- Animal Welfare in Australia: Politics and Policy by Peter John Chen
With more companion animals in Australia than people, the country has one of the highest rates of companion animal keeping in the world (p. 45). The vast majority of Australians profess to love animals, with more than 80% of households referring to their companion animals as members of the family (p. 46). Nevertheless, the nation has been named the "meat-eating capital of the world," with Aussies consuming around 90 kilograms (198 pounds) of meat per person annually (OECD, 2017; Ting, 2015). This paradoxical relationship with animals forms the basis of Peter John Chen's comprehensive analysis of animal welfare and Australia's complicated policy network.
Chen argues that the fickle relationship Australians have with animals causes political decision-makers to adopt reactive and uncoordinated policies when it comes to animal protection. He makes the point that most Australians live an urbanized life and therefore have little direct contact with animals, save for meal times. This leads to complacency when it comes to animal welfare, and the public's interest in these issues tends to wax and wane. This in turn leads to politicians making symbolic and short-term gestures rather than implementing policy that will create lasting change.
The majority of Australians view industrialized farming as "unnatural and antithetical to animal welfare" (p. 73), yet most have little to no knowledge of contemporary farm practices. Farmers are often depicted in the media and perceived by the public as honest and hard-working. This high level of trust provides the agriculture industry with a "licence to operate," as one farm industry representative states (p. 75). However when this mismatch is exposed by the media, there is a sense of anger toward the animal industry, which has seemingly "betrayed" consumers. Chen maintains that media representations of animals, farming, and vegetarianism do little more than reflect popular opinion on the subjects. In terms of understanding, the general public lacks sufficient depth of understanding in relation to animal welfare issues. This means that the media and animal protection organizations can easily cause people to be outraged by an issue or perceived problem.
The author uses the example of the 2011 live export scandal, which uncovered the inhumane treatment of Australian cattle in Indonesia. Chen argues that animal protection issues that cause a sharp spike in public interest, such as this one, do not tend to stay for a long time in the public consciousness. Like most Australians, political elites do not have an overarching and coherent philosophy when it comes to animals and how they should be treated. This makes policymaking complex and largely unpredictable. The regulation of animal welfare falls under a number of different jurisdictions in Australia—across local councils, states, and territories, as well [End Page 249] as the federal government. The outcome is that animal welfare "lacks a neat institutional home in the policy space" (p. 277), making it difficult for any one decision-maker to implement uniform legislative changes.
Chen does not take a specific ethical position and adopts a research approach that utilizes a mixture of interviews; survey data from nongovernmental organizations, animal welfare officers, and protest participants; and an analysis of media representations of animals, farming, and alternative diets. This approach provides a unique glimpse into both the ministerial decision-making process as well as opinions from within the animal industry—perspectives that are rarely canvased thoroughly in animal welfare texts. Despite the Australian public's fleeting interest when it comes to animal welfare, Chen concludes that "the public is moving towards an expanded circle of compassion" (p. 320). This is reflected in the public's expectation that the agricultural industry will take into account the public's concerns when it comes to meat production.
Overall, the text demonstrates that changing public attitudes is the most effective way of creating policy change in Australia. But it also makes the important point that how animal protection organizations go...