Prime Minister Scott Morrison has reacted to a recent anti-meat protest by promising prison terms of up to 12 months for activists who publish information about farmers who are allegedly cruel towards their animals.
A protest on Monday saw disruptions in the Melbourne and Sydney central business districts. Several activists in other areas of Victoria and New South Wales, as well as in Queensland, chained themselves to equipment in farms and abattoirs.
Protesters chanted “What do we want? Animal liberation. When do we want it? Now”, demanding an end to cruel farming practices.
Police arrested 39 of the protesters in Melbourne, charging them with offences involving resisting and obstruction. Several more were arrested across the three states, and charged with offence such as trespass, property damage and resisting arrest.
Background to protest
Chris Delforce is the director of a documentary titled ‘Dominion’, which uses drones and hidden cameras to expose the cruelty that occurs on Australian farms and in factories.
Mr Delforce also operates the website ‘Aussie Farms’, which publishes the names and locations of graziers, poultry farms, piggeries, hatcheries, horse studs and abattoirs which it says engage in cruel practices.
The federal government targeted Aussie Farms by removing its exemption from the Privacy Act, thereby exposing Mr Delforce to fines of up $2.1 million for disclosing the personal information of farmers.
Attorney-General Christian Porter also weighed in, directing the Privacy Commissioner to closely examine complaints against the organisation. Mr Porter said this was necessary to protect our farmer.
Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud demanded the organisation remove their map of the locations of allegedly offending businesses from its site, calling it an “attack map” after one business was broken into.
“If this activist attack map remains online, I fear someone will be seriously hurt or worse,” the Minister stated.
The targeting of Aussie Farms is seen by animal rights activists as unfair. They believe governments are engaged in a systematic campaign to silence activists and facilitate animal cruelty, citing recent Ag-Gag laws as an example of this.
Under Mr Morrison’s proposal, any person found to have used a carriage service such as the internet to disclose personal information with the intention to incite another to trespass on agricultural land or food processing facilities would be liable to a maximum penalty of 12 months in prison.
The government did, however, make clear that ‘bona fide journalists’ and ‘whistleblowers’ exposing animal cruelty would be exempt.
Mr Porter suggested that the states and territories should change their laws to deter such conduct.
“I suggest all jurisdictions consider increasing penalties for criminal trespass, particularly as this offence relates to trespass on farmland and that further consideration be given to a nationally consistent approach to instituting an aggravated form of trespass and unlawful entry where it is conducted recklessly with the outcome of causing commercial damage to a relevant agricultural enterprise,” he stated.
Government to bankroll farmers
Mr Morrison went even further by suggesting his government would join or bankroll civil lawsuits brought by affected farmers against animal rights activists.
“I think state and territory governments should ensure the full force of the law is brought against these green-collared criminals” he stated.
“If there are pastoralists, farmers, graziers that are in a position to bring a civil action against these groups … the Commonwealth is totally open to supporting them in a test case.”
The suggestion has been welcomed by the National Farmers Federation, whose chief executive Tony Maher said farmers did not have the means to bring such action themselves.
Demands by activists
Animal rights activists have made six demands of the government, which are that it:
- Publicly acknowledge inherent cruelty in the process of killing animals for food, clothing and entertainment;
- Insert a link to view documentary “Dominion” in a prominent position on their department’s website;
- Publicly commit to banning use of intentionally deceptive marketing labels and imagery on animal products;
- Commit to screening “Dominion” in school curriculum for students aged 15 and over;
- Add warning labels onto animals products advising of ethical, health and environmental issues associated with them; and
- End government subsidies for industries that use, exploit and abuse animals.
Mr Delforce accused the government of acting at the behest of “big donors” by going out of its way to censor his work.
He added that activists are prepared to be arrested and will continue to protest despite the risk of harsh penalties.
“The simple fact is gaol or any kind of punishment on us doesn’t compare to what is happening to animals across the country,” he stated.