Animal Advocates and the Slow Road to Animal Welfare Policy Reform in Australia

Stream: Panel 3 - Environmental Politics: The Political Turn in Animal Ethics
Date: Monday, 26 September 2016
Time: 11.30 am – 1.00 pm


This paper outlines the key strategic and tactics used by animal advocates to achieve their policy objectives in Australia. While Australia is regarded in some quarters to be a leader in animal welfare, many advocates consider policy reform as difficult and slow. We argue this is due to a number of interconnected causes. These include agenda closure by policy elites; weak issue salience associated with the social distance between most Australians and non-companion animals; and the cultural privilege associated with nostalgic notions of farming and farmers in Australian political and popular culture. Against this context of conservatism, Australia has seen an explosion in the number and diversity of animal activist groups in the last two decades. Once dominated by the RSPCA, more radical organisations increasingly active within the policy debate. They include bodies such as Animals Australia and Voiceless. These organisations, working through networks of interconnected groups, have begun to de-prioritise traditional policy making strategies focused on state regulation, with campaigns aimed at changing public attitudes and consumer behaviour. Through this focus on non-state governance, they have explored opportunities in commercial supply chains, such as pressuring food retailers to move adopt voluntary production standards. Combined, these tactics suggest that animal advocates in Australia are having an impact, but that their influence is strongest outside the conventional political domain. In closing we consider whether this non-traditional policy approach is all that is available to animal advocates and if it is, whether they will be able to adequately influence policy as outsiders.


Peter Chen (Presenter), University of Sydney

Siobhan O'Sullivan (Presenter), UNSW