HON COLIN de GRUSSA (Agricultural) [10.07 am] — without notice: I move —
That the house calls on the government to —
(a) provide greater protection for the safety and welfare of farmers, families, workers and livestock against animal activists who illegally trespass on private land or interfere with lawful activities, by investigating harsher penalties, stronger regulations or other protections;
(b) provide extra resources for law enforcement agencies to tackle rural crime and increase community protection in rural areas; and
(c) strengthen regulation and enforcement around the use of drones for clandestine surveillance, trespass or other unlawful activity.
[Speeches and comments from various members]
HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [10.36 am]: Wow! I rise to make some comments on the motion. I must say that some of the things that the two previous speakers said were reasonable and I concur with them, but a fair degree of licence was taken in some of their comments. I have to say at the outset that I become really, really concerned when members throw terms like “terrorist” around so loosely in the chamber. I think it is deeply irresponsible. I remind members that we will be debating legislation very shortly that provides for how we deal with terrorism. It is a serious matter and when people are so cavalier with that term, I become very, very concerned. I ask that people rein it in a bit so we can talk about the genuine issues that face us today.
I must say at the outset that I do not support the tactics employed by the animal rights activists and I will explain why that is. I will also put some context around the issue as well. I recognise that when people enter other peoples’ private properties, it is deeply problematic, particularly if a person lives in the regions and is far away from law enforcement and is fearful about those people entering their property. I am also persuaded by the concerns that have been expressed about the impact on biosecurity. I think that is a very legitimate issue and there are concerns about that. I do not accept that we need to increase penalties, but I do think that perhaps more work needs to be done so people know their rights. Perhaps it would be useful to look at how people can gain that support.
However, I want to talk about what motivates people to go to such extreme measures. These are not measures of terror; they are certainly extreme measures and they are about breaking the law. The reality is that the key concern of a lot of animal rights activists is that they have lost faith in the capacity of the state to appropriately oversight whether animal welfare is adhered to within this state. We know that this is not actually new. People have been going onto farms and filming gross acts of cruelty, for example, for decades and decades. In the past, that is how breaches of animal cruelty have been revealed, whether it be looking at cruelty on battery hen farms, cruelty towards pigs or cruelty towards other livestock animals. They have taken it upon themselves because they have not had faith that the systems in place will enable people to ensure the state is doing the job of overseeing animal welfare. If we want to discourage this sort of activity—I think there is good reason to do so—the simple solution is to enable inspectors to independently and appropriately inspect to see whether biosecurity measures and animal welfare are being upheld to the standards we expect. We know that this is what the community wants from us as well. The community wants to know that animals are being treated fairly and that gross animal cruelty is not occurring on our farms. I strongly believe that the majority of farmers do not operate that way but there will be rogue farmers who mistreat their animals, and that needs to be exposed, and I think it needs to be exposed by the state. That is why we need to ensure animal inspectors can go in, without having to give notice, and report back through the appropriate channels. Members opposite want this matter addressed, and I completely understand why, and that would be a start.
The second thing I would like to comment on is animal rights activists protesting at restaurants. It is with some despair that I watch this activity. I despair because I am one of the people in this chamber who is vegetarian. I am not vegan; I was vegan, but I found that it was too difficult when I fell pregnant, but that is another story. I have been vegetarian for 29 years; I became vegetarian primarily on animal welfare and environmental grounds. My children have chosen to be vegetarian but my husband is not. I tell animal rights activists that they will not win over hearts and minds by berating people for how they eat. I am concerned and saddened when they do that because I am sympathetic to the idea of educating people about the impacts of eating meat and perhaps looking at reducing the amount of meat they eat, but I do not think berating people is a fair or effective way to achieve that outcome. However, I have to say that it goes both ways. I do not berate people for what they choose to eat. Good luck to anyone here who can say that I ever have, but people, including people in this chamber, have mocked me because of what I choose to eat. I have to say how incredibly lame that is, people. If they want animal rights activists not to protest about what they eat, fair enough, that goes both ways. We do not berate people because they eat halal or kosher food or because they are diabetic and do not eat sugar or have coeliac disease, so do not berate people if they choose not to eat meat or any animal products. I am seeing that lack of respect going both ways. I wanted to stress that.
Hon Colin de Grussa raised broad concerns about the theft of livestock. Obviously, any suggestion that animal welfare activists are responsible for that would be outright ludicrous, but I did not hear Hon Colin de Grussa necessarily suggest that. Concerns were raised about the theft of stock, biosecurity, and unlawful shooting and fishing on people’s private property. Concerns were raised also about a lack of independent oversight of these activities, which goes far beyond concerns about animal rights activists trespassing onto people’s property. It sounds as though there is a much broader issue here, and I concur that it sounds as though it needs to be addressed. I think there is a bit of a bandwagon-type mentality going on here because people have seen a political opportunity to target a particular type of activism. As I said, I do not particularly support this type of activism. Unfortunately, it alienates more people than it brings on board so I think it is ineffective in that regard but it happens because people lose faith in the state’s capacity and willingness to independently oversight animal welfare measures on properties.
The first thing we should do is make sure that we step up that oversight so the good farmers, who are doing the right thing, can effectively be exonerated, if you like, from suggestions that they are not. However, it would mean that rogue farmers who are not doing the right thing could be picked off and people would not feel the need to take matters into their own hands, because they should not. I want to be very clear. I do not know whether any of the farmers involved are good. That is not my assessment to make and probably not that of the animal rights activists to make either, which is precisely why if people had faith in the system and the appropriate people were independently going out to properties, without notice, and determining what needed to happen, it would be much easier for all.
I remind members that the Productivity Commission report itself has said that we need reform in this space; new standards for farm animal welfare; enforcement of farm animal welfare standards; an assessment of the efficiency and effectiveness of the livestock export regulatory system, and that we need to improve it; a standalone statutory organisation that can look at animal welfare; and independent evidence-based advice on animal welfare science and community values. We do need reform in this space and that has been recognised by the Productivity Commission. We are seeing a brand of activism emerge out of frustration. That is not good and I hope people can reassess some of the tactics because, as I say, I do not believe they are bringing the community along with them with their activism. Frankly, the animals deserve better. They need that effective oversight and that is the state’s role.
[Speeches and comments from various members]
Motion lapsed, pursuant to standing orders.