'Vigilantes' not 'activists': McKenzie

10 Sep, 2014 04:00 AM
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Victorian Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie.
No sane person would want to shut these industries down
Victorian Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie.

SENATOR Bridget McKenzie says perpetrators of on-farm trespass who gather video footage covertly are “vigilantes intent on shutting down our profitable livestock industries” and not animal rights activists.

The Victorian Nationals Senator made the claim in a stirring and broad-ranging Senate speech in which she vigorously defended the integrity of Australian livestock farmers. It came as the federal Senate passed a notice of motion, moved by Senator McKenzie and seconded by Western Australian Liberal Senator Chris Back, which condemned the “vigilantism”.

The motion passed by a majority of 43 votes, with the Green's 10 Senators voting against it.

The motion said the repeated on-farm trespass and filming examples were “distressing to the animals, staff and owners, and disrupt the operation of legitimate businesses”.

It also called on animal rights advocates to “respect the laws and present any animal mistreatment allegations immediately and directly to authorities”.

Senator McKenzie’s speech echoed similar frustrations raised by the RSPCA about delays in handing over video footage of alleged animal cruelty to legitimate regulators.

She also accused Greens NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon of condoning the illegal trespass activities, viewing the vigilantes as “somewhat heroic undercover investigators”.

'Governments stand complicit': Senator Rhiannon

In raising the Green’s objections, Senator Rhiannon told the Senate good animal husbandry practices do not invite the need for whistleblowers.

“Extreme animal cruelty and neglect is occurring in Australia,” she said.

“These incidents are often witnessed and sometimes condoned by the perpetrators' work colleagues, business operators and industry representatives.

“These people then become complicit in perpetrating animal cruelty by not reporting such abuse.

“Governments stand complicit with these people for allowing it to happen.”

Senator Rhiannon said the Greens supported enforceable, mandatory reporting, investigation and prosecution of animal cruelty, with legal protection for whistleblowers.

She said the Greens were also calling for ongoing audits and investigations independent of industry interests.

“Animal abuse and neglect is never okay and should never be ignored or excused on any level,” she said.

“We should all support legitimate animal husbandry practices that do not perpetrate animal mistreatment that most Australians, farmers and non-farmers alike, abhor and condemn.”

Strong welfare policies

Senator McKenzie said Senator Rhiannon’s stance was at odds with her own party's Keep Farmers on the Land policy.

She said that policy focuses on “protecting farm jobs – apparently - and acknowledges the challenges farmers endure to make a living from the land”.

“The Coalition government does not tolerate animal cruelty in any form but does not believe it is widespread,” Senator McKenzie said.

“In the case of the PETA shearing video, Wool Producers Australia president Geoff Fisken said it showed isolated incidents and does not portray the 99.9 per cent of wool shearer who would be appalled by the footage.

“These are industries which adhere to strong welfare policies.”

According to Senator McKenzie, the trespass activities posed significant threats to on-farm biosecurity measures and subsequent health risks to animals, through the potential spread of pests and disease.

She said such contamination would also have serious economic ramifications for the farm operations.

Senator McKenzie also took aim at the founder of Aussie Farms websites Chris Delforce, who is targeting pig farming in particular, in an ongoing animal rights campaign using publication of video footage obtained covertly via trespass activity.

She highlighted quotes from Mr Delforce in a recent Fairfax Agricultural Media article, saying he believed various livestock industries 'don't have a right to exist anymore' and that meat consumption is ‘unnecessary’.

“The point is that just as people are not permitted to trespass on private property in urban areas they should not be able to do so on rural land, many of which are farmers' family homes,” Senator McKenzie said.

“These are farmers with strong husbandry skills and a commitment to the welfare of their animals.

“According to Meat and Livestock Australia, Australia has become an international leader in the development of welfare standards and guidelines for the red meat industry.”

Value of 'world class' livestock industries

Senator McKenzie highlighted the value of various livestock industries, like pork production, which she said contributes almost $2.8 billion to GDP and underpins more than 20,000 full-time equivalent jobs.

