MARK Pearson’s surprise elevation to the NSW Upper House for the Animal Justice Party (AJP) - aided by a strong flow of Green preferences - could indicate voters want to oppose moves such as the so-called 'ag-gag' or anti-farm trespass laws.
Mr Pearson's animal rights campaigning has been underpinned by a series of acts of civil disobedience connected to Animal Liberation, including repeated on-farm trespass involving capturing video and photographs of private farming practices.
He told Fairfax Media the animal welfare movement is getting “stronger and stronger” and having a member sitting in parliament, for the first time in Australia, exemplifies that escalating momentum.
Mr Pearson is not shying away from his extensive history of legal confrontation with Australian farmers and industry, in pushing his strong views on controversial issues like banning live exports or phasing out sow stalls.
Mr Pearson's extensive record of involvement in civil disobedience acts for the animal rights movement includes:
Admitted to being the press release author after a feedlot incident at Portland, Victoria, where sheep were fed processed pig meat in a nearby feedlot, to prevent them being loaded onto the live export vessel, Al Shuwaikh. The incident sparked a legal test case regarding trade practice laws after the tainted feed interfered with Halal certification standards.
Windridge Farm took legal action against Mr Pearson in the NSW Supreme Court - he admitted commissioning activists to gather the video footage and photographs from the piggery.
Subject to a police investigation after being ordered off a feedlot near Wagga Wagga during an incident linked with using spying drones - no conviction was recorded.
Edwina Beveridge, of Blantyre Farms, succeeded in taking out an apprehended violence order against Mr Pearson based on a belief he was behind an incident on her property at Young.
In late 2013, Mr Pearson spoke publicly about a $14,000 drone purchased by Animal Liberation to take images of facilities like feedlots. It prompted a warning from industry groups that the invasive flying cameras may become shooting targets, if they disturbed any animals.
In early 2014, he was subject to a police complaint and investigation after being ordered off a feedlot near Wagga Wagga in NSW during an incident inked with using flying 'spy' drones.
A feedlot employee recognised the animal rights campaigner observing a cattle pen on the property and contacted the manager, who then asked him to leave.
An email detailing the incident – seen by Fairfax Media – said Mr Pearson was driving a red Holden and entered the feedlot via a back paddock but had ignored directional signs asking all visitors to report to the office.
“He (Mr Pearson) claimed he was working with the NSW Assistant Police Commissioner on animal welfare,” the email said.
“We do not know whether he took any photos or if the drone took any footage.”
In his reply at the time, Mr Pearson admitted Animal Liberation was conducting three feedlot related projects in various locations – for sheep and cattle – but declined to say if the group’s drones had captured any damning footage.
He also rejected the suggestion he’d claimed to be working with the NSW Assistant Police Commissioner on animal welfare, when discovered on the property.
“That sort of claim is utter rubbish, it has no basis (and) there’s no proof of that,” he said.
The NSW feedlot’s proprietor confirmed with Fairfax Media that Mr Pearson was subsequently issued with a trespass infringement notice by an investigator with the Rural Crimes Unit which pursued the matter on her behalf.
Tess Herbert said Mr Pearson admitted the trespass to the investigator and paid an undisclosed fine, about one month after the trespass event.
She said Mr Pearson was also issued with a banning notice stopping him from entering both of the company’s feedlot sites.
Mr Pearson admitted the trespass saying he paid a fine posted to him in the mail of “a couple of hundred dollars” but again no conviction was recorded.
Unrepentant, he said he visited the feedlot to investigate claims of animals suffering heat stress.
A colourful history
The family owners of piggery operations in NSW also have a lengthy and colourful history of legal action involving Mr Pearson and Animal Liberation activists gathering video footage via trespass, which also raised concerns about biosecurity risks.
Windridge Farm took legal action against Mr Pearson in the NSW Supreme Court over an incident in 2006 where activists trespassed on their piggery near Young in NSW.
During court proceedings, Mr Pearson admitted commissioning activists to gather the video footage and photographs from the piggery in question.
Court documents show the activists agreed to Mr Pearson's request to enter the piggery and gather the evidence based on believing his proposition that pigs were being kept in “cramped” sow stalls which contravened relevant legislation.
The activists believed the video and photographs would be presented to a veterinarian by Mr Pearson, to prepare a report and the documented evidence would be passed onto police to investigate possible breaches of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.
