The Animal Justice Party (AJP) is a relatively new party on the electoral scene. It first appeared on Victorian ballot papers in the 2012 Federal Election, when they distinguished themselves by putting the Greens only slightly above the shooting and fishing parties on their Group Voting Ticket. While the Greens have traditionally been the party of environmentalists, the AJP evidently felt that they did not go far enough.
So, how have they developed since then? Here’s an extract from their charter, :
The Animal Justice Party has been formed as a response to growing public concern about the neglect of animals and animal protection issues by political parties. It will give a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves. […] There is a need for laws and processes which recognise animals’ needs and capabilities and which protect their interests, whether they are domestic, farmed or wild…
Our treatment of animals and the environments we share with them are often marred by a lack of understanding, leading to disrespect and cruelty. At a time when the planet’s environment is being challenged on so many fronts, we must urgently act to ensure that all animals that both contribute to and depend on it are respected and valued for their intrinsic and fundamental roles. We need to build a new relationship with the planet that is inclusive of all of its inhabitants. With a fresh approach towards animals and the ecological systems of Earth, humans can create more rewarding and ethical communities and relationships built on deeper understandings and firm principles of justice.
The Animal Justice Party seeks a restoration of the balance between the human, natural and animal worlds which acknowledges the interconnectedness and inter-dependence of these worlds, and respects the wellbeing of animals alongside that of humans, societies, economies and environments.
They go on to talk about achieving this through educational, political, administrative, economic, societal, legal and population settlement reform.
The thing that jumps out at me most here is the way the AJP makes use of the language of social justice reform and civil rights. Animals here are seen as having intrinsic, personal value – not merely instrumental value – and their needs and rights are recognised as being equal to those of humans. I actually find this intensely strange to read, because the language is so similar to things like the UN Charter of Rights for children or people with disabilities (in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if such a charter was used as a template in some cases), and that’s a parallel that I find a bit hard to come to grips with. It seems weirdly insulting in several directions at once.
The second thing that jumps out at me is that the AJP have definitely grown in political maturity since the last election – while the message and policies have not changed, the delivery is considerably more measured and designed to appeal to a wider audience. Some canny thinking has gone into this.
Looking at their group voting ticket, they give their first few preferences to the Cyclists, People Power, Voice for the West, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Sex Party, and Voluntary Euthanasia. The Greens are the first of the major-ish parties to appear on their ticket, around halfway down the ballot. There is some variation between tickets in different regions, but the Cyclists and People Power are definitely favoured, and they sort of alternate the order of the next few across tickets. The ALP goes ahead of the Liberal Party on all tickets, and at the very bottom of the ticket, we have the Shooters and Fishers, the three right wing Christian parties directly above them. Few surprises here.
Onto the policies! As one might expect, the Animal Justice Party’s policies are heavily weighted towards environmental policies and policies about animals. While they talk about educational, economic and societal reform, there are, as yet, no policies along these lines. Accordingly, there are policies on climate change and on sustainability; on animals in entertainment and on jumps racing specifically; on farming, live exports and human diet; on animal experimentation; on animal law, and on wildlife welfare. In addition, dingos, kangaroos, native birds, koalas, wombats, bats and flying foxes, brumbies, introduced animals, and companion animals, also all get their own separate policies.
Unsurprisingly, the AJP is concerned about climate change, and rightly points out that “Non-human animals don’t have the technological solutions or habitat flexibility to mitigate the stresses of climate change on the natural environments they live in.” They feel that the keys to addressing climate change lie in energy infrastructure and agricultural practice. They also tell us that “climate change science must also take knowledge from the environmental experience of animals whose habitat is most impacted by changes in climate,” a statement that I find a little bemusing, to be honest.
In terms of energy infrastructure, their policies are fairly standard – they support a Renewable Energy Target and want cleaner electricity and cheaper way to cut emissions. No arguments here. In terms of agriculture, I’ll admit, I was initially a little skeptical about what on earth they could have in mind, but they are concerned first about methane emissions from sheep and cattle farming (a concern not limited to animal rights activists – one of the more entertaining bits of science news floating around a few years ago was an attempt to engineer cows to ‘fart like kangaroos‘, which were thought, erroneously as it turns out, to produce less methane); secondly about land clearing for agriculture leading to reduced carbon sequestration; and thirdly about emissions from the livestock sector’s supply chain. The solution? Eat less meat. Or, to be more precise, reduce tax breaks for livestock farming, encourage development of good quality vegetable crops, and provide more education about diet.
