09 Mar Ag-Gag Evidence and Petition: Our Open Letter to the Victorian Legislative Council
9 March 2022
Dear Members of the Victorian Legislative Council,
I write to provide you with evidence as to why you must vote against Labor’s amendments to the Livestock Management Bill and also to draw your attention to a petition calling on you to vote against the Bill on the grounds that the amendments are unjust, discriminatory, and go against the actual findings of the government’s own Inquiry into the ‘Impact of Animal Rights Activism on Victorian agriculture’.
Whilst the proposed on-the-spot fines under the guise of unfounded biosecurity risks are already extraordinary, the amendments go well beyond even the Inquiry’s own recommendations, as explained below.
The petition here, signed by almost 3,700 people and counting, explains the many reasons why this legislation is entirely unjustified and is being driven by politics over evidence, science and reason.
A few brief examples from the Inquiry:
“Superintendent Greaney advised the Committee that in his view current legislation in this area is adequate” Chapter 4 – Inquiry into the impact of animal rights activism on Victorian agriculture.
“Agriculture Victoria is not aware of a biosecurity incident directly linked to activities by activists, so we do not have data around that. What I would say is it is potentially a risk” Mr Michael Rosier, Acting Executive Director, Biosecurity and Agriculture Services.
Even a member from their own party, Sonja Terpstra, who formed part of the Inquiry’s Committee stated, in response to Finding 5 ‘animal rights activists who trespass onto agricultural facilities pose a biosecurity risk:
“Disagree. There is no evidence to support this conclusion.”
She also made the following important points in her Minority Report to the Committee findings:
“There is no justification for the introduction of a $1,000 on the spot fine for animal activists for biosecurity breaches as there is no evidence that shows activists have been responsible for spreading diseases or contributed to outbreaks of disease.”
When considering the above comment by Ms Terpstra it is important to note that not only has the Labor government ignored this finding by a member of their own party who was appointed to the Inquiry’s Committee, they have gone above and beyond the recommendation of on-the-spot fines. Amendments to the Livestock Management Bill, if passed by the upper house, will result in activists facing penalties of up to $10,904 each or $54,522 for organisations. When considering those numbers, keep in mind the Inquiry found that the average fine for an animal cruelty prosecution (which is as rare as hens’ teeth, particularly in agriculture) is $1400.
Further important points made by Sonja Terpstra:
In response to Finding 6, that Acts of trespass on agricultural facilities by animal rights activists are a risk to the health and safety of farmers, agricultural employees, livestock, emergency services, the public and activists themselves, the Labor MP stated:
“Risk posed by animal activists trespassing:
• health and safety of farmers – no direct evidence of this;
• agricultural employees – no direct evidence of this;
• livestock, • emergency services – no direct evidence of this,
• the public – no direct evidence of this;
• activists themselves – no direct evidence of this.
Disagree with finding as no evidence was provided about this citing examples where health and safety breaches were recorded or logged with WorkSafe Victoria.”
And finally, her comments in relation to statistical evidence provided by Agriculture Victoria on animal activists and any unauthorised activity:
“By any standard, the incidence of and likelihood of unauthorised farm entry due to activist activity is very low. Also, instances of protest and trespass related to activism over a 12-month period recorded 11 incidents with no reports of violence or damage to property. Additionally at page 7 of their report, Ag Vic state that there are 21,000 farms in Victoria. The statistical likelihood of unauthorised farm entry or targeting is statistically lower that the risk of a house in a suburban built up area being burgled.”
“Given the low incidence of offences recorded by authorities, there is no evidence that would justify an increase in fines, penalties or sentences in the areas of trespass, theft or biosecurity as they are adequate.”
We’d also like to draw your attention back to the original public submissions to the Inquiry where the majority were against any increased fines for activists and where no evidence of increased biosecurity or health and safety risks could be found.
