Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (21:23):
The recent passing of the Biosecurity Bill 2015 in New South Wales has the potential to set a worrying precedent for the criminalisation of whistleblowing by animal activists in Australia. The movers of the New South Wales bill claim that it offers integral biosecurity protections across the state. That may be true; however, hidden in this bill are shoddy ag-gag provisions that aim to stifle the rights of people-activists and consumers alike-to speak out and learn about animal cruelty. Ag-gag laws aim to stop animal advocates investigating industrial scale animal cruelty, by raising penalties against activists who engage in undercover operations. The New South Wales Biosecurity Bill could see animal cruelty whistleblowers hit with a fine of $1.1 million, imprisonment for three years or both. How extreme is that?
Undercover operations led by animal activists are integral to letting the community learn about the realities of life for animals on factory farms. People say to me, 'But they're breaking the law, Lee. That's wrong.' They would not need to take those actions and they would not need to go into the farms and, at times, break the law if we had adequate animal welfare laws that were enforced. That is why we need to ensure that these ag-gag provisions do not come in. Right now, it is the courageous actions of many animal welfare activists that ensure that animal welfare issues are addressed. They are doing the jobs that governments and the various authorities are failing to do. That is why we have to speak out against these ag-gag laws.
If the community cannot learn about cruelty, the potential for the community to speak out to protect the welfare of animals is diminished. If the community does not speak out, there is no incentive for animal welfare reform to take place. Farmers who otherwise may have invested in measures such as giving animals access to the outdoors, larger cages for chickens or nesting materials for sows will lose their incentive, as these reforms will offer little to no return from consumers who are unaware of the harsher conditions on alternative farms that may not have invested in these welfare measures. This law will, therefore, have the potential to slow, stop or reverse animal welfare reform by reducing the ability of activists and consumers to question the suitability of animal production systems. We have seen in recent years the move of consumers away from battery cage eggs and sow stall pork. Consumers care about the standards and welfare of the products they are buying. These laws serve not only to impact on the welfare of animals and those farmers who wish to implement higher welfare standards for their animals but also on the rights of consumers to make choices they deem ethical.
It is not just the arena of intensive food animal production in which whistleblowers will be criminalised under this law. I am sure everybody would remember the Four Corners program that exposed the widespread animal cruelty occurring within the greyhound racing industry in this country. Under this proposed New South Wales legislation, activities such as those carried out by Four Corners and Animals Australia to investigate and uncover live baiting cruelty would have been impossible. The extensive program and all the vision that we saw would not have been possible, and the follow-up, which resulted in much of the cruelty ceasing and in some of those dogs being saved, would not have happened. We would not know about that now if that law was used. Greyhound Racing New South Wales, the independent body charged with overseeing animal welfare in this industry, told a 2014 New South Wales government inquiry that it had no evidence that live animals were being used as bait. Fortunately, we had courageous people go in and get that vision. Four Corners, to their credit, ran that, and there was much follow-up. I repeat this because it is so important: if Four Corners and Animals Australia had not carried out undercover investigations, the public may never have found out about this obscene cruelty. Again, with that law, that could well be the result in the future.
These excessive attempts to criminalise whistleblowing only serve to indicate that maybe there is something to hide. That is why these ag-gag laws are wrong.