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General Issue

Is the Classification of Animals as Property Consistent with Modern Community Attitudes?


Geeta Shyam

Animals have legally been classified as property under Australian law, at least since colonialism. In recent times, however, the appropriateness of this legal status has come to be questioned. The debate between abolitionists and welfarists has become increasingly prominent; nevertheless the largely theoretical debate remains confined to the scholarly and legal world. This article reports on the results of an empirical study that took the issue to the Victorian public, measuring the level of awareness and agreement about the property status of animals. The study found that most people are unaware of the legal status of animals, and that the property status of at least some animals may not be consistent with contemporary attitudes. The results of the study further confirm that different kinds of animals are perceived differently, although they are rarely viewed as property. The findings enrich the abolitionist debate with empirical evidence while also highlighting educational opportunities.

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(2018) 41(4) UNSWLJ 1418: