Putting Animal Welfare on the Election Agenda
16 May 2016 at 8:48 am
A love of all creatures great and small has seen Nicola Beynon have a 20-year career as a global advocate for animal protection. As the head of campaigns in Australia for World Animal Protection, the federal election means Beynon has a new focus. She’s this week’s changemaker.
Nicola Beynon has worked on several campaigns to protect endangered animals from trade while working at the UN Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species, and she has coordinated many species survival networks trying to save sharks.
Beynon says one of her proudest moments has been bringing a successful federal court challenge by Humane Society International against the Japanese company that hunts whales in Australia’s Antarctic territorial waters. She joined World Animal Protection in March 2013 and is the head of campaigns for the Australian office, managing programs for animals in disasters, animals in the wild and animals in farming.
One of the key campaigns has been exposing the hidden cruelties behind wildlife tourism, educating outbound Australian tourists and tour operators that wildlife belongs in the wild and is not entertainment. Beynon moved to Australia in 1994 after graduating with degrees from Oxford and London universities, including a Masters in Conservation.
Now that a federal election has been called her regular work has been diverted, as World Animal Protection campaigns for strong animal welfare commitments from all the major political parties. She spoke to Lina Caneva.
How did you get into animal welfare advocacy?
It’s always been a passion of mine. I studied wildlife conservation when I was at university. And I always wanted to campaign to try to make the world a better place for the animals we share the planet with. We always had dogs when I was a child and I have just been through a period of time without having a dog and now I have a little rescue puppy. So it’s lovely to have an animal back into my immediate family. I am really enjoying that.
What attracted you to the World Animal Protection?
What attracted me was the global power of the organisation. I had worked in animal protection for
15, 16, 17 years or so and I had seen over that time World Animal Protection – or Wisper– as it was then. I had seen the organisation in action at different international treaties for wildlife such as the International Whaling Commission and I saw how the organisation would be able to mobilise supporters in lots of different countries to save whales or whatever it was they were campaigning for at the time. I was attracted to taking part in that global work and advocacy for animal protection to bring about change for animals at scale.
In the time you have been advocating for animals have the objectives changed and what progress has been made?
The objectives haven’t changed broadly. It’s still about trying to give animals better lives and better protection for wild animals. We are making progress. Sometimes it feels like two steps forward and one step back but I think we are making progress in terms of raising awareness, raising concern about animal protection and we are campaigning at the moment to try to make the travel industry more animal friendly and revealing to tourists the hidden cruelty behind a lot of animal tourism. Things like elephant rides, dolphinariums, monkey shows and tiger temples and telling them about the cruelty behind them. We are getting a really good response from tourists but importantly we are also getting a good response from the industry. So we have had 100 travel companies sign up to stop selling elephant shows and rides. So these are the things that you can really take heart from.
But of course the number of animals that are suffering in animal production and industries around the world is increasing. So we still have so much more work to do. But hopefully that awareness and conscious raising can translate into a better life for animals. But it’s not an easy task.
You have stepped into the federal election campaign saying animals need a champion in Canberra? What does that mean?
In 2013 when the current government came into power they took the decision that animal welfare matters should belong to the states and territories. They devolved all the responsibility back to the states and territories and they dismantled and defunded the national frameworks that were in place around animal welfare.
So animal welfare took a real hit and it meant that when the world Animal Protection Index (the API) was published in 2014, it assessed Australia against other countries and how the country was set up to deal with animal welfare. Australia scored really badly. We only got a C, which I think was quite a shock to the government. But we said, you’ve just dismantled all these good frameworks that weren’t perfect but they were frames in place to deal with animal welfare at a national level, to coordinate and debate and negotiate and consult on and deliver policy to improve standards… and you’ve dismantled it.
So of course we were knocked down and found ourselves on a par with India whereas we would like to aspire to be leaders in welfare along with countries like England and New Zealand that got A.
So what animal protection is calling for in the next government, whoever forms it, is to put animal welfare back on the national agenda, to treat it as an important matter of policy concern, which it is to the general population and to put back those national frameworks.
The model that we recommend which we think would be the most successful model to grow confidence in how government handles animal welfare would be an independent office of animal welfare.
So it would be an independent statutory body that could advise responsible ministers, because animal welfare cuts across all portfolios not just agriculture, and it would advise responsible ministers on good sound animal welfare policy that’s based on science, that’s based on robust consultation between not just industry but the community as well and to deliver on everybody’s needs particularly the animals.
As head of campaigns what is your leadership style?
My personal leadership style is well… collaborative. I have been doing this for nearly two decades and what I have learned in that time is that the new people coming into the movement all the time are bringing so many new skills and perspectives and energy, and I really love working with my team. There are people who have been working in animal welfare for 10 years and someone who has just come to us a few months ago but they come from another advocacy background and so they bring all those skills.
So my leadership is collaborative. We are a team. We have to get the public on board. So all our World Animal Protection supporters are part of that team and they do all the lobbying with us. If we need to move a federal minister or an opposition minister then it’s our supporters that do that. Because they make their views known to the government or the corporate or whoever it is.
So I see my role as facilitating the advocacy.
What keeps you campaigning?
I have a naive optimism that things will get better. Maybe I shouldn’t say naive but I have that optimism that the world will get better if enough people stand up and demand it. It’s in my DNA. I couldn’t sit back and not try for that.