BY KENJI SATO
Legislation cracking down on animal rights activists who trespass onto farms passed through the NSW Upper House last week.
The 2015 Biosecurity Bill passed in its entirety, after amendments put forward by the ALP, the Greens, and the Animal Justice Party were rejected.
Under the new laws, animal activists who trespass onto farms will be deemed a biosecurity threat, and the penalties for farm trespassers will increase.
Niall Blair, the Minister for Primary Industries, said that the bill would “provide strict new penalties for anyone who intentionally or recklessly breaches their biosecurity obligation”.
“Our farmers are suffering as a result of unlawful farm trespass – financially, emotionally and physically,” Mr Blair said.
“Aside from the intolerable biosecurity risk farm trespass creates, it is also an unjust invasion of the privacy of farmers,” he said.
But Lynda Stoner, the CEO of Animal Liberation NSW, said that animal rights activism was necessary to ensure biosecurity.
“Over the years it’s been animal rights activists who have called attention to biosecurity problems,” she said.
“A lot of animal rights violations would not have come out had it not been for us going in there and discovering them.”
Under the new bill, individual activists could be fined up to one million dollars and could spend up to three years in prison.
Activists groups suspected of wrongdoing could have their offices searched and equipment taken without a warrant.
“It smacks of fascism,” Ms Stoner said.
“The government want to nullify us and it’s the only reason for this bill. But they won’t. We will continue to fight for the rights of all animals.”
Dougal Gordon, the CEO of the Australian Lot Feeders’ Association, a group that represents intensive cattle farmers, said that farmers often felt that their privacy was being invaded by animal rights activists.
“Would you like people to come into your home under the guise of looking after the interests of your children on the off chance you might be doing something illegal? That’s exactly how we feel,” Mr Gordon said.
“We look after those animals just like our children. And yet we’re being put under pressure and made to defend what we do when we’re doing everything perfectly legally and we’re open and upfront about what we do,” he said.
“We’re talking about businesses that run on low margins. So if a farmer has a biosecurity issue, it has large financial ramifications. We would like to ensure the risks aren’t increased via people coming onto your premises under the guise of animal welfare.”
Mr Gordon said that the feedlot industry was heavily regulated and monitored by the government and by independent groups such as the RSPCA.
“We’re very happy to work with the RSPCA and other reputable organisations,” he said.
“But we don’t want activist groups who want to sneak around your back and utilise footage or photos selectively against you to put you out of business.”
“You don’t need people to sneak around and trespass because there are legal avenues that allow you to address these issues,” he said.
But the legal avenues for addressing animal cruelty are “completely broken”, according to Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi.
“The enforcement of animal welfare laws in NSW has been really lax. All the issues that have been exposed have been exposed by investigators and animal welfare activists,” Dr Faruqi said.
“We saw that in the greyhound industry, we saw that in the live export industry. There have been many cases in NSW where cruelty on factory farming has been exposed by animal welfare activists,” she said.
“No one denies that biosecurity is absolutely an important issue. It’s important for our farmers, the agricultural sector, and it’s important for the environment and biodiversity,” Dr Faruqi said.
“We do need strong biosecurity laws. But not agricultural gagging laws in disguise.”
“Unfortunately, there’s a clear conflict of interest between the Department of Primary Industries on the one hand trying to make the most economic profit out of the use of animals, and on the other hand trying to protect animals.”