Do new Victorian and NSW laws extend beyond Animal Welfare into Animal Rights?

The Victorian Government’s Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions has recently issued an exposure draft setting out the principles for amending the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (Vic). The most significant proposal in the Victorian proposal is to explicitly recognise animals as sentient beings throughout the legislation. Meanwhile in the State of New South Wales, there is a legislative proposal to incorporate the narrower concept of “psychological suffering” within its definition of cruelty. While the proposed NSW amendment does not necessarily expand or change the current principles of cruelty, the Victorian proposals are very radical and go much further than the proposed UK animal sentience legislation now at the report stage of the UK House of Lords. This article highlights a number of aspects and considers whether there is a prospect for the legislation to prevent farmers treating animals in a situation that might conflict with the animal having been given independent legal rights as a sentient being. Sentience is the capacity to experience feelings and emotions.