PROPOSED legislation designed to thwart extended undercover activist campaigns against livestock cruelty has been condemned by animal rights groups.
WA Senator Chris Back last week introduced his Criminal Code Amendment (Animal Protection) Bill 2015 for its first reading in the Australian Parliament.
The bill would require a person who obtained visual images of what they believe to be malicious cruelty to animals to report it to a responsible authority without delay. It also discourages trespass and interference with lawful animal enterprises and sought to protect livestock workers from intimidation, threats or attacks.
PETA says video images raise awareness
However, PETA Australia campaign co-ordinator Claire Fryer said the organisation opposes “ag-gag” legislation for a number of reasons.
“First, video surveillance and comprehensive documentation of ongoing cruelty or neglect is valuable from an animal-protection perspective because it provides insight into the otherwise hidden, abusive practices of commercial agricultural operations.
“Furthermore, video footage may be used to identify breaches of animal welfare legislation and admitted as evidence in criminal proceedings,” she said.
“Images which are sourced by surveillance may also be used to raise awareness of the plight of animals used for agriculture.
“Anyone that cares about freedom of speech, or preventing animal cruelty, would be against this law.”
Voiceless says put cameras in all factory farms and abattoirs
Animal protection group media manager Elise Burgess said the Bill targets undercover investigators and whistleblowers who risk their wellbeing and livelihoods to expose illegal acts of animal cruelty, rather than the perpetrators of that cruelty.
“Bills similar to the one being proposed have already been defeated on a state level in South Australia, following staunch opposition from consumer protection groups, workers’ unions, civil libertarians and animal protection groups.
“Instead of new legislation targeting undercover investigators and whistleblowers who expose acts of animal cruelty, a far more appropriate response would be the introduction and mandatory requirement for CCTV cameras in all factory farms and slaughterhouses,” she said.
“Further, establishment of an Independent Office of Animal Welfare is also necessary to ensure that compliance with animal protection laws are monitored and enforced by an independent statutory body.
“The focus should be on improving animal welfare in this country, not persecuting those speak out against animal cruelty.”
RSPCA Australia said it is examining the wording of the Bill, which we have not previously seen.
“We will be issuing comment once we have an understanding of its intent,” a spokeswoman said.
VFF says Back bill is commonsense
However, VFF Livestock president Ian Feldtmann said the legislation would mean animal activists could no longer hold onto footage of acts of animal cruelty for months to fit in with their campaign cycles.
“It’s plain common sense that anyone who really cares about animal cruelty would report the incident immediately.”
“Yet we’ve seen animal welfare groups sit on footage for months, before reporting it to authorities,” he said.
“Too many times we have seen animal rights groups hold onto information, then release it to time in with a campaign launch.
“Farmers and the very animals they seek to protect should not be used as political pawns.”
Mr Feldtmann said the Federal Government needed to ensure farmers could live, work and run their businesses without fear or intimidation by rogue activists, who simply wanted to end all forms of meat production.