TENSIONS between extreme animal rights activists and frustrated piggery owners near Young in south-eastern NSW are fast escalating towards an ugly head-on collision.
Whether that inevitable crash takes place in a court room or a back paddock remains to be seen.
The public battle zone intensified this week when Animal Liberation NSW and ACT released inflammatory video footage obtained from repeated covert operations targeted at one Young property earlier this year.
The vision shows some practices considered unacceptable, which the owner admits to.
But the video largely aims to prosecute another trial by media conviction against hard working farmers, in the absence of expert commentary and facts.
“It’s probably taken them seven months to find the bad stuff and edit the video down to this,” one source said this week.
“And of course they haven’t shown any of the good things like people caring for sick piglets.”
As one observer put it, the animal rights’ group’s accompanying media statement contained “very personal and targeted language” directed at piggery owner Edwina Beveridge.
“It just keeps getting uglier,” another source said.
Among the statement’s inflammatory claims, it said video footage taken by hand-held and hidden cameras appeared to show evidence of forceful artificial insemination in a “rape shed”.
Typically, the activists failed to explain why, if they felt the “rape shed” and vision was so shocking and severe, they took so long to take real action or release these images publicly.
Maybe they’ve been protecting another kind of species, like a queen bee?
After discovering six hidden cameras at her piggery earlier this year, Ms Beveridge claimed to feel personally violated and terrified by the incidents.
The young mum and wife now believes animal activists have illegally entered her property at least eight times to try and find fault, while other piggeries have been targeted in similar attacks in the region.
But rather than believing the issue is over now and her family’s life can return to normal, she remains terrified by an enemy determined to operate in the dead of night and remain at arm’s length from legal scrutiny.
Believing the best way to catch the activists is red-handed due to largely futile laws, Ms Beveridge tried to invoke a citizen’s arrest after discovering the hidden cameras in April.
She set a trap and the alarm bells sounded on May 12 at about 12.50am, when the activists were disrupted in the process of breaking into the shed.
Ms Beveridge said she called the police first but before the law could arrive, a contingent of about eight volunteers from the piggery spent about fur hours searching valiantly for the intruders.
In contrast, the activists claim they were hunted by the volunteers after they innocently came to investigate conditions at Ms Beveridge’s piggery, in the middle of the night – like Mary Poppins stumbling on the Midnight Rambler.
Their car was parked about one kilometre from the piggery sheds and had its windows smashed and tyres slashed.
Despite the hive of angry activity, no eventual charges were laid over any of the trespasses or damage due to lack of sufficient evidence, to gain a conviction.
The activists claimed to know nothing about the hidden cameras at the time - but they’re now squealing about animal cruelty based on vision obtained in covert operations.
Nearing her wit’s end, Ms Beveridge has since sought an apprehended violence order against Animal Liberation NSW executive director Mark Pearson.
In addition, her industry body has tried other legal avenues to shut down the activist’s anti-pig farming website and launched a counter-information campaign using their own media production skills and internet publishing.
In response to the AVO application, Mr Pearson claims he’s never seen Ms Beveridge or stepped foot on her property - but he certainly claimed intimate knowledge of her business practices in this week’s media statement.
“Ms Beveridge has proven here the sort of violence she feels is acceptable, while trying desperately to prevent this footage from reaching the Australian public,” he said.
Regardless of their apparent good intentions, these butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-their-mou ths activists are surely placing themselves at greater risk of encountering personal harm with each late night visit, especially given the frustrations of farmers like the Beveridges, who feel the law is failing to protect them from these repeated attacks.
Industry members and politicians are growing more and more concerned but they also say a huge legal gap exists around this type of animal activism, to protect farmers properly.
If they’re ever caught, offenders are slapped with light penalties for any subsequent trespass convictions after lengthy and costly legal battles.
In the meantime, the damage inflicted on industry and individual farmers’ reputations using illegally obtained video footage far outweighs any subsequent, belated penalty.
Terrorism laws sit at the other end of the scale, which are generally considered too harsh and extreme for this activity.
Claims that some politicians are considering 'ag-gag' laws, like those introduced in several US states to try and get illegally obtained video footage handed over to proper regulators without unnecessary delays, have also been met with disapproval by animal activists.
Some have signalled they’ll merely unleash more weapons, like remote controlled drones carrying high definition video cameras, to patrol farmers’ properties or livestock feedlots, if tougher laws are enacted.
So where and how does it all end?
Given the lack of legal protection and ever expanding moral badgering and frustration farmers are suffering at the hands of determined animal activists, one can only imagine what could happen if a midnight confrontation or attempted citizen’s arrest went horribly wrong, in a back paddock somewhere.
And one can only imagine how that same scene would unfold, if animal activists decided to venture about 250kms west of Young to a little town called Griffith, to prosecute their high moral internet, media, farming campaigns on some of the more hands-on farmers, in that particular region.