“The defendants each acted on Mr Pearson's request to enter the plaintiffs' premises and photographically record conditions of the pigs/sows,” the court documents said.
Mr Pearson told Fairfax the “interesting test case” also highlighted legal argument over the copyright ownership of images taken by the activists, without the piggery’s permission.
He said Windridge Farm sought four orders in the test case with one being a successful trespass claim against the activists.
That claim resulted in a $15,000 fine and special damages against the activists - and not Mr Pearson - comprising more than $1600 in veterinary costs.
But Mr Pearson said another copyright claim and the other charges for damages - against the activists - were “struck down” by the judge.
“They (Windridge Farm) wanted to argue that because the trespassers went to the property and took photographs and video - despite it being without permission or authorisation of the owners - that irrespective of that, the photos and videos, the fruits of the actions, were the property of Windridge Farms,” he said.
“They wanted to create a ‘constructive trust’ by the very fact that the (activists) were there and filming.
“They even argued to the point where, even if somebody went there and did a sketch of a sow in a stall or took a photograph of a blank wall, ‘that belongs to us we want that property’.
“But the judge ruled ‘no’ and backed it up by saying the purposes in the Mens Rea of the activists was they took the evidence directly to the police and they didn’t take it directly to the media which goes to their mind or ‘Mr Pearson’s’ mind’ who actually took it to the police.
“But at the end of the day it’s a very long standing law that wherever you are, if you take a photograph or a video, whoever presses that button, unless you’re an agent for another entity, that material belongs to you.”
Mr Pearson said he believed that legal application was also driven by Australian Pork Limited and other intensive livestock industries wanting to “try and find a way to obstruct the broadcast, publication and gathering of evidence on their properties”.
He said the legal action also probably partly related to current counter-moves to consider introducing US-style "ag-gag" laws in Australia.
'All she wants is to be left alone'
In a more recent court battle, Edwina Beveridge, of Blantyre Farms - the daughter of Windridge Farms owner Arthur Walker - succeeded in taking out an Apprehended Personal Violence Order (AVO) against Mr Pearson based on a belief he was behind a recent, similar activist incident on her property at Young.
A two-year AVO against Mr Pearson was subsequently issued by the Young Local Court on March 4 last year.
Ms Beveridge sought the order after activists repeatedly trespassed onto her property in April and May 2013, when hidden cameras were detected by farm management, in the false ceiling of a farrowing house.
The incident was reported to local police and resulted in a late night confrontation with animal rights activists at the property where the activists’ vehicle was also damaged nearby.
Police investigated the incident and concluded great suspicion existed but there was insufficient proof to lay charges against the activists, leading to a successful prosecution.
Animal Liberation defended the accusations saying two of its members “had been investigating the plight of pigs” when confronted at the time and they were also unaware of any cameras being placed in the piggery.
But Ms Beveridge said she believed the cameras were planted with the aim of collecting images for use in media campaigns designed to undermine intensive farming systems.
Her AVO application was based on comments made by Mr Pearson about knowledge of the video footage taken at Blantyre Farms its use and potential media broadcast of images gathered at another nearby piggery in a separate but related trespass incident.
The AVO application was referred to mediation following an initial court hearing in September last year where Mr Pearson defended himself saying he’d never met Ms Beveridge and did not know her - nor been to her property or anywhere near it.
He said the evidence relied on in the application was not appropriated or substantiated because he was misquoted in the submitted media articles
Mr Pearson told Fairfax Media the court requested two mediation sessions between he and Ms Beveridge which he attended at least one - but the applicant still wanted to “press” for the AVO.
He said he was “clearly involved” with asking activists to go to Ms Beveridge’s father’s property, Windridge Piggery, in 2006 which meant, “The court was forming the view Edwina may have a reasonable argument to be concerned about me”.
“It was on the record that I clearly did pick up the phone and ask people to go to her father’s piggery so the magistrate was making it quite clear that he would certainly take that into consideration as being relevant to her application,” he said.
“I conceded none of her claims and said ‘so be it’ and decided not to spend a lot of hours and a lot of resources fighting it and just to ride it out because I had no intention of going anywhere near her property or her.
“I had more important work to do for animals than fighting off an AVO which is going to fall away next year and carries with it no criminal record or conviction anyhow.”
Asked whether he was involved with instructing any animal rights activists to target Blantyre Farms in April and May 2013, Mr Pearson said “definitely not”.
