Mixed reactions to animal activism inquiry recommendations

Eastern Victoria MLC Belina Bath says the recommendations from the Inquiry Into the Impact of Animal Rights Activism on Victorian Agriculture do not address community expectations for minimum penalties to be applied to individuals who commit farm trespass, steal livestock and harass farmers. Ms Bath is pictured last year at the Gippy Goat Café, where goats were stolen by animal activists.

Eastern Victoria MLC Belina Bath says the recommendations from the Inquiry Into the Impact of Animal Rights Activism on Victorian Agriculture do not address community expectations for minimum penalties to be applied to individuals who commit farm trespass, steal livestock and harass farmers. Ms Bath is pictured last year at the Gippy Goat Café, where goats were stolen by animal activists.

THERE has been a mixed response from animal welfare advocates and the Opposition to a raft of animal protection recommendations from the Inquiry Into the Impact of Animal Rights Activism on Victorian Agriculture.

The upper house-initiated inquiry, established by the Liberal-National Party coalition to seek stronger punishments for animal activists, tabled its report in the parliament last Wednesday.

The recommendations include imposing on-the-spot fines of $100 for animal activists invading farms and the mandatory installation of CCTV in abattoirs.

The inquiry considered and reported on the effectiveness of legislation and other measures to prevent and deter activities by unauthorised persons on agricultural and associated industries.

In the report, the committee expressed concern about the level of misinformation spread by activists regarding animal agriculture practices.

It considered Agriculture Victoria ideally placed to correct this misinformation, allowing Victorians to be better informed about these issues.

Committee chairman Nazih Elsamar said the recommendations addressed the problems raised by people across the state and would help to build public confidence in an industry which was vital to Victoria and had high standards of animal welfare.

"Public confidence is a key weapon against the misinformation spread by some activists," he said.

"Those animal rights activists who are engaging in illegal behaviour must stop.

"They can make their point, but they must do so without harassing and frightening farmers and their families and staff."

The report has also recommended strengthening Victoria's biosecurity laws to address the risk of animal rights activists spreading pests and diseases at agriculture businesses.

It has recommended the creation of a new biosecurity offence requiring any person entering an animal agriculture business to adhere to the property's biosecurity management plan, with those who fail to comply receiving an on-the-spot fine.

"The committee has determined that animal rights activism poses a significant biosecurity risk to animal agriculture businesses and to our economy," Mr Elasmar said.

"Fortunately, we have avoided an outbreak of disease linked to activists entering Victorian farms.

"To avoid an outbreak in the future the committee has recommended all Victorian commercial farms and abattoirs have a biosecurity management plan in place, and that visitors who fail to comply with those plans be penalised," he said.

The committee received more than 500 written submissions and conducted seven public hearings in Melbourne and regional Victoria, with 57 witnesses giving evidence.

But Eastern Victoria MLC Melina Bath claimed Labor MPs drove the inquiry in a direction to "indulge the ideological agenda of law-breaking activists".

"After receiving hundreds of submissions supporting stronger farm trespass laws and the emotional and financial distress caused by animal activists in Victoria, committee members have largely ignored farmers," she said.

"Our farmers have suffered greatly at the hands of animal activists, but this isn't reflected in the report.

"The Liberal-Nationals had no choice but to deliver a minority report to address shortcomings."

Ms Bath said livestock farming in Victoria was highly regulated and governed by Australia's comprehensive animal welfare laws, but this was not captured in the report.

"Participating Liberal-Nationals committee members had to fight for a recommendation supporting on-the-spot fines for farm trespass, despite farmers unanimously seeking this action," she said.

"Furthermore, the report did not address community expectations for minimum penalties to be applied to individuals who commit farm trespass, steal livestock and harass farmers.

"The Liberal-Nationals will continue to advocate for greater protections for our valued primary producers and hold the state government to account."

Ms Bath said she brought the issue to parliament's attention after the Gippy Goat Café and Farm was raided in 2018 by animal activists, who removed several goats.

Gippy Goat owner John Gommans said farmers would be particularly concerned by the recommendation to 'codify public interest exemptions'.

"The 50,000 farming families who grow the food and fibre that feeds and clothes our state are now faced with government-sanctioned surveillance," he said.

"It will mean anyone caught breaking into a farm and installing cameras can argue they were acting in the public interest - even though trespass is breaking the law.

"I'm calling on the Andrews government to urgently reject this recommendation."

RSPCA Victoria chief executive Liz Walker believed the findings and recommendations from the inquiry illustrated government and community support for improving the welfare of farm animals.

"RSPCA Victoria does not promote an end to animal use or consumption by people - instead our philosophy is that all animals should live a good life and die a humane death," Dr Walker said.

"Community attitudes toward animal welfare in farming are changing, and so too are expectations regarding appropriate standards for animal welfare.

"Research has shown that greater transparency improves public attitudes and confidence in industry.

"RSPCA Victoria welcomes the recommendation to improve independent federal oversight of development of Australian animal welfare standards and guidelines by creating an Australian Commission for Animal Welfare to ensure robust standards are developed that are supported by science."

Dr Walker said the RSPCA applauded the recommendation and the government's commitment in its Animal Welfare Action Plan to modernise the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986, and welcomed the recommendation to implement CCTV cameras in Victorian abattoirs.

Animal Justice Party MLC Andy Meddick said he hoped the committee report was "the first step in addressing the abhorrent cruelty to animals used in agriculture endure".

He said he was pleased the committee had taken "a reasonable and balanced approach", willing to address the real issue - animal cruelty.

"Many of the routine practices in farming would be illegal if they were done to pet cats and dogs," he said.

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