The Berejiklian government announced last Monday that it’s about to make amendments to NSW biosecurity laws, which are designed to prevent “vegan vigilantes” trespassing upon farms and slaughterhouse properties.
Taking effect on 1 August, these new ag-gag measures will allow for the issuing of on-the-spot fines of $1,000 to animal rights trespassers, as well as further court issued fines of up to $220,000 for individuals and $440,000 for organisations behind such actions.
“Our farmers have had a gutful,” said NSW deputy premier John Barilaro, as he described animal activists as “nothing short of domestic terrorists”. And the minister warned that these new powers are just the first step in a crackdown that will include further legislation with “potential gaol time”.
This move by the NSW Liberal Nationals government follows federal government calls on states and territories to increase laws that restrict animal cruelty protests. The Morrison government has this week been debating its own fresh set of ag-gag laws, which are currently before parliament.
Indeed, this concerted attempt to silence animal welfare advocates comes at a time when concerns over cruel factory farming practices are leading to increasing numbers of citizens turning away from animal products, which is causing industry lobbyists to call on their elected friends for help.
Fear to tread
“This is simply an aggressive agricultural gagging attempt by a state government out of touch with community expectations,” said NSW Animal Justice Party (AJP) MLC Emma Hurst. “Every day, more Australians become aware of the cruel and inhumane treatment of animals in this country.”
“Heavy lobbying from animal agribusiness saw harmful ag-gag legislation pushed through the previous NSW Parliament,” Ms Hurst continued, “but clearly it didn’t work in the way the industry planned.”
The Baird government passed the Biosecurity Act 2015 (NSW). On the surface, this legislation is aimed at protecting agricultural properties against pests and contaminants, however it also contains harsh provisions that can be directed towards silencing those trying to expose animal cruelty.
The Biosecurity Regulation 2017 (NSW) accompanies the Act. It’s this document the Liberal Nationals government is amending, so as to provide that Biosecurity Management Plans are a mandatory measure, which in turn allows for the new penalties to apply.
“These tighter and tougher penalties appear to be designed as another attempt to frighten whistleblowers into silence,” Ms Hurst explained. “But, despite the best efforts of the agribusiness industry and the government to hide the truth, there’s no doubt they will backfire again.”
The Morrison government began its assault on the animal welfare movement in April, after vegan activists carried out nine nonviolent actions across the country. This included protests at abattoirs, as well as the unannounced shutting down of Melbourne’s busiest intersection during peak hour.
Promises from the PM to enact new laws that target “green-collared criminals” led to newly-appointed agricultural minister Bridget McKenzie introducing the Agricultural Protection Bill 2019 into federal parliament on 4 July.
The legislation creates two new offences to be inserted into the Criminal Code (Cth). The first outlaws publishing information using a carriage service that incites someone else to trespass on agricultural land. It can see a person imprisoned for up to 12 months.
The second crime entails an individual publishing information using a carriage service that encourages another person to “unlawfully damage or destroy property, or commit theft, on agricultural land”. Being found guilty of this offence can lead to up to 5 years behind bars.
“These laws work to stifle transparency in an industry that holds and kills millions of animals each year,” Mr Hurst made clear. “The industry wants to protect the status quo which would see animal cruelty and abuse continue.”
The launching of an interactive map in January by animal rights organisation Aussie Farms was another major catalyst for the federal laws. It details the locations and basic information about factory farms, slaughterhouses and “other animal exploitation facilities” around the country.
In a press release regarding the announcement of the new NSW laws, Aussie Farms executive director Chris Delforce said the state Coalition government is once again using biosecurity as an excuse to “limit consumer awareness” in relation to “systemic cruelty”.
The renowned documentary filmmaker further outlined that clandestine investigations on agricultural land have led to the exposure of atrocities such as live-baiting greyhounds, the slaughter of calves only a few days old, gas chambers and routine mutilations without anaesthetic.
Prime minister Scott Morrison said last week that he’s keen to get the new federal ag-gag laws passed in parliament by the end of next week. Meanwhile, an anonymous abattoir owner has come up with his own plan to curb ongoing protests at his slaughterhouse.
The Melbourne abattoir owner is allowing vegan activists to meet with truckloads of lambs out the front of his business prior to them going in to have their lives cut short. The New Daily reports the animal rights advocates are then given two minutes with the animals to say goodbye.
Ms Hurst condemned the plan as simply undermining the real issue. “One slaughterhouse worker offering time to say goodbye is just a token gesture that will do nothing to help these animals,” she told Sydney Criminal Lawyers. “Proposing this as a solution to animal cruelty is ludicrous,”
Transparency and accountability
Ms Hurst explained that Australia has one of the “fastest growing vegan markets in the world”, which is leading to a sizeable downturn in the consumption of animal products. She added, “This change must be very frightening for an industry that profits from animal cruelty.”
According to Hurst, what would lead to a reduction in the need for vegan nonviolent actions is a review of animal protection laws, a properly equipped agency to enforce them, and publicly accessible CCTV cameras installed in all animal agribusiness operations.
“We need consumer protection and transparency that will allow people to make up their own minds if they want to support these industries,” Ms Hurst concluded. “And finally, we need state and federal governments serious about making real change in the animal agribusiness industry.”
Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.