NSW Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon has been accused of double standards for defending activists breaking into piggeries to gather video footage used in anti-livestock farming campaigns.
Senator Rhiannon released a statement after NSW Police revealed last week that two animal activists had been charged with 22 offences in total, relating to break and entering on piggeries and the planting of hidden video equipment.
A statement said a 24-year-old Adelaide man and a 37-year-old Ryde woman would face the Cootamundra Local Court on December 7 this year, charged with numerous break and enter offences on piggeries across NSW.
“In 2013, a piggery in Young reported a break-in,” the statement said.
“The matter was investigated and Strike Force Shubach was established by the Cootamundra Local Area Command after it was discovered other piggeries, predominantly across the southern parts of the state, were also targeted.
“In June 2015, police executed an extra-territorial search warrant in Adelaide and simultaneously a search warrant was executed in the Sydney suburb of Ryde.
“The strike force, led by the Cootamundra rural crime investigator Detective Senior Constable Paul Clancy, examined a plethora of evidence which culminated in the charging of the man with 17 separate offences and the woman with five.
“Police allege that the two animal activists broke into the piggeries and installed electronic recording devices in contravention of the Surveillance Devices Act.”
But Senator Rhiannon said charging the two animal rights activists for break-ins at pig farms across NSW in 2013 was “another example of the misguided punishments meted out against those seeking to expose systemic animal abuse”.
"Once again those seeking to expose animal cruelty have been punished while the industries and individuals guilty of malicious animal cruelty get off scot free," she said.
"Animal activists and whistleblowers would not feel compelled to trespass and engage in other illegal activities if there was adequate government monitoring of these industries.
“Alas, there is very little.”
However, Queensland LNP Senator Matt Canavan questioned Senator Rhiannon’s priorities on the issue and also accused her of double standards.
“I wonder how Senator Rhiannon would feel if people broke into her property just to check that she was complying with the law?” he said.
“Indeed hasn’t she railed against ASIO for keeping files on her in her communist days?
“There is a double standard here.
“Vigilant espionage for even innocent farmers but a free pass for suspected communist spies.
“I don’t know enough about the case but I also think that politicians should leave it to the courts and police to implement the law.
“If we have a problem we should change the law.”
In a statement, Cootamundra Local Area Command Crime Manager, Detective Chief Inspector Paul Huxtable, commended his officers for their efforts.
“Detective Clancy has worked tirelessly on this investigation which is still ongoing,” he said.
“It is never appropriate to break the law to further your cause.
“In doing so you jeopardise your own safety, that of the farmers and their families, as well as risking significant danger to the animals through the breaching of strict biosecurity provisions.”
Other media outlets reported the police as saying the man involved in the incident owned the Aussie Pigs website which contains images and video of nearly 40 piggeries throughout NSW.
Mr Huxtable was also quoted as saying the website had helped policy identify those involved in the break-ins and that the investigation was still ongoing.
In June 2013, Fairfax Agricultural Media reported that two piggeries in Young were targeted by animal activists involving trespass to collect video footage for use in media campaigns designed to undermine intensive farming systems.
The incidents caused both proprietors significant stress and were followed by a spate of similar acts at other piggeries resulting in State and federal government officials raising concerns about potential biosecurity risks.
The issue also resulted in legislation at State and federal level aimed at tougher penalties for trespassing to gather video footage and delays in handing any genuine animal cruelty evidence, to proper regulators.
Federal Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce has backed WA Liberal Senator and veterinarian Chris Back’s proposed legislation aimed at curtailing the activists’ trespassing.
Mr Joyce has described animal rights activists who take the law into their own hands by trespassing on livestock farms or abattoirs as “vigilantes” that cause biosecurity and safety risks.
“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?”
But Senator Rhiannon said similar “ag-gag” laws in the US were “a blatant attempt to obstruct the whistleblowing process and divert attention away from the cruelty of the industry itself”.
“We must stop protecting industries and individuals that profit off the abuse of animals,” she said.
“If it were not for the courageous efforts of animal activists and whistleblowers, we would be blind to the systemic abuse of animals in these industries.
"I congratulate all those who commit to documenting the needless cruelty perpetrated against animals in the absence of proper monitoring and regulation by governments.”