation and standard for behaviour regarding how we treat animals.

The proposed changes brings SA in line with other jurisdictions in Australia. This includes raising penalties for doing the wrong thing and ensuring that action can be taken before an animal is harmed.

That said, whether you have fur-babies at home, or you work in the agriculture or fishing sector, chances are that you already treat animals well above this standard.

In fact, the feedback received as part of the first stage of consultation showed strong support for strengthening protections for animals against activities and practices that are considered unacceptable or cause harm.

The proposed changes to the Act better protect animal welfare, so if you’re doing the right thing, they won’t affect you.

However, it does provide greater powers to act if someone is identified as doing the wrong thing.

Do these changes affect me if I want to go fishing?

You probably already considered fish as animals, so we appreciate this one might be a bit confusing.

Within legislation, definitions are used to help interpretation. If a particular word is not defined in a piece of legislation, then the ordinary meaning of the word is generally used.

Previously, ‘animal’ was defined as a vertebrate (animals with a spinal cord and backbone) other than a human or a fish.

The draft Bill proposes expanding this definition to include fish, and cephalopods (squid, octopus and cuttlefish) when they are used for scientific purposes.

This won’t affect fishing activities if they are undertaken in accordance with other relevant laws (such as the Fisheries Act). It does mean, however, that we can all be better assured that more of our underwater friends are being treated humanely.

How do I have my say on these changes?

To share your thoughts, visit YourSAy and complete the survey before 26 May 2024: https://yoursay.sa.gov.au/animal-welfare-draft-bill.

An explanatory guide has been developed to help guide you through the draft Bill, highlighting what has been changed from the current Act.

The survey will ask for your thoughts on each section of the Bill, for example ‘do you agree that this section of the draft Bill provides adequate protections for animal welfare?’ and you will be able to respond with: strongly agree, agree, neither agree or disagree, disagree, or strongly disagree. You will also be able to provide additional comments to support your response.

I’m not a legal expert, can I still have my say?

Of course, animal welfare is an important subject to many of us.

You can read the explanatory guide if you would like more information on the draft Bill and how it differs from the current Act. You can also read the FAQs.

What’s next for animals?

Updating the Animal Welfare Act is not the only thing happening in this space.

Consultation on amendments to the Dog and Cat Management Act 1995 is anticipated to begin in early May and will run parallel with the Animal Welfare Bill consultation.

Where the Animal Welfare Act relates to all animals, the Dog and Cat Management Act is specific only to dogs and cats. It aims to promote, encourage and where necessary enforce responsible ownership.

Proposed changes seek to update the way that dog breeders are licenced so that puppy farms are banned. The changes abolish the cruel practice of breeding dogs to sell the puppies while keeping the mothers in cramped conditions.

Love animals? Check out this guide to encouraging local fauna to visit your backyard.


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