He also denied being at odds with the people who did trespass to plant cameras and gather the video footage.
“I’m still talking with them and speaking with them and meeting with them,” he said.
“There’s no dissension or factional fraction there as a consequence of what occurred.”
During the court hearing, the judge said: “All this woman wants is to be left alone and for her business to be left alone. She doesn’t want people coming in there, photographing things or taking movies, or whatever it is that people do”.
The transcript shows Mr Pearson replied: “But your Honour, I’m not one of those people”.
Mr Pearson’s name was also linked to another controversial incident in 2003 at Portland, Victoria, where sheep were fed processed pig meat in a nearby feedlot, to prevent them being loaded onto the live export vessel, Al Shuwaikh.
The incident sparked a legal test case regarding trade practice laws after the tainted feed interfered with Halal certification standards in Middle Eastern markets that the export shipment was intended for.
After the incident, on November 19, the Department of Agriculture initially decided to not grant an export order to Samex Australian Meat Co. for the proposed consignment of about 77,200 sheep to Kuwait, Bahrain, Muscat and Jabel Ali, believing pig meat made them “unacceptable to people of the Muslim faith”.
But just over two weeks later, the Department varied its earlier direction and allowed the shipment to proceed, except for the 1694 sheep present in the paddock of the feedlot, where the activist incident took place.
Those sheep were subsequently slaughtered at an abattoir in Warrnambool.
Subsequently, Rural Export & Trading and Samex took action in the Federal Court of Australia against Ralph Hahnheuser of Animal Liberation SA.
The original judgment concluded Mr Hahnheuser did not contravene and was not involved in a contravention of the Trade Practices Act because he engaged in relevant conduct with a dominant purpose “substantially related to environmental protection and his conduct was not industrial action”.
But that decision was overturned on appeal in 2008 and Mr Hahnheuser was ordered to pay $70,000 in damages to Samex.
Copies of the original judgment by Court Judge Peter Gray show Mr Hahnheuser and Mr Pearson were named as contacts on an Animal Liberation media release dated November 19, 2003, which highlighted “direct action” taken at the Portland feedlot, along with releasing video footage of the incident.
“A carefully planned operation overnight saw the addition of rendered pig meat extensively spread through the Portland feedlot food and water delivery system,” the media statement said.
“The consumption of pig meat by the sheep has rendered them unsuitable for export to Muslim countries.”
Asked about the case, Mr Pearson told Fairfax Media Animal Liberation was involved at the time and his involvement was being the press release author, after the feedlot incident.
“Once I’d clarified with a veterinarian that adding ham to water at 10 per cent of ham to 90pc of water in a solution (and) spreading it through feed, could not possibly harm animals, I put it to the committee and we decided we’d support the action because it was going to stymy and obstruct a trade we believe is extremely cruel to animals,” he said.
The judgement said that on or prior to November 18, 2003, a room was booked - for three people - at the William Dutton Motel in Portland, in the name of Diana Simpson.
It was booked for the night of November 18, 2003, and extended to the following night
“The other two people who came to stay in the room were Mr Hahnheuser and a man named Mark Pearson, who ultimately paid the charges associated with the accommodation in the room, at least for one or two of the nights concerned,” it said.
The judgment also detailed descriptions of the video footage taken of Mr Hahnheuser - wearing a black tee-shirt endorsed with the words "Ban Live Exports" - making the animal feed using shredded ham, entering the feedlot and then placing the mixture into two feed troughs.
“The video recording then shows two male figures, both wearing black tee-shirts endorsed with the words "Ban Live Exports", walking away, one carrying the water container,” it said.
“They are apparently followed by the person operating the camera.
“In the course of his interviews, Mr Hahnheuser made admissions that there were other persons with him in the feedlot.
“He described what had happened as an operation that was carefully designed and planned, involving detailed investigations in advance and reconnaissance over a number of days, and as being 'highly organised'.
“It is clear that the other persons involved were willing participants; there is nothing to suggest that they were coerced, so as to prevent them from being taken to have acted in concert with Mr Hahnheuser.”
Mr Pearson said after losing his appeal before the full court, Mr Hahnheuser had said he would declare himself bankrupt, if the court pursued damages, “and line up to become one of the major animal rights activists campaigners in Australia”.
“I don’t think he’s been found since,” he said.
Mr Pearson was not a party to the Samex proceedings and no findings were made against him.