SENATOR Bridget McKenzie says perpetrators of on-farm trespass who gather video footage covertly are “vigilantes intent on shutting down our profitable livestock industries” and not animal rights activists.
The Victorian Nationals Senator made the claim in a stirring and broad-ranging Senate speech in which she vigorously defended the integrity of Australian livestock farmers. It came as the federal Senate passed a notice of motion, moved by Senator McKenzie and seconded by Western Australian Liberal Senator Chris Back, which condemned the “vigilantism”.
The motion passed by a majority of 43 votes, with the Green's 10 Senators voting against it.
The motion said the repeated on-farm trespass and filming examples were “distressing to the animals, staff and owners, and disrupt the operation of legitimate businesses”.
It also called on animal rights advocates to “respect the laws and present any animal mistreatment allegations immediately and directly to authorities”.
Senator McKenzie’s speech echoed similar frustrations raised by the RSPCA about delays in handing over video footage of alleged animal cruelty to legitimate regulators.
She also accused Greens NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon of condoning the illegal trespass activities, viewing the vigilantes as “somewhat heroic undercover investigators”.
'Governments stand complicit': Senator Rhiannon
In raising the Green’s objections, Senator Rhiannon told the Senate good animal husbandry practices do not invite the need for whistleblowers.
“Extreme animal cruelty and neglect is occurring in Australia,” she said.
“These incidents are often witnessed and sometimes condoned by the perpetrators' work colleagues, business operators and industry representatives.
“These people then become complicit in perpetrating animal cruelty by not reporting such abuse.
“Governments stand complicit with these people for allowing it to happen.”
Senator Rhiannon said the Greens supported enforceable, mandatory reporting, investigation and prosecution of animal cruelty, with legal protection for whistleblowers.
She said the Greens were also calling for ongoing audits and investigations independent of industry interests.
“Animal abuse and neglect is never okay and should never be ignored or excused on any level,” she said.
“We should all support legitimate animal husbandry practices that do not perpetrate animal mistreatment that most Australians, farmers and non-farmers alike, abhor and condemn.”
Strong welfare policies
Senator McKenzie said Senator Rhiannon’s stance was at odds with her own party's Keep Farmers on the Land policy.
She said that policy focuses on “protecting farm jobs – apparently - and acknowledges the challenges farmers endure to make a living from the land”.
“The Coalition government does not tolerate animal cruelty in any form but does not believe it is widespread,” Senator McKenzie said.
“In the case of the PETA shearing video, Wool Producers Australia president Geoff Fisken said it showed isolated incidents and does not portray the 99.9 per cent of wool shearer who would be appalled by the footage.
“These are industries which adhere to strong welfare policies.”
According to Senator McKenzie, the trespass activities posed significant threats to on-farm biosecurity measures and subsequent health risks to animals, through the potential spread of pests and disease.
She said such contamination would also have serious economic ramifications for the farm operations.
Senator McKenzie also took aim at the founder of Aussie Farms websites Chris Delforce, who is targeting pig farming in particular, in an ongoing animal rights campaign using publication of video footage obtained covertly via trespass activity.
She highlighted quotes from Mr Delforce in a recent Fairfax Agricultural Media article, saying he believed various livestock industries 'don't have a right to exist anymore' and that meat consumption is ‘unnecessary’.
“The point is that just as people are not permitted to trespass on private property in urban areas they should not be able to do so on rural land, many of which are farmers' family homes,” Senator McKenzie said.
“These are farmers with strong husbandry skills and a commitment to the welfare of their animals.
“According to Meat and Livestock Australia, Australia has become an international leader in the development of welfare standards and guidelines for the red meat industry.”
Value of 'world class' livestock industries
Senator McKenzie highlighted the value of various livestock industries, like pork production, which she said contributes almost $2.8 billion to GDP and underpins more than 20,000 full-time equivalent jobs.
She quoted the Australian chicken meat industry’s gross value of production at $2.21 billion in 2012-13 while directly employing an estimated 40,000 people.
The egg industry’s value was $653 million in 2012-13 directly employing around 4000 people, she said.
“Overall, the animal industries, the animal welfare bodies, the veterinary profession and the research community are all engaged in the development of animal welfare policy and legislation here in Australia that is world class,” she said.
“Further, Australian farms and their closely related sectors generate $155 billion a year in production, underpinning 12.1 per cent of gross domestic product.
“No sane person would want to shut these industries down.”