Animal Ethics Approval Requirements in Australia and New Zealand

Please note - this information is currently in DRAFT form. We are still awaiting comments or feedback from some State and Territory agencies. Please let us know if you believe any of this information is incorrect.

Each of the seven Australian States, Northern Territory and New Zealand has separate Animal Welfare legislation.

Western Australia
Australian Capital Territory
Northern Territory
New South Wales
South Australia
New Zealand

Note, animal welfare licensing is different to scientific permits. In most cases, consultants would need to apply for both, although some states have been able to ensure that the two processes run simultaneously. Check to make sure you have all the necessary licenses before commencing work.

In every case, investigation of animals for ecological impact assessment or survey comes under the broad definition of "science" or "research". The only difference is that in states such as Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, licensing is a recognised requirement. In Northern Territory and ACT , responsible authorities have never knowingly received an application and are completely unaware of the ecological consulting profession.

There is no Australian Commonwealth control of Animal Welfare matters as this does not fall under Commonwealth constitutional powers. Unfortunately, this means any consultancy operating in numerous States or NT must apply individually for, and pay for licences individually. Licence costs vary but in most cases are in excess of a few hundred dollars for three-year periods.

Although the precise legislation varies between jurisdictions, the general theme is the same. Any consultant applying for a licence or another authority would need to be conversant with individual requirements. The following information provides a guide about what to look for.

In every Australian jurisdiction, a State or Territory licence is required to do science or research involving animals. Animals are usually defined as any non-human vertebrates and may include cephalopods and fish, occasionally crustaceans but not usually other invertebrates. In some cases, walking through animal habitat would be a licensable activity, if carried out for "science". In some cases, consulting businesses may need to be recognised as an "institution" and in all cases, must be represented by a qualified Animal Ethics Committee (AEC).

All consultants will require an AEC and in some cases, consultants will have to have more than on AEC, suitable for different jurisdictions (e.g. Tasmania and South Australia do not recognise interstate AECs).

The penalties for operating without a licence in Australia are severe. In most cases, offences can result in criminal conviction and impose fines ranging from a few thousand dollars per offence, to over a hundred thousand dollars for companies, and individual prison sentences of up to a year.

In New Zealand, the requirements are quite different. Animal welfare licences are not required but institutions need to be recognised and develop a Code of Ethics, agreed to by an AEC and be consistent with policies of the National Animal Ethics Advisory Committee. There is some consistency between the policy in Australia and New Zealand. New Zealand points to the Australian and New Zealand Council for the Care of Animals in Research and Teaching, which draws heavily on the Australian Code of Practice for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes. In all cases therefore, the manner in which companies operate is determined by an appropriate policy.

First and foremost, companies must abide by the Australian Code of Practice for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes, although each jurisdiction may also have its own policies for particular activities and a company's AEC may impose additional requirements. In all cases, there is a requirement to report on activities (number of animals, problems encountered etc). Reporting demands can require consultants to complete different forms for specific jurisdictions, either annually and / or as part of a three-year audit. Whether reports are sent to the company's AEC or to the responsible authority varies.

Animal welfare legislation has a firm place in Australian and New Zealand policy and the penalties for breach of compliance are rightly serious. It is quite likely that many consultancies are unaware of the need, by virtue of the fact that ACT and NT have never knowingly received such applications.

Consultants operating unlicensed could face a serious problem if found to be in breach of compliance whilst representing a client. This would clearly be contrary to EIANZ's professional Code of Ethics.

At the same time, the variation in licensing requirements can impose a substantial burden, particularly on small businesses. In limited instances where there has not yet been proper recognition of the profession, there is even the risk that consultants may have to apply for licences on a project-by-project basis. At several hundred dollars per project, this would be prohibitively costly.

Some of the Australian states are aware of these problems, the need for a more nationally-consistent framework, and are working very hard towards this. Others however, are currently unaware that ecological consultancy is a major focus of the animal welfare legislation. It is therefore important that we continue to uphold high standards and by offering assistant to the various administrations, ensure policy is appropriate to the needs of both the animals and the profession.


Anonymous said...


Chris Sanderson said...

I think that if, for example, harp traps for bats were unable to be used at a site slated for development it could seriously impact the ability of an ecologist to complete a proper EIS. My main question would be, why a committee and another layer of bureucracy in terms of licensing? Why not encode good practice in a law? That way everyone knows what is allowed and what isn't.

Simon Mustoe said...

Chris, I have had similar concerns. At present, it is up to consultants to develop their own standards (though consistent with the Australian Code of Practice for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes). Like you, I would have thought the actual methods could be prescribed in many cases. For bats, these could even be developed by the ABS. I had to apply for a licence, so I could search holes in the ground, on the off-chance that animals were in them. My proposal was to inspect these for breeding penguins prior to a site being bull-dozedd - I would argue in this case, I would always be alleviating harm.

The thing that worries me most though, is the arduous reporting costs. At the moment, if I want to work in Qld, Vic, Tas etc., I have to complete a different process for each. I am fortunate that I rarely do need to handle animals but many consultants must spend days auditing themselves against these requirements.

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