The AJP has related policies on farming, live export of animals and human diet, so I shall look at these together. The live export policy is pretty simple – they are against it. They feel that it is unnecessarily cruel, and only profitable due to government subsidies – which is money that would be better spent, you guessed it, on developing plant-based products. Their human diet is likewise precisely what one might expect from a party that is about animal justice – they want to get more people onto plant-based diets. Interestingly, and again, I think this is a sign that the party is becoming more politically mature, they acknowledge that eating meat is pretty entrenched in Australia, so rather than advocating an outright ban, “a major goal of the AJP is to bring awareness of these practices to the community, engaging them to exert consumer pressure and advocacy to expedite major improvements for ‘farmed’ animals.”
I think this is a highly intelligent way to go about achieving their goals.
In both this section and the section on farming, they cite the following freedoms to which they believe farm animals have the right:
- Freedom from thirst, hunger and malnutrition – by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.
- Freedom from discomfort – by providing a suitable environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
- Freedom from pain, injury and disease – by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
- Freedom to express normal behaviour – by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animals’ own kind.
- Freedom from fear and distress – by ensuring conditions that avoid mental suffering.
The AJP therefore opposes slaughter of meat without prior stunning, believes that animals to be slaughtered for food should not be exposed to the stress and trauma of transport beforehand, and is deeply opposed to such procedures as tail docking, branding, dehorning, spaying and similar without pain relief. (Apparently this is still legal – sort of – as different welfare laws apply to farm animals and domestic animals.
I will not comment in detail about the individual policies on Australian Native animals, because they are very similar and amount to preserving habitats, protecting biodiversity, opposing culling or killing of animals viewed as pests, and ‘respecting them for their intrinsic worth and helping provide and maintain their basic needs’ (each policy begins with a sentence along these lines). Introduced animals must be treated humanely and with respect, and contraception and relocation rather than killing is the appropriate response to deal ‘with any perceived problems caused by the introduction of these species (by humans)’ (let’s not forget for one moment who introduced them and whose fault this all is!).
Companion animals are likewise to be treated with respect, and they want to subsidise desexing programs as well turn all shelters and pounds into no-kill shelters, with a rehabilitation model. They also want to legislate more strongly against animal cruelty and abandonment, and introduce an independent office of animal welfare, with vets to act as mandatory reporters. They are in favour of microchipping, and want to provide free pet health insurance, microchipping and de-sexing to those on pensions.
Their policies on animals in entertainment and on jumps racing also require little commentary – they are against both these things on the grounds of cruelty and of lack of respect for the animal.
The AJP’s policy on animal law once again brings into full focus the general feeling of ‘animals are people too’, and the use of civil rights / anti-slavery language that makes me feel so uneasy. Animals are currently considered as property under the law, and many of the animal cruelty issues that the AJP is concerned about probably do stem from this. There is a fairly fascinating discussion in this section on how one might go about negotiating a legal status for animals, how to negotiate their guardianship, and even considering how this might play out in disputed custody situations. It’s quite an interesting read. I’m honestly not sure how I feel about it. Animals seem, in some ways, to be seen as analagous to children, which, as someone without children but with cats, still seems not quite right to me. Our cats definitely have personalities of their own, and definitely are not entirely independent of us, but they are also very much adults, not kittens, despite what they would occasionally like us to believe. They are not going to develop, mentally and emotionally, much past where they are now – and that is not a flaw in them. So yes, it’s a parallel that doesn’t quite work for me.
Also, one oddity – they don’t seem to like the RSPCA, viewing them as being ‘unaccountable’. A little odd.
Up until this point, I’ve actually liked a lot of the AJP’s policies. They are a little more fundamentalist than I am comfortable with on the subject of animal rights and the environment, but their hearts are in the right place, and they have written intelligent policies that will largely do what they are intended to do. But now we come to the policy on Animal Experimentation, which is the one that absolutely infuriated me last time. It will be interesting to see how it plays out this time. Also, a disclaimer – I’m not a scientist, but I do work in medical research. And I work with a lot of people who do research involving animals. And I like them very much and get upset on their behalf when political parties demonise them. So I may not be entirely objective here. Then again, I don’t think the AJP is being very objective either!
