The first weekend of September 2007 provided an exciting leap forward for the emerging field of Animal Law in Australia and New Zealand. “Animal Law in Australasia: A New Dialogue”, is a project developed by Peter Sankoff and Steven White, with funding generously provided by Voiceless, the fund for animals. The first major animal law workshop in the region brought together ten of Australasia’s leading experts and an invited international guest to discuss a number of critical animal law issues, focussing specifically on matters relevant to the region.
If the budding animal law movement in Australia and New Zealand is to continue to grow, it must be nourished. Lawyers have a critical role to play in advancing the interests of animals through legal reform and litigation. However, to effectively take on that role the animal law movement must continue to educate students and lawyers about the issues at stake and build on the momentum that has been generated over the past few years through the launching of no fewer than seven animal law courses, five legal action groups and numerous small conferences.
Despite the progress, in the mainstream legal community the term “animal law” continues to be a phrase shrouded in mystery, mockery and in some cases, fear. One of the primary inhibitors for students and lawyers interested in this area of law remains the unavailability of education and the dearth of serious animal law scholarship. The situation exists in large part because many mainstream lawyers and academics do not view animal law as a serious discipline of legal study.
This project is an attempt to take a first step in rectifying this problem. This workshop brought together the growing number of academics and practitioners currently working on animal law scholarship across Australia and New Zealand for a weekend forum of discussion and debate regarding the legal issues facing animals in this part of the world.
The workshop had three precise objectives:
- To produce the first major scholarly work on animal law published in the Southern Hemisphere.
- To bring together the growing number of academics and lawyers with a passion for animal law scholarship who are currently working in isolation across Australia and New Zealand, and allow them to share strategies, ideas and inspiration with the objective of spurring greater legal research
- To raise, analyze and where appropriate critique the law affecting animals in areas of particular concern in Australasia.
Opening Remarks by Peter Sankoff (edited version)
After all this time, it is a bit hard to believe that it is finally here, but I’m so pleased that it is, for this workshop is evidence of how far we as a group of people concerned about the relationship between animals and the law have really come.
It is difficult to fully describe the enormity of the situation and recognize the importance of what we are doing here. The more I study the relationship between animals and the law, the more I realize how serious the problem really is – and also how the law has helped to play a critical role in permitting animals to be treated in conditions that really defy description.
Yet at the same time, while those of us sitting here freely acknowledge the severity of the problem, most of the world – and especially most of the legal world – believe it doesn’t exist at all. Animal law is a subject that has been developing on the legal fringe, and raising the topic in certain circles is guaranteed to attract bemused glances. In my own faculty, while there have been many supporters, my work in this area often attracts jokes and laughter. I can take those laughs because I know that what I am doing matters – and also because I am no longer alone in that knowledge. I am sitting here at this table with respected colleagues with glowing resumes, and our combined weight brings real legitimacy to this area of study. More and more, people are beginning to realize the merits of this debate, and recognizing that uplifting the plight of animals in our world is one of the last great frontiers for social justice.
So we are here today to talk, to share experiences and to explore problems. But more than anything else, what we are really here to do is continue laying a foundation. My colleague Deidre Bourke and I have spent many hours talking about what we need to advance this cause in New Zealand and the answer is always the same: we need more soldiers. We need more people to recognize the issues that are important in the law concerning animals and help work on solutions. Well, surrounded by a room full of wonderful colleagues here today, I feel we are in the process of creating a nice little army – if you’ll excuse the metaphor – and this army is building together a powerful fortress.
Make no mistake about it, however. To put it in representative terms, if our fortress was on the world map, it would be occupying Norfolk Island, and the forces against us trying to maintain the status quo would be holding the rest of the world. I don’t see that as a negative, however, for five years ago, our fortress could have been represented by a life raft floating well off the coast, and now at least we hold that island – and our fortress keeps getting larger. Animal law is becoming a respected area of scholarship, and we are opening news eyes every day.
This workshop is entitled a New Dialogue – and that is what this is about – Dialogue. Having the opportunity to get away from the day to day problems we face and have the chance to speak to one another. We were very careful not to call this a conference, because I’ve gone to a lot of conferences, and while they have their place, they tend to be about one-way conversation from speaker to audience, and this workshop is something else altogether. It is about sharing thoughts and problems with each other, and reflecting on the positions of others – the very essence of dialogue. As we all know, there is a lot we need to talk about. The goals are simple: our hope is that talking with each other will produce new ideas and also shed new perspectives on old ideas. With that in mind, I welcome you all to the workshop, and look forward to a weekend of discussing animal law with you.