Ag-gag Legislation

“Ag-Gag”

In September 2015 the NSW government signed into law the Biosecurity Bill 2015. The Biosecurity Bill legislation has been criticised and labeled as the advent of Australian “ag-gag” legislation due to the powers and provisions it provides law enforcement with, particularly regarding activist activities on behalf of mistreated and abused animals. However, the 2015 Bill was not the beginning of the industries attempts to silence activists or those who believe in standing up for wrongs committed against others, especially others who cannot defend or ask for help themselves.

Minister for Primary Industries and Lands and Water, Niall Blair, characterised the 2015 Biosecurity Bill as lawmaking intended to curb or prevent “the serious and potentially devastating issue of farm trespass.” [1] Aimed at helping the farming industry “secure the future” of NSW’s $12 billion primary industries sector, the bill has been criticised by individuals and groups for constituting a veiled law intended to stifle and suppress public knowledge of instances of animal cruelty through the use of film and documentation taken from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), or factory farms. Legal mechanisms that originated in the United States in the 1990s have since spread to Australia.

An Ag-gag Bill was proposed but defeated in SA in 2014. Liberal Senator Chris Back is also currently attempting to pass a federal ag-gag Bill.

Tasmanian Ag-Gag

Animal welfare in Tasmania is regulated under the Animal Welfare Act 1993. This act places Duty of Care solely on the person who has “ownership” over the animal, possession or custody of the animal, operator or manager of commercial premises involving the animal, a share farmer, or a chief executive officer or a director of a company that owns the animal.

All animal cruelty reports are directed to the RSPCA, who cannot adequately attend to all issues or alerts, and we further recognise that the abuse of animals within the agricultural sector is systemic.

Tasmanian Greens Animal Welfare spokesperson, Cassy O’Connor MP, has called on deputy prime minister Jeremy Rockliff to rule out support for national laws proposed by then Agricultural Minister Barnaby Joyce, who has made comments indicating he had state support for the introduction of ‘Ag-gag’ laws.

No such laws have come into effect in Tasmania.

http://dpipwe.tas.gov.au/biosecurity/animal-biosecurity/animal-welfare/legislation-standards-guidelines/animal-welfare-act

https://tasmps.greens.org.au/content/no-ag-gag-laws-tasmania

NSW Ag-Gag

In 2014 the then Minister for Primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson, proposed a Biosecurity Bill and in June 2014 announced that she planned to use the Bill to target animal rights activists. The Bill was not passed. In 2015 the new Minister for Primary Industries, Niall Blair, re-introduced the Bill with significant amendments.

In August 2015, Niall Blair MP and Federal Agriculture Minister, Senator Barnaby Joyce announced that they too planned to use the NSW Biosecurity Bill 2015 to target animal rights activists who record operations of intensive farming facilities and disperse the information to the public.

The statements made reveal that the proposed Bill has the potential to be used as US-style ‘ag-gag legislation’ – laws that seek to gag animal activists, employees, whistleblowers and the media from making public evidence of animal cruelty. These laws stifle transparency. There is already legislation that covers matters of trespass and recording of information, and as such the 2015 Biosecurity Bill is effectively a provision expressly aimed at silencing animal rights advocates and activists.

(Please download our petition here and return it to the Animal Liberation office ASAP (suite 506, 89 York St, Sydney 2000):  Petition Against the Proposed Biosecurity Bill 2015)

Federal Ag-Gag

Liberal Senator Chris Back has tabled a Bill attempting to pass federal ag-gag legislation. The oddly named Criminal Code Amendment (Animal Protection) Bill 2015 (Bill) has nothing to do with animal protection – instead, it protects those involved in animal abuse by ensuring evidence of systemic cruelty do not reach the public.

Major exposés depicting systemic cruelty to animals could not have occurred without the work of brave activists who obtain undercover footage. Without them, the public would not have heard about the cruelty in the greyhound racing industry, at Wally’s Piggery, Ingham’s turkey slaughterhouse, Hawkesbury Valley meats, Rivalea pig slaughterhouse, or in the live export trade.

Without them, the cruelty would likely still be occurring.

This dangerous new Bill punishes activists and whistle-blowers, rather than increasing punishments to those that abuse animals. The Bill requires activists to hand over footage within 1 working day, essentially halting the ability to obtain evidence that will expose systemic abuse in the industry and will allow the industries to use the same old excuse of “rogue operator”. It incorporates an emphasis on quick reporting of any documentation or footage obtained from factory farms – one of the hallmarks of US-style ag-gag legislation. The Bill also reverses the onus of proof – this means those that are being charged for recording animal cruelty must prove themselves innocent- rather than being innocent until proven guilty. This could cause innocent individuals to have to deal with harassing claims.

There are offenses in the Bill relating to “harassment”, “reasonable fear”, and “intimidation”- yet none of these terms are defined in the Bill. These terms are very broad and activist groups are often accused of each of these already, simply for questioning certain farming practices and the pain they may cause; examples of this include mulesing, castration without pain relief, or the use of battery cages.

Laws already exist around trespass, harassment and damage to property. The intention of this Bill is clearly to protect animal industries from public criticism and to hide issues of animal cruelty from the public.

Activists who risk their own safety should be credited as heroes, not terrorists.

[1] Blair, N (NSW Minister for Primary Industries) & Joyce, B (Minister for Agriculture) 2015, National focus on farm trespass, media release, 3 August, viewed 16 September 2015,

 

For more information on Ag-Gag laws in Australia visit the Voiceless Animal Law Institute website.

https://www.voiceless.org.au/the-issues/ag-gag