AGRICULTURE Minister Barnaby Joyce has refused to speculate on whether video footage used to uncover animal cruelty in the greyhound industry would have been subverted by new trespass laws proposed by the Coalition.
Last week, Liberal Senator Chris Back tabled a private Senator’s Bill aimed at addressing escalating trespass incidents on Australian livestock facilities by animal rights activists, gathering video footage covertly.
The timing of that move has prompted questions about the validity of video evidence broadcast on ABC's Four Corners this week exposing live baiting in the greyhound racing industry.
Similar to video footage gathered covertly to attack the live animal export industry and other livestock industries, the animal welfare issues are being portrayed as systemic, sparking calls to ban the sport.
Trespass is breaking the law
Mr Joyce has described the animal rights activists who take the law into their own hands by trespassing on livestock farms or abattoirs as “vigilantes”, causing biosecurity and safety risks.
Asked whether Senator Back’s Bill would have prevented the undercover exposure of greyhound industry issues and if the secret filming behind it was “immoral”, Mr Joyce said trespass onto a private or business property was breaking the law.
“Why should people be allowed to trespass onto a farm?” he said.
“You cannot decide to take the law into your own hands. Once you do that, once you make that exclusion that apparently you can break the law for this person, then where does it stop?
"Everybody has in their own purview an ethical reason to break into some industry, because of what they judge to be correct (but) that judgment overwhelmingly is done by the police or it’s done by the RSPCA.
“It can’t be done by people off their own volution because once we say, ‘oh well you can go outside the law on this issue’, well you’ll definitely have someone say, ‘well I believe what that doctor is doing is unethical therefore I determine that it is my right to put a camera in their roof’.
“And then someone will say well I believe what that accountant is doing is unethical ... and this just leads to anarchy.”
Asked whether authorities should investigate how the greyhound racing footage was filmed, Mr Joyce said to be admissible in court, any evidence has to be legally obtained.
“You can’t have illegally obtained evidence and then call for it to be admissible,” he said.
Proposal 'adds insult to injury'
In an opinion article for Fairfax Media, University of NSW School of Social Sciences social policy lecturer Siobhan O'Sullivan said if the type of legislation Senator Back seeks were already in place, it would not be 22 greyhound owners and trainers facing legal action; “it would be Lyn White, from Animals Australia, and activists from Animal Liberation Queensland”.
“If that were to occur, it would add insult to injury, or, rather, injustice to unspeakable animal abuse,” she wrote.
“The law, if passed, would make the type of investigation Animals Australia, Animal Liberation Queensland and Four Corners have undertaken into the greyhound industry impossible.
“That is, of course, the point of such legislation.”
Siobhan O'Sullivan compared Senator Back’s proposed laws to US-styler “ag gag laws which she said “seek to duplicate existing trespass laws, but they do so with a twist”.
“Typically, they seriously increase penalties; make it illegal to distribute or broadcast images that have not been surrendered to the police; and create a crime of seeking employment with the aim of exposing animal suffering,” she said.
“In other words, ag gag laws are intentionally designed to ensure animal activists are unable to let the community know about socially invisible animal suffering.”
But Senator Back has repeatedly rejected the “ag gag” comparisons of his proposal.
The Bill’s explanatory memorandum says it uses “the least rights restrictive approach in that it does not censor or restrict media coverage”.
“It does not require material to be approved before it may be published,” it says.
“It does not restrict the ability of journalists to protect their sources. The Bill is not designed to censor the media or any other person in any way. Nor is it designed to allow the relevant authorities to censor the media or any other person in any way.”