Back's bill battles perception problem

17 Mar, 2015 01:00 AM
Senator Chris Back is also a qualified veterinarian.
There is nothing worse in this world than preying on a defenceless creature
Senator Chris Back is also a qualified veterinarian.

AN inquiry into Senator Chris Back’s Criminal Code Amendment (Animal Protection) Bill has been inundated with thousands of public submissions, including many opposing the move.

A Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee inquiry was set up into the proposed laws last month, which address activists trespassing on livestock facilities to gather covert video footage to use in anti-farming campaigns.

The inquiry is due to report by May 13 with 40 submissions published for public display, following the March 12 submissions deadline.

The Committee secretariat expects the volume of submissions to escalate significantly, with hundreds of emails and phone call inquiries still being made every day. However, not all of them will eventuate in final submissions being published; either due to a request they remain confidential or by failing to meet the required submission criteria.

The Western Australian Liberal Senator’s Bill seeks to amend the Criminal Code Act 1995 to add new offences regarding failure to report a visual recording of malicious cruelty to domestic animals, and interference with the conduct of lawful animal enterprises.

In February, his Private Senator’s Bill was tabled and then referred to a committee inquiry - however, that process has yet to schedule any public hearings or witnesses called to give evidence.

Farm groups have strongly supported the move and are expected to make a range of submissions backing the new laws.

Senator Back returned fire earlier this month at advertising in The Australian, which he claimed made misleading allegations about the Bill’s intent.

He said the term 'ag gag', “which I take to mean the willingness or legislation that would stop people from actually reporting”, did not apply to his Bill.

Senator Back said the Bill - far from gagging a person - required malicious cruelty to be reported to a responsible authority without unnecessary delay.

Many of the 40 submissions published online appear to respond to the activists’ advertising message.

A submission from Professor Philip Almond and Patricia Lee said while they had no connection to ad sponsors Voiceless, Animal Liberation, AWLA, or Compassion in World Farming, “we note their advertisement in The Australian this morning concerning the proposed ag-gag laws,” the submission said.

“I am bound to say that we are absolutely staggered by a piece of legislation, the clear intent of which is to protect industries practising animal cruelty from public exposure.

“It is clearly not intended to facilitate a reduction in animal cruelty but rather to gag those whose intent is to bring to the public attention gross abuses of animals through the accumulation of evidence of such practices over the longer or shorter term.

“In giving the appearance of animal welfare by enforcing the reporting of such practices within 24 hours, it is obvious to all that this is merely a cynical exercise intended to keep the public in ignorance.”

Submission number 20 from Casey Pool said, “How is it that the government want to keep the abuse thousands if not millions of animals suffering everyday a secret?!”

“Animal cruelty should not only be taken seriously, it should be punishable with stricter penalties and jail time,” the submission said.

“There is nothing worse in this world than preying on a defenceless creature.

“Whether it’s for enjoyment, to make a buck or to satisfy your sadistic tendencies, it’s wrong ... take a good look at yourselves and stop thinking about the money.”

The Animals Australia website is also promoting an online petition to oppose the Bill which as of Friday had about 37,500 signatures, including from the US and the Philippines.

The promotion for the petition says, “….in reality, the bill would criminalise in-depth investigations that are responsible for exposing industry-wide cruelty”.

But Senator Back said if people gathered evidence illegally, it would be inadmissible in a court of law and therefore unable to gain a proper conviction. He expected to receive thousands of submissions to the inquiry which would be considered “in the usual way”, including support from farm groups.

He said all submissions were welcome to the inquiry and “that’s all part of the democratic process”.

Senator Back said he introduced the Bill after recent examples of activist groups presenting visual images - taken sometimes up to 12 months prior to disclosure – having effectively prevented responsible authorities from accurately investigating animal cruelty allegations in a timely manner.

Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has also supported a tougher legislative stance against animal rights activists who take the law into their own hands via trespassing on-farm, which can increase biosecurity risks.

The Bill has undergone a “rigorous” development process over the past year, Senator Back said, with its drafting subject to “a high degree of high level scrutiny”. He said it has been vigorously debated in the Coalition party room twice and he’s also spoken to relevant ministers in detail about the proposed laws during the drafting phase.

Senator Back said Attorney General George Brandis has given it his imprimatur, it has “very strong support” from Mr Joyce and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s best advice was to “keep it simple”.

The Voiceless submission however maintained its view of the Bill being “ag gag” laws repackaged as “animal protection”.

“If enacted, the Bill will likely generate similar scepticism of, and negative sentiment towards, Australian animal industries,” Voiceless said.

