• Productivity Commission Final Report Into Australian Agriculture

    Last week the Productivity Commission publicly released its Final Report into Australian Agriculture Regulations. Among other industry concerns regarding land, water and natural resources use, food labelling, and GMO, the Report also gave a thorough overview of the state of play when it comes to farmed animal welfare in Australia. It was heartening to see such articulate and professional submissions made on behalf of farmed animals and the unnecessary suffering they endure each and everyday.

    The Animal Justice Party submitted a detailed response to the draft report highlighting the Party’s views on an Independent Office of Animal Welfare, live export and state based animal cruelty legislation. In addition many other organisations such as Animals Australia, PETA Australia, Vegan Australia, Animal Liberation, World Animal Protection, Voiceless and Animal Defenders Office echoed the need for a drastic overhaul of how the community expects farms animals should be treated. However, it is still disappointing to note that most of the environmental groups seem to be still in denial about the massive adverse impacts animal agriculture is having on our climate, biodiversity and emissions.

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    Given the overwhelming consistency within the submissions in regards community expectations concerning farmed animal welfare, it is pleasing to see the Final Report note these concerns and make recommendations in-line with the general public. For too long industry has had the political advantage of drafting its own rules, regulations and responsibilities with the main focus being on boosting profit. Below is a brief overview of some of the Final Report recommendations for animal welfare.

    • Animal welfare regulations are to be reformed so as to achieve welfare outcomes that (among other things) meet community expectations. However, the current process for setting standards for farmed animal welfare does not adequately value the benefits of animal welfare to the community.
    • The process for setting standards would be improved through the creation of a statutory agency responsible for developing national farmed animal welfare standards using rigorous science and evidence of community values for farmed animal welfare.
    • Conflict of interest is an issue — the main concerns were disproportionate industry influence and perceptions of conflicts of interests of agriculture departments (that are responsible for farmed animal welfare policy).
    • After closely considering submissions and evidence from hearings on this matter, the Commission maintains the view that the most effective approach would be to establish an independent statutory agency — the Australian Commission for Animal Welfare (ACAW) — with responsibility for developing the national standards — the standards would be implemented and enforced by state and territory governments.

    A copy of the Final Report can be found HERE, go straight to Section 5 for Animal Welfare. It is important to note that much of what has been documented in the report is still a far cry from what is expected by the majority of the public, however, it is a positive sign that the voice for animals grows stronger by the day and will get even stronger with more Animal Justice Party elected representatives.

    In light of the release of the report, our single AJP MP, Mark Pearson, questioned the NSW DPI Minister on the reports recommendations and how NSW would respond. As the below video and transcript shows, the Minister is still in the hands of industry and not representing the NSW public’s concerns about animal welfare.

    The Hon. MARK PEARSON: My question without notice is directed to the Hon. Niall Blair, Minister for Primary Industries. The recently published recommendation 5.1 of the Productivity Commission final report into Australian agriculture strongly endorsed the establishment of an independent statutory agency which would meet community expectations of accountability, transparency and high animal welfare standards.

    In light of this recommendation and given the Minister’s often stated confidence in the robustness of New South Wales’ animal cruelty laws and enforcement authorities, as well as the Government’s commitment to deliver on community expectations, will the Government establish an independent statutory body for animal welfare in New South Wales, and if not, why not?

    The Hon. NIALL BLAIR: I thank the Hon. Mark Pearson for his question. As Minister for Primary Industries, I have stated on many occasions in this House that we take animal welfare seriously. We believe that most of the participants within our industries take animal welfare seriously as well, which is why, quite often, we have allowed most of the system improvements and animal welfare improvements in New South Wales to be led by the industries that know them best. Good animal welfare practice is good farming practice when it comes to our primary industries. The Hon. Mark Pearson made mention of the Productivity Commission’s report. The Productivity Commission made a number of recommendations in areas concerning primary industries.

    The New South Wales Government takes note of the Productivity Commission’s recommendations but at times we can look at those recommendations and see that we have a system that is better suited to New South Wales. One has only to look at the recent decision of the Government to continue rice vesting in New South Wales, although it was contrary to the Productivity Commission’s recommendation when it looked at that issue. Likewise, when it comes to animal welfare we believe the systems and the agencies in New South Wales are adequate. At the moment they are serving their purpose. Because the Productivity Commission has looked at it and said one thing does not mean we have to go down that path. We always look at what is best for business and industry in New South Wales. We have the ability to take the recommendations of the Productivity Commission on board but we also have the ability to review our systems and current measures, and if they are adequate we will continue with those.

