Duty of care

Duty of care

As well as preventing cruelty to animals by enforcing existing legislation, the RSPCA also works to improve animal welfare through reforming legislation.

Animal welfare legislation is developed and administered at the state and territory level. It has undergone significant reforms in recent times. Most notably, legislation has evolved to broaden its scope from simply prohibiting acts of cruelty to animals, to actively promoting the welfare of animals. This is reflected through the concept of ‘duty of care’. If you are in charge of an animal, you have a duty of care to that animal - no matter why you are in charge of it, what you are using it for or how long it will be in your care. Duty of care is based on the internationally recognised 'Five Freedoms' of animal welfare:


1.     Freedom from hunger and thirst: by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.

2.     Freedom from discomfort: by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.

3.     Freedom from pain, injury or disease: by prevention through rapid diagnosis and treatment.

4.     Freedom to express normal behaviour: by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.

5.     Freedom from fear and distress: by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

Reforming animal welfare legislation

There are still many areas in which legislation can be improved to prevent cruelty and ensure that it continues to improve the welfare of animals. We believe the core components of such legislation should include:

  • Recognition of animals as sentient beings with intrinsic value
  • An absolute prohibition on all forms of animal cruelty
  • The promotion of animal welfare through the imposition of positive duties that are based on the ‘Five Freedoms’;
  • Enforcement mechanisms which provide for both educational and punitive responses to animal welfare offences
  • Procedural mechanisms which promote the efficient and effective enforcement of the legislation
  • Governance mechanisms which promote the legitimacy of the regulatory framework

You can read more about the RSPCA Model Animal Welfare Act and how animal welfare laws could be improved at our Knowledgebase.


Policy versus powers of enforcement

As well as working to enforce and improve animal welfare legislation, the RSPCA develops and promotes policies for the humane treatment of animals that reflect contemporary values and scientific knowledge. These policies set out the way we would like the world to be – and help us set out our agenda for change.

Sometimes there is a significant gap between what our policies aim for and what the legislation currently allows. When this is the case, the RSPCA can only enforce existing legislation.