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Now that the final submissions to the Parliamentary Inquiry into the Impact of Animal Rights Activism on Victorian Agriculture have been published, now seems like the perfect time to stop and take the chance to evaluate the findings that have emerged. Firstly, for those who haven’t been following, the motion for the public inquiry was put forward by Nationals MP Melina Bath and is now being carried out by the Victorian Legislative Council’s Economy and Infrastructure Committee as they investigate “the impact of animal rights activism on Victorian agriculture,” with a specific focus on “the effectiveness of legislation and other measures to prevent and deter activities by unauthorised persons on agricultural and associated industries,” intentions which can be found stated in a press release. The inquiry accepted public submissions which will be considered alongside public hearings, the first of which have already occurred

Reading between the lines, the language used to describe this parliamentary inquiry makes it clear as to its intended outcomes. As usual, no mention is made as to concern for the millions of land animals killed every year in Australia alone, with the focus instead being on how to more effectively “prevent and deter” “unauthorised” activity on Australian farms (Victorian Legislative Council 2019). 

With increasingly repressive laws targeting animal activists cropping up in NSW and QLD, we seem to be seeing a new surge of governmental interest in ‘ag-gag’ laws – laws which attempt to limit the power of individuals and the media to hold agricultural bodies to account and expose wrongdoing. For this reason, inquiries such as this one should be of the utmost importance to animal activists as they signal attempts by the government to further cover up the horrific realities of animal agriculture and support a system which is implicit in not only systemic abuse and exploitation of sentient beings, but rampant and perfectly legal instances of neglect and egregious cruelty of these same individuals. Many of these cases have been uncovered by dedicated investigators and can be found on the Aussie Farms website or by watching the documentary Dominion

So, with its importance stressed, what can we learn from these public submissions and what do they tell us about public attitudes towards animal activism in Victoria?

Data Analysis

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

While in all cases, animal agriculture involves violence and exploitation, these places have demonstrated a willingness to condone and cover-up horrific acts of cruelty while also participating in the most horrific standard industry practices such as depriving ducks of water their entire lives, keeping sows confined to tiny stalls for years, smashing piglets heads against the concrete and using excruciating gas chambers to kill pigs. Places like this demonstrate a profound lack of even basic respect, an attitude that raises questionable implications for these organisations motivations for requesting harsher legislation affecting activists. The inquiry also contained submissions from industry bodies such as Australian Pork, Australian Dairy Farmers and Australian Chicken Growers Council, councils who would surely welcome increased transparency if they truly believed those they represent had nothing to hide.

Looking at these figures, it seems clear that many, if not most, of the submissions which would support ‘ag-gag’ legislation, are from individuals or organisations with a vested financial interest in maintaining secrecy around their operations. Unfortunately, as we have seen time and time again when something disappears behind closed doors, the worst atrocities occur and the victims of them are forgotten. 

As for those who are pro activists and pro exposure of exploitation, as could be predicted, many of the submissions can be recognised to be from animal rights activists and vegans – some being individuals with an incentive to of course not be further punished by law but all with no financial incentive to contribute to the inquiry and take such a position.

If we contrast this with the high number of submissions which are in favour of tougher legislation for activists, often for at least partly financial reasons, a picture begins emerging. Activists most often receive nothing for their work except the knowledge that they’re standing up for what is right. Whereas farmers and slaughterhouses financially benefit from a lack of scrutiny and exposure, as greed, necessary disconnect, and a high demand for products of animal agriculture lead to increased levels of extreme cruelty.** And as we repeatedly see, even in what are marketed as ‘kind’ ways of exploitation and killing, extreme suffering and ultimate death against one’s will remains; a sight which even the most hardened can be affected and potentially remove their support of the industry. We can see, therefore, that an inquiry such as this one will always be skewed, as financial motivations and a need to meet ever-increasing demand will inevitably render the animal victims of these industries unimportant and, most often, overlooked. 

Inquiries such as this one represent a threat to our ability to act as allies to the animals whose lives and bodies are claimed by the animal agriculture industries. With the risk of increasing repression and legal persecution of activists who challenge the way society views traditionally farmed animals, now more than ever is the time for all of us to stand up and fight for what we know is right. 

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?

In comparison, there were several submissions in support of tougher penalties for activists that included thinly veiled and on occasion blatant threats of violence against activists.

While breaking the law may be a cost that is too high for some, we can all unite in our support for activists who have vowed to continue to investigate and expose the realities of animal farming, even if that means risking their own freedom and liberty. For those who are not yet, you must also become vegan. Making the choice to no longer financially contribute to industries which would place profits as more important than the lives of individuals, both human and non-human is one of the most powerful things you can ever do as an individual. Read more here.

While this may seem like a dark time for activism, it marks an opportunity for us to stand united and determined to never forget those locked away behind closed doors and in cages, and those wandering on vast paddocks that appear idyllic from a distance but on closer inspection become graveyards and places of immense suffering. If we stand together with conviction and compassion in our hearts, the world will eventually wake up and listen. 

You can find Vegan Rising’s submission to the inquiry here and all other submissions here. If you want to learn more about what happens inside Australian farms, we’d highly recommend you check out the Aussie Farm’s repository which you can find here

**For more on this we highly recommend the ground-breaking novel ‘Every 12 Seconds’ by Timothy Pachirat. 

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