Here’s their position statement:
Put an end to the confinement, pain and distress inflicted on animals during scientific experimentation. The Animal Justice Party opposes the use of animals in experimentation unless it can be demonstrated that the experimentation will: (a) not harm the animal, (b) enable the animal to be returned to where it came from in a fit state, and (c) benefit both the individual animal involved and contribute to better outcomes for its species. Australian governments at all levels have a responsibility to prevent the suffering of animals of any species used in any type of research, whether it be for scientific, commercial or military purposes.
Yeah, not a good start. I’m absolutely in favour of banning experimentation on animals for things like cosmetic products and shampoos and such. There is no justifiable reason why animals should suffer for our vanity. But medical research is different. I haven’t been heavily involved with human ethics work, but the standards suggested here actually look higher than the standards applied when we experiment on humans, largely because there seems to be no acknowledgment that you *can’t* demonstrate what the outcome of the experiment will be until you’ve done it. If you could, it wouldn’t be an experiment, it would be medical treatment.
When we use humans in research, we look at a procedure and assess its risk and its likely benefits, both to the person and to humanity generally. We try to mitigate risk by testing possible interventions in the lab (including in animals – though we wouldn’t generally get as far as animals until we had seen if something worked in cells first) and then trying things like low dosage studies in humans to see if we are getting the sort of response that indicates the intervention would work at the intended dosage, but at some point, we have to decide that yes, we are going to see if this drug works in a real live human, and we know that there will be risks attached to this. And if something has a relatively high risk, it tends to be tested only in people who are also likely to have a high benefit from it if it does work – or who are, sadly, at a point with an illness where there is not much to lose.
But there is always, always, risk. It’s true that with humans you can get informed consent (at least in theory, but let’s not go into all the ways that this can fail to work properly), something which is never possible in animals, but I think it is not reasonable to say that animal experimentation must never be at risk of harm, which is what clauses (a) and (b) seem to imply. Incidentally, I would note that, again, we seem to be looking at a social model in which animals are being classed as identical to humans (clause c seems is the sort of thing that would be an ethical consideration in human research).
I think the burden of proof here is too high.
So. Onto the background, in which we are informed that:
For years the public have been led to believe that animal experimentation is a necessary evil and that there would have been little if any medical progress without the use of animals. This is a gross exaggeration, as any in-depth study of medical history reveals that the major breakthroughs were achieved through clinical research, epidemiological studies and autopsies of humans.
But in the last century or so, the clinical research, at least, has been based very much on pre-clinical trials in mice. Because if you want to test one thing and one thing only, you need to make sure all the other factors are the same. Humans are incredibly genetically diverse and inbreeding for the purposes of concentrating particular genetic traits tends to be discouraged – if a drug works for one person and not another, how do you know whether that is a flaw in the drug or a difference in genetic makeup? Now, we are moving more towards personalised medicine, in which one’s individual genetic makeup will become more relevant, but a huge amount of our knowledge of specific genes and how they work has come from mice, simply because if you have a whole lot of genetically-identical mice and then one mouse that is identical to the others but for one gene, it suddenly becomes very, very easy to figure out exactly what that gene does.
So I’m sorry, but I’m pretty sure that this paragraph is factually wrong.The AJP then goes on to talk about groups like the MAWA Trust, which provides scholarships and fellowships to scientists working on finding alternatives to animal experimentation in science. This, I agree, sounds like an excellent idea. Scientists are exhorted to focus on replacement, refinement and reduction when considering the use of animals in research – and seriously, nobody is getting kicks out of making mice sick – so if practical alternatives can be found, I think they’d get quite a high uptake.
Finally, we come to their actual policy. The AJP wants more funding for people working on alternatives to animal experimentation (having looked at the funding amounts the MAWA Trust offers, I’m in agreement.). They want a review of animal ethics processes at research organisations to ensure that codes of practice are being rigorously applied. They want to make sure that funding support from the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation is not given to research that brings harm to animals. Without quite knowing how they are applying this standard, it’s hard to know what to think of this policy. They also want to label products that have not been tested on animals as cruelty-free, which I think is an excellent idea. And they want to ban pound animals from being used in medical research, which is an interesting choice, because why those animals specifically?
And this brings me to the end of the Animal Justice Party’s policies. They have definitely developed their political acumen over the last couple of years. While their principles remain the same, the AJP seems to have developed a more nuanced approach to their policies, which I think increases their chances of actually achieving some of what they are aiming for. Their previous incarnation was very much preaching to the converted (and alienating those who disagreed with them); the current website reflects an understanding that they need to connect to a wider audience to bring their policies to fruition, and that means education, smaller steps, and accepting that sometimes, perfect is the enemy of good.