The preparation of a RIS provides for an informed process of consultation regarding the proposed national standards, alternative options and the costs and benefits associated with each option. The publication of the consultation draft RIS is the final step in the consultation process, where the general community and consumers, as well as interested stakeholders have an opportunity to comment on both the proposed standards and the RIS.
The Consultation Guidelines (Appendix F of the COAG Guidelines) have been considered in the consultation strategy for this RIS.
The draft national Standards and Guidelines have been prepared under the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy (AAWS). A national Expert Consultative Forum (ECF) provided initial comment and guidance on the drafting of the standards and guidelines and a series of drafts have subsequently been developed over the last few years by a writing group. Representatives from federal, state and territory government agencies, and members of the exhibited animal industry and animal welfare groups have been involved in the process. The ECF met shortly before the drafting of this Regulation Impact Statement commenced.
Further preliminary consultation has recently been undertaken by emailing letters to key stakeholders asking them to state their position in relation to the proposed national standards (i.e. mostly support, mostly oppose, support some and oppose others or another position).
The Zoo and Aquarium Association (ZAA) has a position statement on animal welfare as outlined in Part 188.8.131.52 of this RIS. The stated position of ZAA in relation to the proposed standards is:
The Zoo and Aquarium Association (the Association) is supportive of the Australian Animal Welfare Standards for Exhibited Animals provided they achieve the outcomes as requested by the Animal Welfare Committee in that they are clear, achievable and verifiable. The Association is also supportive where the policy objectives, as outlined on page 21 of this document, are captured and embraced by the regulatory departments who will be responsible for implementing the Standards on the legislative platform. The Association believes that this approach will be beneficial to animal welfare and the industry, supported by consistent regulation across Australia’s states and territories.34
RSPCA Australia has confirmed its position that it mostly supports the proposed standards. The RSPCA has a specific policy statement that states: ‘RSPCA Australia advocates the adoption of compulsory national standards and guidelines for zoological parks and aquaria, including species-specific standards for husbandry and care’.
At the time of writing, Animals Australia has not provided a substantive response to the consultation letter. According to its web site, Animals Australia has no specific policy in relation to the proposed national standards.
There will be a 60-day public consultation period conducted via an appropriate web site plus specific approaches to key stakeholders.
2.1 Basis for action
By way of background, the proposed national standards have been developed in response to:
criticisms of the industry arising from publicised incidents of poor animal treatment, animal escapes, etc.;
difficulties experienced by jurisdictions ill-equipped to manage/prevent such undesirable situations; and
difficulties for the industry in dealing with separate jurisdictions having inconsistent standards.
According to COAG guidelines, the RIS is required to demonstrate the need for the proposed national standards. This need is most often demonstrated in RISs by providing quantitative evidence of various forms of market failure in the industry under discussion. However, there are substantial methodological difficulties in providing such quantitative evidence of market failure in the exhibited animals industry.
Firstly, as discussed in Part 1.2.2. of this RIS, ‘animal welfare’ is a difficult term to define, and is even more difficult to measure, because it includes an animal’s mental state (i.e. the minimisation of stress) as well as its physical well-being. No nationwide scientific study has been conducted on the overall welfare of Australia’s exhibited animals; and it would be prohibitively expensive to conduct such a major study.
Secondly, for various practical reasons, it is not possible to rely on complaints from visitors to animal exhibits as a measure of inadequate animal welfare. For example, not all exhibited animals are on display at any particular time. Tourists and visitors in general are not able to discern the treatment of animals in holding enclosures that are not visible to the public. Risks to animal welfare are not necessarily apparent to untrained observers such as tourists and recreational visitors (the vast bulk of the entry fee payers). These people tend to view animals only for short periods and they may never view those animals again. This severely limits their ability to detect issues which may require repeated or extended observations. This problem is exacerbated by the common behaviour of animals to try to hide any incapacity or disease from potential predators (as they are likely to perceive human visitors to be).
Available evidence indicates that most Australians consider animal welfare to be an important issue. On the other hand, visitation rates to zoos and other animal exhibits are the highest of any cultural activity other than going to the movies. From these two sets of evidence, it is reasonable to assume that Australians are prepared to tolerate wild animals being kept in captivity on the understanding that risks to the welfare of exhibited animals will be minimised.
Accordingly, the community is likely to rely on governments and animal welfare charities to assess whether appropriate levels of welfare are being maintained. For example, the RIS for the NSW Exhibited Animals Protection Regulation 2010 noted that the community expects that animals will be humanely treated, and has particular concerns about animals that may be subjected to pain or distress. It also noted that animals in exhibition facilities, particularly those that are dangerous or carry a disease, can threaten public safety, the environment and/or private property. This RIS concluded that there is a clear role for Governments to prevent such outcomes.35
The legislation and range of standards in Appendix 1 to this RIS indicate that most jurisdictions have already identified that community expectations require government action with respect to the welfare of exhibited animals. It is assumed that community expectations with regard to minimum standards for exhibited are fairly similar across Australia. However existing standards in each jurisdiction have been developed independently which has led to inconsistencies, deficiencies and differing degrees of enforceability and compliance. Some jurisdictions have no relevant standards at all. This combination of factors appears to be limiting the capacity of governments to ensure animal exhibitors meet community expectations with regard to animal welfare, pest risk and the environment.
The general community is likely to be primarily concerned about achieving the minimum standards necessary to ensure that the risks to animal welfare, agriculture and the environment are minimised. They are less likely to be concerned about consistency between jurisdictions as long as the minimum standards are net in every jurisdiction. Close consistency between jurisdictions is likely to be more of a concern to the exhibited animals industry than the general community.
For these reasons, the following case for action is expressed in terms of meeting community values and expectations regarding exhibited animals, rather than providing quantitative evidence of market failure.