Senator Bridget McKenzie, recently appointed Australian agriculture minister, has promised to continue the government’s crackdown on animal welfare activists. The new legislation will be introduced to deal with those she terms “agri-terrorists” who interfere with farming. The offences will be imprisonable.
Emma Hurst, Animal Justice Party MP in NSW told Sydney Criminal Lawyers on 14th June 2019 that the proposed new laws would “increase tensions between animals advocates and farmers”. For good measure, she opined that the cost of imprisoning activists would be a total waste of taxpayers’ money.
The announcement is in line with the Prime Minister, Scott McKenzie, who in the aftermath of the nationwide animal activism in April, promised if re-elected to introduce such measures. Many who were inconvenienced during the nationwide protests on 8th April during which time central Melbourne was brought to a standstill, decried the activists as “vegan terrorists”. The Prime Minister referred to the protesters as being distinctly “un-Australian”. He was surprisingly re-elected on 18th May 2019.
The new Australian government has also signalled its steadfast support for livestock export, particularly the live sheep trade to the Middle East. The agriculture minister is determined to reverse previous restrictions on the live exports industry. A self-imposed ban is currently in force on the live animal export industry while it reconsiders its standards.
There is, therefore, a big disconnect between the public’s views, and the vested interests of the industry and the politicians who support it. According to a recent Vote Compass poll, almost two-thirds of Australians are in favour of banning this practice.
One activity which particularly irks the Prime Minister is that of the animal rights charity Aussie Farmswhose website shows the locations of factory farms nationwide. The people behind this site could soon be facing a 12-month prison term for outing businesses that are harming animals.
That is quite an ethical dilemma. Can you imagine the publicity and absurdity if somebody was actually sent to prison for doing this? Such a scenario could be a spectacular own goal by the authorities and the vested interests who wish to preserve the secrecy of their activities.
Animal rights activists merely consider themselves whistleblowers, protection of whom has often proved difficult in so many other scenarios. Just look at the fate of Julian Assange.
Senator McKenzie calls them “misinformed, self-righteous, extreme animal activists”.
But are these animal rights activists terrorists? It seems to be stretching the use of language somewhat. The events on 15th March 2019 when a gunman went on a killing spree in a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, is a terrorist attack. But can the same word be applied to people who are motivated by compassion and concern about the way animals are treated?
“It’s disgusting,” said Emma Hurst, Animal Justice Party MP in NSW.
The MP added: “Threats to whistleblowers smell like an attempt to stifle transparency. That’s exactly what these proposed laws are about. They’re unlikely to deter activists. Members of the public have become so worried about animals.”
Transparency or Secrecy?
The vested interests in the factory farming industry need to protect their practices by drawing a veil of secrecy over their practices. Surely the way to deal with animal activists’ trespass is to bring the practices out into the open.
“If the government seriously wants to reduce trespass, there’s a simple solution and that’s transparency,” said Ms Hurst. She believes that industry could be held accountable by the simple means of having CCTV cameras in factory farms.
“If there was transparency in this industry, there would be no one trespassing to expose what’s happening behind those closed doors,” Ms Hurst concluded, “you’d actually take away the motivation for trespass.”
The reality is that if the Australian public could see thousands of chickens in overcrowded windowless sheds that cannot stand up and are developing blisters from lying in weeks’ old faeces, then they would probably stop buying eggs.
The adage that one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter is quite apt to describe Australian animal welfare politics.