Lamb Production

New animal cruelty reporting legislation due next year

Terry Sim, December 8, 2014

A Bill to protect animals under the Criminal Code would not punish whistleblowers or stop employees from reporting cruelty, veterinarian and Senator for Western Australia Chris Back said today.

The proposed legislation will require anyone taking visible images of action they believe to be malicious cruelty to animals to report it to the responsible authority with a minimum of delay.

The draft Bill is also directed against anyone who intimidates, threatens or attacks a person associated with a legally operating animal enterprise or trespasses onto or vandalises the property of anyone conducting a legally operating animal enterprise.

Animal rights group opposes ‘ag-gag’ legislation

Senator Back said such actions are criminal in nature, invade the privacy of affected persons and can place animals at risk from a welfare, health and husbandry viewpoint. He rejected the notion that his draft bill was “ag-gag” legislation, but said it would mean an owner or employee of a business was required to report any instances of animal cruelty.

However, Voiceless communication officer Eleanor Nurse said in many cases, staff who work at abattoirs or on factory farms are best placed to witness and report incidents of cruelty, but might lose their jobs if they report cruelty. Voiceless is strongly opposed to ag-gag legislation in all of its forms, she said.

“If required to report instances of cruelty immediately to authorities, this Bill could potentially punish whistleblowers by forcing them to identify themselves, introducing the risk that they could lose their job.

“This type of legislation places these people in an impossibly difficult position: report your boss or co-worker and risk your livelihood, or face prosecution for staying quiet,” she said.

“This requirement could potentially place undue liability and pressure on individuals who do witness a crime and gives them only a few days to seek legal advice and reach a decision.”

Legislation won’t mean fewer reports – Back

Senator Back if someone views and films what they believe to be malicious cruelty to animals they should report it.

“I can’t see why there will be less reports.

“What should be the outcome is that a responsible authority will get feedback quickly and secondly they will get some photographic evidence.”

He said the whole emphasis of the bill was to enhance animal protection.

“How something that compels a person to actually report something — if they’ve seen it and they’re sufficiently concerned about – can be regarded as an ‘ag-gag’ is beyond me.

“I would have said it is exactly the opposite.”

Legislation targets activist campaigns

Senator Back said the legislation should also prevent recent examples of activist groups presenting visual images taken sometimes up to twelve months previous to disclosure, effectively preventing 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,” he said.

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.”

“Activists are agitating against many of Australia’s primary activities in the pig, beef, sheep and wool, and sheepmeat industries,” he said.

“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.”

Senator Back noted a recent decision by RSPCA NSW to cease 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 authority immediately’.

“Of equal importance is the threat to Australia’s biosecurity from animal activists who are trespassing on quarantine or intensive animal production facilities,” he said.

Voiceless says legislation’s intent is ‘backwards’

Ms Nurse said the sentiment of the Back Bill is “backwards”.

“It targets the activists and whistleblowers who risk their wellbeing and livelihoods to expose illegal acts of animal cruelty rather than the perpetrators of that cruelty.

“It is not clear whether this proposed Bill is intended to improve animal welfare,” she said.

“Based on Senator Back’s statements, what is clear is that the proposed Bill will seek to target undercover investigators, whistleblowers and journalists in an effort to prevent them from making evidence of illegal animal cruelty public.”

She said there is no need for the proposed legislation.

“We already have legislation to protect animals against incidents of cruelty.

“What we do not have is adequate monitoring and enforcement mechanisms attached to this legislation,” she said.

“This means that incidents of cruelty are going unreported and unpunished, and that is why animal activists are getting involved.”

She said if Senator Back was serious about animal welfare he would be working to strengthen monitoring and enforcement of existing animal cruelty legislation, rather than seeking to prosecute individuals who do speak up when they see someone breaking animal cruelty laws.

“Requiring CCTV cameras in all factory farms and slaughterhouses would be a good place to start.”

Bill due in parliament early next year

Senator Back said the draft legislation is designed to complement that of Australian States and Territories. It is due to be introduced to Federal Parliament early next year.

“If a member of the public believes they have witnessed an act of malicious cruelty to an animal or animals, they should report it to the responsible authority immediately via phone or online in the state or territory that it took place.

“Following reporting, they should then provide any footage obtained within five days of filming the event,” he said.


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