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Scientific research is clear that most animals are sentient. This means that they have the capacity to subjectively perceive or feel things such as happiness and suffering. At present in Australia, animal sentience is, to some degree, implicitly recognised in animal welfare legislation that is in operation in all state and territory jurisdictions. This legislation criminalises human cruelty towards some animals because of the capacity such action has to cause animal pain and suffering. There is growing public concern in Australia, however, that such legislation does not adequately protect animals from pain and suffering. The Australian Capital Territory (‘ACT’) has recently responded to this concern by passing amendments to the Animal Welfare Act 1992 (ACT), which makes it the first Australian jurisdiction to explicitly recognise animal sentience. The ACT amendments follow international precedent. This article analyses this novel development in the law’s recognition of animal sentience. It considers the extent to which the ACT legislation is likely to enhance the protection of animals and whether it should be a paradigm, in this respect, for other Australian jurisdictions. It argues that the ACT amendments, while largely symbolic, are a welcome development, and other Australian jurisdictions should follow suit. Nevertheless, further legislative change to increase protections for animals is also required.

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