NEW laws to strengthen animal welfare protections and curtail on-farm trespass by animal rights protesters are almost for federal parliament.
Western Australian Liberal Senator Chris Back says he’s expecting to introduce his draft legislation into the federal Senate early next year when parliament returns.
His Private Senator’s Bill will seek to protect animals under the Criminal Code and was endorsed by the federal Coalition’s joint party room meeting last week.
Senator Back’s Criminal Code Amendment Animal Protection Bill 2014 will impose a reporting requirement on animal cruelty which he says will ensure malicious animal cruelty is reported without delay.
He first unveiled plans to pursue his Bill in mid-July, saying it had strong support from his party room and Attorney-General George Brandis and federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce.
The move was proposed shortly after the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) launched a heated public campaign targeting the Australian wool industry after gathering animal cruelty video footage via covert filming operations over an extended period of time, which was subsequently broadcast in the US media.
That campaign echoed key elements of other on-farm trespass activities like those targeting pork producers in regional Australia over the past two years.
At the time, Senator Back said he was falsely quoted in “every second newspaper around the countryside” as trying to introduce US-style “ag gag” laws.
But he said his proposal represented the exact opposite of those laws because it aimed to strengthen genuine animal welfare protections and safeguards for farmers.
Averting further cruelty
In a statement today, the WA Senator said the first part of the proposed Bill would ensure that if a person takes visible images of action they believe to be malicious cruelty to animals, they must report it to the responsible authority with a minimum of delay.
“This enables the authorities to investigate and act swiftly to ensure further cruelty is averted,” he said.
“Recent examples of activist groups presenting visual images taken sometimes up to 12 months previous to disclosure, effectively prevents responsible authorities from accurately investigating these allegations.
“As a result any capacity to fully examine allegations or evidence, prosecute if proven, and prevent further incidences of cruelty are severely limited.”
Senator Back also highlighted the recent decision by RSPCA NSW to abort its prosecution of animal cruelty charges against a NSW piggery, due to unlawfully obtained video footage.
“In its decision to discontinue proceedings it was stated that ‘RSPCA NSW implores any person who witnesses or obtains evidence of animal cruelty to report it to the relevant authorities immediately’,” he said.
Senator Back said the Bill’s second component was directed against anyone who intimidates, threatens or attacks a person associated with a legally operating animal enterprise or trespasses onto or vandalises such a property.
“Such actions are criminal in nature, invade the privacy of affected persons and can place animals at risk from a welfare, health and husbandry point of view,” he said.
“Of equal importance is the threat to Australia’s biosecurity from animal activists who are trespassing on quarantine or intensive animal production facilities.
“The animal welfare and economic disaster which would unfold in the event of an exotic disease outbreak in Australia is beyond comprehension.”
Senator Back said his draft Bill was designed to complement existing laws in Australian States and Territories.
He said if a member of the public believes they have witnessed an act of malicious cruelty they should report it to the responsible authority immediately via phone or online in the State or Territory where it occurred.
Following reporting, Senator Back said, they should then provide any footage obtained within five days of the event.
Senator Back said the motives of many activists are clear by their own published statements.
“They want to see the end of Australia’s livestock industries with many opposing meat production and wanting to drastically reduce Australia’s meat consumption,” he said.
“Activists are agitating against many of Australia’s primary activities in the pig, beef, sheep and wool, and sheepmeat industries.
“This action is intended to harm Australia’s enviable reputation for the overseas supply of livestock and products and our advancement in animal husbandry and welfare standards.
“In so doing, they are directly attacking Australia’s export trade and the profitability of agricultural and rural communities generally.”
But Voiceless Legal Counsel Emmanuel Giuffre said calls for US-style ‘ag-gag’ or ‘agri-terror laws’ to be introduced in Australia, in response to recent incidents, were not motivated by a desire to protect property interests.
Instead, he said, the laws are being raised as a threat to silence all advocates and members of the public who are critical of these businesses.