She quoted the Australian chicken meat industry’s gross value of production at $2.21 billion in 2012-13 while directly employing an estimated 40,000 people.

The egg industry’s value was $653 million in 2012-13 directly employing around 4000 people, she said.

“Overall, the animal industries, the animal welfare bodies, the veterinary profession and the research community are all engaged in the development of animal welfare policy and legislation here in Australia that is world class,” she said.

“Further, Australian farms and their closely related sectors generate $155 billion a year in production, underpinning 12.1 per cent of gross domestic product.

“No sane person would want to shut these industries down.”

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Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
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READER COMMENTS

rgovett
10/09/2014 6:53:36 AM

Showed isolated incidences? Seriously? What the footage showed was people, who should know better, standing around witnessing the events and doing nothing about it. This is why the RSPCA are calling for mandatory reporting from within the industry. It is quite clear this industry does need strong independent auditing and scrutiny and until that happens concerned people will continue to obtain footage in any way they can, now matter how much the industry and their political representatives cry about it.
Paul Cox
10/09/2014 7:47:55 AM

Well said Senator McKenzie. Given the Greens ag policy at the last election amounted to little more than support for farmers markets it is amazing they have the hide to think for one moment that anyone in ag would take anything they say on the subject seriously. Every livestock producer I know has animal welfare as their top priority. Peak bodies need to be better prepared to take on the ARA industry with plans in place and ready to go for the inevitable ongoing ideologically driven and often financially driven, disingenuous attacks, far too often based on ill informed misconceptions.
Qlander
10/09/2014 8:47:38 AM

rgovett : The incidences were filmed (over several months and 2 continents) What wasn't shown was the aftermath, so we don't know if these people were reprimanded or not.
Over the Hill
10/09/2014 8:54:06 AM

Australian farmers spend around $1 BILLION every year on product to keep their livestock healthy and about the same again on suplimentary feed. Would they seriously do this if the animals welfare was not a priority?
Katrina Love
10/09/2014 11:57:41 AM

Senators should stick to what they know. Ms McKenzie is evidently unaware of or chooses to ignore the numerous criminal charges brought against producers thanks to the undercover work of these people who are indeed, modern day heroes. If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear - countless acts of incomprehensibly brutal animal cruelty have been uncovered by the work of these undercover investigators - acts that would have otherwise gone unnoticed and unpunished. The Ag industry has much that needs exposing and eliminating, and if industry bodies won't do it, somebody has to.
Cam
10/09/2014 12:49:37 PM

@Katrina Love...there are countless acts of abuse against city pets, against children. Do you think it OK for me to break in to one of these peoples homes and plant cameras to catch them abusing their children or pets or do you believe I should call the police or the RSPCA? These people are breaking into properties with no proof that the livestock are being abused. They are breaking in on the hope they catch livestock being abused just so they can further their own agendas.
Jack
10/09/2014 1:10:20 PM

I'm in awe of the people who put their own lives and liberty at risk to document and expose animal cruelty. As Katrina Love so rightly states, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. I'm disgusted by the "Shoot the Messenger" attitude. Surely it could never be a bad thing to expose cruelty and abuse? Seems as far as the agriculture industry is concerned, they'd rather fight tooth and nail to keep the cruelty hidden from their customers instead of changing their ways. Big mistake.
Billy
10/09/2014 2:57:54 PM

@Katrina Love @Jack "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear..." Exactly, so try knocking on the front door instead of sneaking in through the back door!
chelseaf
10/09/2014 3:01:42 PM

I don't get it. Surely farmers who treat their animals well will have nothing to worry about and won't need to keep making up stories about the dangers of the evil activists.
Kristin
10/09/2014 3:53:09 PM

McKenzie seems to be confused on what cruelty actually is. Cruelty is an everyday part of Aus. animal ag practices. The exposing of this has the industry & politicians who bow to them shaking in their boots, knowing most people are compassionate at heart. Most do not want to see animal suffering so chose to pretend it is not taking place. These images do not allow for that denial anymore and are placing people in the uncomfortable position of asking themselves, is this what we have become? Moves to change laws reek of an industry so full of shame it knows it must be kept hidden to survive.
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