FOREST Rescue Australia is trying desperately to make a name as a band of activists for hire, taking on seemingly any old cause to relieve juvenile boredom and steal media attention.
The group has been responsible for two dangerous protests at the Fremantle port over the past month including one last week where nine arrests were made for a range of State and Commonwealth offences and readily identify themselves as anarchists.
Their aim is to draw attention to deficiencies they believe exist in the live export trade and also build on the media ‘momentum’ from other blatant publicity stunts.
In January, three Australian men boarded a Japanese whaling vessel in the Southern Ocean sparking a costly, diplomatic crisis.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the protest was irresponsible, costing taxpayers’ dollars to retrieve the Forest Rescue activists from the vessel.
In the same month, another Forest Rescue protester strapped himself to the top of a tree in the Perth suburb of Bentley to try to prevent it from being cut down.
Others have chained themselves to trucks and bulldozers in the WA's north to stop a gas hub from being constructed at James Price Point.
In a media interview on the nature of his group’s actions, Forest Rescue campaign co-ordinator Simon Peterffy - one of the three men who boarded the Shonan Maru 2 in early January - said he wasn’t worried about any negative impact stemming from the group’s actions.
He said the media only focused on Forest Rescue’s illegal actions (despite the fact they seem to do little else) and pledged to continue working with other activist groups in the community, probably over lattes in Fremantle.
In other words, don’t be surprised to see them link hands with groups like Greenpeace who oppose government regulated and approved research for plant biotechnology.
Howeve, old hands at the anti-live export game such as Animals Australia and the RSPCA must be sitting back and shaking their collective heads in disappointment at the juvenile antics they are witnessing and the counter productive impact it’s having on their cause, politically and with the general public and media.
Animals Australia has been quick to point out it has no linkages or connection to Forest Rescue - formal or informal - and distanced itself from the recent protests against live exports at the Fremantle port where multiple arrests were made.
Animals Australia spokesperson Lisa Chalk said her organisation did not endorse the activities of Forest Rescue and the illegal protests.
Ms Chalk said comments from Animals Australia’s investigator Lyn White after the first protest in early March following incorrect reporting that her animal rights group was involved in the action, still stood.
At the time Ms White said "With so much public concern around live export, it is very likely the community would understand why individuals chose to engage in such a public form of protest”.
“These are not the type of activities that Animals Australia would engage in but we understand the frustration that motivates them given live export continues despite such obvious animal suffering and against the wishes of the vast majority of the community.”
National Farmers Federation president Jock Laurie said the protestors were dangerously uninformed about the live export industry and agriculture in general and had no idea about the real processes of animal welfare and a range of other critical industry related issues.
In the process of trying to supposedly liberate sheep, the young and somewhat naïve activists from Forest Rescue are only really succeeding in getting themselves incarcerated.
Instead of saving animals from danger, they are putting their lives at grave risk by obstructing the work of professionals who safe-guard animal welfare every day.
Soon, the perilous actions of these young activists, like the 18 year old woman arrested in early March after chaining herself to railings on the MV Ocean Shearer - could see an unfortunate death or serious injury occur.
Forest Rescue’s obstruction of professional animal handling is only really succeeding in making enemies of mature, intelligent, hard working and law abiding people, like those in the WA Police force, the WA Tactical Response Group, Fremantle port officials, live export industry members and the media.
While little is really known about the group and who funds them, my experience with some of their members after the first protest which was aimed at the MV Ocean Shearer while loading 100,000 sheep for the Middle East, was concerning to say the least.
At least a dozen phones calls, emails and similar messages were made in the process of trying to obtain a media release confirming the activist group’s involvement in the protest.
That media statement is yet to arrive despite repeated promises.
Other claims were made at the time that seemed to have little basis in fact such as suggestions actual animal cruelty footage had been obtained by the protesters while aboard the ship and would be reviewed by experts, like the RSPCA and Animals Australia, and released to the public via the media amid potentially shocking revelations.
Weeks later and again no such footage has appeared anywhere or been dealt with thoroughly and professionally by experts who understand the difference between genuine animal cruelty and poor animal handling practices.
These protests also ignore the fact the Federal government has recently implemented a new system along with industry, to deal with such complaints professionally in all live export markets, which has animal welfare at the heart of its intentions.
A clearly frustrated WA Livestock Exporters Association Chairman John Edwards said last week’s anti-live export protest in Fremantle had only served to add extra security costs that may be worn by industry and was frustrating law abiding professionals like him.
He said the protest was yet another example of people with too much time on their hands and little regard for the law.
“It’s frustrating for everybody involved because all that will come out of this situation now is further costs placed on exporters and the port authority to thwart any future attempts to stop or prevent illegal protests, like the one we’ve seen today,” he said.