23rd March 2016
The Hon. MARK PEARSON [4.20 p.m.]: See no evil. My adjournment speech is based on the writings of Dr Siobhan O’Sullivan on the equitable treatment of animals in governance and policy. Since the time of the Industrial Revolution animals have been slowly excluded from the lives of most humans. Until relatively recently both rural and city dwellers had direct experience of the economic exploitation of animals, from horses used for transport and in agriculture, cattle and sheep driven to be slaughtered at open markets, to eggs collected from backyard chicken coops.
Increased urbanisation and agricultural industrialisation ended the eye witness observation of the lives and deaths of animals used by humans. This dislocation has resulted in the invisibility of the lived experiences of farmed animals and those animals used in medical research. Slaughterhouses with all their blood, gore and stench have been exiled from our cities. Intensively farmed pigs and chickens spend their few miserable weeks of life contained in massive, windowless sheds far from the casual observation of passers-by. While farmed animals may live their lives almost entirely unseen, that does not mean that they are not subject to the law.
We have animal welfare legislation such as the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and a multitude of codes of practice, standards and guidelines which detail the ways in which animals may be lawfully treated by industry. A thin veneer of animal welfare sits alongside a prohibition of unnecessary suffering. However, if the average citizen could see the suffering caused by lawful practices such as mulesing, castration, de-horning, tail-docking and eye teeth removal—all without pain relief in the main—I am sure that they would demand higher levels of standards of care. Our citizens rely upon their members of Parliament and regulatory bodies to safeguard that what happens in these hidden places meets community standards concerning animal wellbeing. Time and again it has been shown that the public’s expectations are not being met.
Exposés by animal rights and welfare groups have shown cruel treatment of pigs, ducks, turkeys and chickens, to name a few instances where animal activists have recorded images that horrify the nation. Community outrage occurs each and every time these images of suffering are broadcast and it clearly shows that the public does care about the lives of animals. It is disturbing, however, that the Government and industry response is not to improve animal wellbeing standards and better resource enforcement agencies, but rather in the main to attack and criminalise the messenger.
This lack of transparency disenfranchises citizens and helps generate inconsistencies in animal welfare laws. It undermines the role of citizens as policy participants and forces animal activists to engage in illegal behaviour in an attempt to put animal welfare on the political agenda. The introduction of ag-gag laws via the Biosecurity Act and the Inclosed Lands Amendment (Interference) Bill increase penalties for animal activists who in the public interest capture footage of animal suffering on private lands. Ministers talk of activists as vigilantes and terrorists but our regulatory system makes independent oversight of intensive farming facilities virtually impossible. Dr O’Sullivan stated:
The only people who see agricultural animals are those who financially benefit from bringing them into the world, and then killing them. Such people are not reliable witnesses. They cannot be trusted as the only source, or even the primary source, of information about whether an animal’s life is good or not.
How can we ensure that the laws regulating the lives of animals reflect community values, when the community has little to no capacity to see or engage with animals? How can the community inform animal welfare laws, when we know very few animals? If the community is unable to draw its own conclusions about the suitability of animal protection laws made in its name, what type of challenge does this pose to liberal democratic values?