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Animal Law in Queensland

Hello from the Gold Coast where – in contrast to Auckland – it’s warm and sunny.

Peter with his Animal Law whiteboard after a busy class...

I recently finished teaching animal law at the University of Melbourne – a great class filled with enthusiastic students who learned a lot about why animals are treated so poorly in our society.

The growth of animal law classes has been a particular interest of mine, and something I’ve tried to catalogue over the years.  [See my article on the subject, which shows the dramatic rise of animal law courses worldwide].  It’s been especially nice to see these courses take off in Australia, as there are now nine undergraduate courses running regularly in this country – including two in Queensland [Note: It’s been quite the growth.  In 2006, when I launched my course at Auckland, not one LLB animal law course was being taught in Australia].  Indeed, the two courses here – at Bond University and Griffith Law School – are amongst the most popular offerings in the country.

My visit to the Gold Coast gave me the chance to meet with the two lecturers who teach these courses in Queensland: Jackson Walkden-Brown at Bond, and Steven White at Griffith, both permanent members of faculty.  I enjoyed meeting Jackson for the first time and hearing about his teaching.  Unlike many of us who teach animal law every second year because of other commitments, Jackson offers it annually and says it has been a great success.  Capped at 25 enrolments, the course is over-subscribed each year and students have been extremely enthusiastic about it, no doubt in part because of Jackson’s excitement about the subject.   The success of the course is also prompting him to think more about conducting some much needed research in this area.

Steven’s course has been equally successful.   The first undergraduate animal law course ever offered in Australia, it’s now been taught three times and has always been full.  Steven is currently writing his PhD on the usefulness of a regulatory structure in providing sound welfare outcomes for animals.  I look forward to reading what will undoubtedly be a fascinating piece of work.  As I’ve said before, getting these courses established with full-time academics has the dual benefit of raising awareness with students, and prompting academics to research in this area. Research and teaching interests tend to be closely linked and teaching a course helps to legitimize the decision to research in an area as well.

Seeing these animal law courses succeed in Queensland causes some mixed emotions for me. I’m pleased to see the growth over here, and witness how this explosion of legal teaching is creating a new generation of lawyers interested in bringing about reform in the animal law area. But I’m saddened that a similar revolution is not taking place in New Zealand.  In 2006, my course was matched by one at Canterbury – a course that is no longer being taught.  For the past three years, Auckland has been the only place in the country where students can take an animal law course, and even then, only every other year.  No other permanent lecturer has taken up the cause, and as a result, scholarship in this area continues to stagnate.  In a country that sees itself as a “leader” in developing innovative legal solutions for animals (hold the laughter….), the study of animal law grows only in the big city of Auckland.

There’s nothing I’d like more than to see one of the other five universities recognize the value of this topic.  Sadly, nothing is currently on the horizon.  In 2008, I had talks with a lecturer at Waikato who seemed interested in the area, but despite my enthusiastic prodding, nothing came of it.  Animal Law as a course topic in New Zealand remains something of a curiosity and is unlikely to grow without the hiring of a new lecturer with an interest in the area .

Let’s hope the development of courses here in Australia will eventually convince more New Zealand law schools of the value of this subject – and lead to my not being the only lecturer in the country teaching it.  Seems to me that compared to my other aspirations, this one is fairly modest.  Perhaps a graduate of my own animal law course will eventually get hired and take up the cause.   Few things would make me happier, that’s for sure!

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