“Upon examining the 489 submissions, we found that approximately 64% of them were in support of activist rights to expose animal abuse and against increased legislation while 31% were anti-animal activism and expressed their support for tougher legislation targeting individuals who enter farms and slaughterhouses with the intention to document or impede their operation. A further 2% were undecided on their position while 3% were confidential submissions. Interestingly, of the approximately 152 submissions which were in favour of tougher penalties for activists, 73% of these could be identified as having a strong association with the animal agriculture industry, leaving only around 27% of these type of submissions who don’t have an obvious financial motivation for being in favour of limited transparency and public accountability, a worrying statistic when you consider just how many lives are at stake. While there were a number of individuals who identified as animal farmers and were not in favour of tougher restriction of activists, it’s significant to note that of the animal agriculture businesses and industries represented in the submissions as being in favour of increased repression, many of them had facilities that had been investigated and exposed by Aussie Farms for their shocking treatment of animals. Three such facilities are Luv-a-Duk poultry, Diamond Valley Pork and Rivalea.”
“It’s interesting to note that, while many of the submissions which were in favour of tougher laws cited the safety of farmers as a primary concern, none of the submissions that we read could provide an actual instance of where the well-being of farmers or their families had been put at risk by the actions of activists. This is indicative of a pervading narrative which positions farmers as the innocent victims of ‘attacks’ by animal activists, a story that does not hold up to scrutiny. In fact, the submissions show not one reported case of an activist displaying violence, a finding which raises questions as to the very motivations of the inquiry. If the safety of farmers is demonstrably not at risk, what else but greed for increased profit would motivate tougher penalties for activists and whistleblowers?
For our full review of the submissions click here. To read Vegan Rising’s submission to the Inquiry covering what is really driving these amendments click here.
When considering all of the above, one must ask – what is the point of having an Inquiry at all, when it’s true findings are to be ignored?
Finally, using unfounded biosecurity risks posed by activists to impose extraordinary fines entirely fails to address the actual leading cause of new and emerging infectious diseases and ironically, is working to protect that very cause. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation and countless infectious disease experts across the globe have made it abundantly clear that it is our exploitation of animals for food and fibre that is driving infectious diseases. Through farming animals, the wildlife trade and land clearing (predominantly driven by animal agriculture), we bring ourselves into close contact with animals and create a breeding ground for the mutation and spread of disease.
“70% (approx. 2 in 3) of the new diseases that have emerged in humans over recent decades are of animal origin and, in part, directly related to the human quest for more animal-sourced food.” UNFAO
“Zoonotic diseases are very common, both in the United States and around the world. Scientists estimate that more than 6 out of every 10 known infectious diseases in people can be spread from animals, and 3 out of every 4 new or emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals.” Centres for Disease Control and Prevention
More on the leading cause of infectious disease here.
One would think that especially when we are still in the midst of the world-changing COVID-19 pandemic and when we’ve just seen the outbreak of Japanese Encephalitis Virus (JEV) from pig farms in this state, that our government would be focused on addressing the leading cause of infectious diseases, not protecting it and punishing those who expose its disastrous reality.
A 2019 study titled ‘How Central Is the Domestic Pig in the Epidemiological Cycle of Japanese Encephalitis Virus? A Review of Scientific Evidence and Implications for Disease Control’ stated:
“In peri-urban areas, people do not traditionally rear large numbers of pigs or domestic birds. However, increasing urbanization is likely to increase pig numbers on farms, as well as the numbers of farms close to urban areas, thus bringing human and pig JEV-susceptible populations into close proximity with each other. Thus, there is a need to improve our knowledge of the JEV transmission cycle that may not be as simple as we think it is.”
The full study is available here.
To direct biosecurity concerns at animal rights activists when the scientific evidence proves it is our trade in animals that poses the real threat is indeed a tragedy beyond comprehension.
Please act in response to Inquiry’s actual findings and vote against these flawed, unjust and discriminatory amendments.