“There is already concern amongst the Australian public regarding the lack of transparency surrounding animal industries, which is fuelling the sort of activism targeted by the Bill.

“In our view, introducing ag gag laws will serve only to reinforce these concerns, and further legitimise the work of activist investigators in exposing animal cruelty.

“The Bill will operate to prevent long-term investigations into systemic, industry-wide animal cruelty and will disincentivise whistleblowers from reporting acts of malicious animal cruelty.

“The Bill creates a nebulous and unnecessary offence around inciting “reasonable fear”, which has the potential to target otherwise lawful advocacy efforts.”

Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


Paul Cox
17/03/2015 6:27:54 AM

Having read the proposed bill & some of the currently available submissions it is clear that the animal rights industry is running scared. Scared of being held accountable for their actions, Many of the arguments put forward in support of vigilante action do not bear scrutiny & I trust that Senators will pursue the disengenous assertions within those submissions which comply with the guidelines relentlessly, should public hearings be held. If they do the claims by some groups will clearly be shown as what they are. An attempt to maintain the fund raising campaigns to the detriment of AW.
17/03/2015 6:59:05 AM

In reality it is the supporters of live ex, factory farmers and any person that profits from animal cruelty who are running scared . These people are aware that animal activists will continue to expose the vile cruelty that is part of many farming practices. The caring people of our society will do their best to outlaw all this needless abuse of animals . I thank the animal activists who care for the welfare of all animals.. I will never support this bill-- all it will do is help to hide animal cruelty.
17/03/2015 8:37:48 AM

The VERY well funded activists will throw everything at this because it threatens their main fund rising activity. There's no money in animal cruelty that's dealt with by the law in a timely manner. See the way Barker tries to spin the facts away from the reality of the bill.
Katrina Love
17/03/2015 2:18:29 PM

The end justifies the means. Had Back's Ag Gag Bill already been in place when Animals Australia and Animal Liberation QLD sought to gather evidence for the RSPCA against the lowlifes in the greyhound industry illegally using rabbit, piglets and possums as live bait, their investigation would have been severely hampered, if not impossible. A successful investigation often takes time and patience and the police who helped with the RSPCA inspections and subsequent charges didn't seem to have a problem with the way the evidence was gathered. Punish the abuse, not the exposure of it.
Orlando Browning
17/03/2015 3:41:47 PM

Senator's Back's proposed Bill, facilitates animal abuse, while protecting those with vested interests in animal production. I am not an animal activist. I am a farmer. We treat our animals well, and I am happy anytime for activists to investigate our property and our animals. If there is nothing to hide, why is Senator Back trying to gag those who want to prevent animal cruelty. This Bill is demeaning to the Australian public who deserve to know what is happening in animal production facilities. It will create suspicion in consumers which will impact on farmers as it has in the USA.
Paul Cox
18/03/2015 7:02:30 AM

"The end justifies the means" demonstrates all that is wrong with ARA extremists. They with no relevant knowledge or qualifications demand to be above the law. It is called vigilantism. What the bill does is to prevent those with a faux sense of moral superiority holding footage & photos for extended periods to present what if true at all in terms of poor animal treatment as systemic rather than isolated. This feeds into their constant fund raising campaigns which in turn perpetuate the Animal Rights industry. This bill is needed & will be welcomed by those who have genuine AW at their core.
18/03/2015 4:12:24 PM

Katherine Love's comment is all the reason, any sensible person need to back this bill.
Cattle Advocate
18/03/2015 6:05:49 PM

RSPCA '' I would remind people that any matter of cruelty should be reported directly to the RSPCA to avoid delay and complications that arise from receiving 2nd and 3rd hand information '' RSPCA wants cruelty reported '' Immediately '' isnt that what Senator Back wants? Do some think RSPCA is in the habit of sub-letting out investigations to self interest groups? Genuine Whistleblowers uncomfortable going through the legal process can post on YouTube. When will the powerful vegan lobby put all its cards on the table for the public to see, that's if it has nothing to hide?
Sue Head
19/03/2015 6:16:56 AM

It seems that Paul Cox has been privy to the contents of all the submissions made. How is that? Can you please provide me and everyone else who commented here, the opportunity to read the submissions for ourselves and provide the link?
Paul Cox
19/03/2015 10:49:18 AM

I would suggest Sue Head read my comment again. " currently available submissions". It is not that hard Sue, once they have been published. Those that have been considered by the Committee are unless requested by the author, available for perusal.
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