OPINION: WHO BENEFITS FROM SILENCING ANIMAL ACTIVISTS?

Recent media publications by The Land and The Guardian of meeting documents provides disturbing details of a forum held in August last year between agribusiness owners, NSW Farmers Federation, Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce and NSW Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair along with Police and the RSPCA. They reveal the extent to which industry and government are working together to silence activists seeking to expose animal cruelty in farming.

barnaby-joyce-australian-porkThe documents obtained under freedom of information laws confirm what many activists have argued for a long time; the interconnected links between animal agriculture, government and sadly, the RSPCA. The forum participants committed to an action plan to harmonise state laws regarding the supposed threat of “farm trespass” by animal activists. The plan reflects the fears of an industry that understands the implications of its routine practices being exposed to the public. Transparency and truth are to be avoided at all costs. We also see Federal and State governments intent on ensuring cruel practices remain hidden from view. Rather than listening to community concerns and accepting that animal welfare standards need to be radically reformed, government is determined to keep animal welfare legislation in the 1970s.

One of the more alarming revelations is the active participation of the RSPCA in such discussions. The RSPCA’s willingness to side with industry and government is an affront to their charter, and would no doubt come as a surprise their many supporters. The fact that the RSPCA participated in such discussions which made no mention of enforcement or prosecution of animal cruelty laws is concerning. One is entitled to ask, what is the role of the RSPCA in farm trespass policy discussions? Why are they not holding industry to account for their cruel practices? As has been said many times; if we kept a dog in the same conditions that industry keeps pigs in intensive farms, animal cruelty charges would be laid.

The document identified that;

38 piggeries in the Young area of NSW, along with poultry farms in other states, were known to have been “invaded for the purpose of installing unauthorised surveillance devices, ostensibly to ‘reveal’ animal husbandry practice believed to be poor”.

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, this statement reflects the absolute lack of concern for animal well-being. The treatment of these animals is appalling, not poor. Animal cruelty is standard industry practice, not an aberration. Activists seek to bring transparency and truth to the public arena, enabling consumers to make balanced decisions about their purchases and food choices.

If industry is confident that their practices are acceptable then there should be no issue with footage showing industry practice. If the government is confident that their animal welfare laws are so robust, then let’s show those lawful practices to the public. Tail docking, castration, eye teeth clipping, debeaking, removal of skin (mulesing), battery cages, farrowing crates, faeces laden broiler sheds- let’s shine the camera light onto the everyday cruelties that these animals suffer.

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NSW Assistant Police Commissioner Geoff McKechnie is documented as stating that;

“These incursions fall into the ‘trespass with intent’ category, NSW Police have been investigating these incidents actively, but evidence gathering around such incidents presents significant challenges”.

No comment on the crimes exposed by activists?

Many may not be aware, but the NSW Police are also an enforcement agency under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. It is not just the RSPCA or Animal Welfare League that has powers to enforce and prosecute animal cruelty crimes, yet the attitude of government and the NSW Police is to leave enforcement to a poorly resourced charitable organisation that is almost completely unaccountable to government. Yet significant police resources are being used to investigate and pursue animal activists.

Statistics show that cruelty committed against animals often leads to crimes committed against people, yet, as can be seen from this attitude of the NSW Police, significant police resources are being used to investigate and pursue animal activists filming intensive farms. This shows a narrow-minded approach to tackling crime and future protection of the community. Would the community, or indeed government be satisfied if a child services charity were tasked with the investigation and prosecution of crimes committed against children? Would it be acceptable for the NSW Police to be actively pursuing whistle-blowers filming or recording child abuse despite the physical smacking of children being lawful?

NSW Police also told the forum that;

“the ideology of farm trespass by animal activists was “complex” and not based on improving animal welfare practices.”

This is correct, it is not the job of animal activist to improve animal welfare. This is the job of every stakeholder that attended this forum and their decisions should be based on truth, transparency, and the wider public’s expectations of what is acceptable welfare practices. Indeed, the activists are doing the job that all these stakeholders are failing to do themselves, that is to publish the truth to the public and allowing the public to decide what they expect. Instead, animal welfare is seen as an unnecessary cost to already profitable business models that seek to sanitise and disconnect the public from what really goes on behind the factory farm shed door.

The documents go on to suggest;

“Introduction of other measures to improve evidence collection, for example, security cameras may also be considered.”

How can someone, on one hand, justify installing elaborate security recording networks to deter activists YET dismiss sensible reforms such as mandatory CCTV of inside the shed or inside the slaughterhouse? Does one not stop and think that maybe, if farmers installed cameras facing in the shed, on the animals, then there will be no need for cameras facing outside the shed to deter activists?

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Indeed, for me it has become personal. Twelve months ago I attempted to visit Rivalea pig slaughterhouse to discuss the cruel method by which pigs are subjected to gassing prior to slaughter. I was refused entry at the front gate and never left public space and yet I am currently the subject of a police investigation as a result of that visit. Again, this is a sign of cover up and intimidation, rather than let an elected MP formally tour the facility and witness the slaughtering method, I was denied access. Rivalea engaged their industry heavyweight, Australian Pork Ltd, and now almost 12 months to the day I am contacted by the NSW Police and informed that I am under investigation. It is true that, due to all the industry efforts to hide and cover up standard practices that they are ironically so proud of, they have in fact made the public more suspicious.

Mark Pearson MLCMark Pearson MLC