    I have faith in our systems in New South Wales. I have faith in the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. I also have faith in the agencies under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act that are responsible for the enforcement of animal welfare. I thank the Hon. Mark Pearson for his question. I know he is extremely interested in this area and I know he has a different view from me. He does not have the same faith in those agencies because he has been influenced by his past interactions with them. As I said, we look at what others research and find, and then we look at those issues through the lens of what is best for New South Wales. We did it with rice vesting, and it is what we are doing with animal welfare.

    The Hon. MARK PEARSON: I ask a supplementary question. Will the Minister please elucidate how the New South Wales approach to this report is either the same as or an improvement on the recommendations of the Productivity Commission?

    The Hon. NIALL BLAIR: The New South Wales approach is the best approach for New South Wales.

  • No place for celebrating animal cruelty in Mardi Gras

    As a young man still in his teens, I joined with friends from Newcastle and became one of the group of 78ers that participated in the first Mardi Gras. It was a distressing but also a celebratory experience. I remember looking at the police as they were arresting people and putting them into paddy wagons. To one officer I said, “I think one day the police will actually march with us in this parade.” He said, “You might be bloody right, son, but you better get out of here or you will end up in that paddy wagon.” I was lucky to escape a beating and my prediction about the police was quite prescient given the oppression gays and lesbians experienced from those in authority at that time. Now, of course, it doesn’t even raise an eyebrow when the police march at Mardi Gras. It is heartening to witness such positive changes over the decades.

    For me, Mardi Gras has always been a joyful celebration of queer sexuality as well as the life-affirming message that we live and love in equal dignity and worth to everyone else in the community.

    This year’s Mardi Gras theme of ‘equality’ makes sense to me. With equal marriage continuing to be a political football and the suicide rates for LGBTQI teenagers still too high, equality remains an elusive goal. While it is wonderful that a wide range of community, corporate and government agencies sponsor floats, we should be careful of the messages that are promoted using our hard-won credibility and acceptance.

    As the sole representative of the Animal Justice Party in NSW Parliament, I am deeply concerned with Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) being a sponsor of Mardi Gras, either of the parade, Fair Day or any other Mardi Gras event. MLA is the company behind the popular Australia Day lamb ads which aim to distract the public from thinking about the darker side of the trade. MLA is the representative body of Australia’s live export industry, arguably the cruellest animal exploitation industry permitted to exist today. Our call for equality should not be linked with the needless suffering of millions of animals. The vast majority of Australians would agree, with over 70% of Australians oppose to live export.

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    Before I was elected to NSW Parliament I spent many years at Animal Liberation NSW, running campaigns against live export. Every aspect of this industry shows a cruel disregard for animal well-being. Animals suffer long hours transported in trucks, without food or water, often in the searing heat. They are then jammed by the thousands into live export ships where animals stand in their own excrement, often for weeks on end. The air is foetid with ammonia fumes burning the eyes and the lungs. Not all animals survive the journey and sadly, they are the lucky ones. We have all seen the horror footage of sheep packed into the boots of cars, trussed up on the back of utes or penned in the blazing heat without food or water, waiting for the slaughterman’s knife.

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    LGBTQI equality should not be obtained through partnerships with organisations or industries that operate without a social licence. Horrific animal cruelty and abuse has been exposed in the Australian live export industry for decades, and yet the industry continues to operate with impunity and for the most part without reform. I do not want my beloved Mardi Gras to give credibility to a company that trades in animal cruelty. The MLA’s ‘lamb dance’ Mardi Gras entry makes a mockery of the suffering and death of millions of sheep on transport ships and in the bloody slaughterhouses.

    The MLA is cynically exploiting the feelgood vibe of Mardi Gras to gain community support by associating with the LGBTQI community’s brand. This will serve only to legitimise their cause and delegitimise our own. There should be no place for celebrating animal cruelty in Mardi Gras.

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  • Question Without Notice-Climate change increasing heat stress in cattle

    In the first week back to NSW Parliament for 2017 Mark questioned the Minister on what the government is doing to alleviate the suffering of heat stress in cattle.

    We know climate change is real, its happening, and while some argue the cause of climate change, the innocent animals are suffering. The root cause of this suffering is the exploitation and commodification of individual beings. As animal agriculture continues to expand, unaccountable to its adverse impacts, the planet and the animals that inhabit it will suffer.

    During the weeks leading up to this NSW suffered some of its highest temperatures on record. Cattle penned up in feed-lots and in dairies were greatly affected, in one of the worst cases reporting up to 40 dairy cows dying from heat related suffering. It is understood at least two other farms each suffered 15 or more deaths.

    HEAT STRESS IN CATTLE

    The Hon. MARK PEARSON: My question is directed to the Hon. Niall Blair, Minister for Primary Industries, Minister for Regional Water, and Minister for Trade and Industry.

    Given that the New South Wales Government recognises that climate change means that farmers will need to adjust to prolonged periods of high temperatures during the summer months, what steps is the Minister’s department taking to ensure that the recent prolonged suffering and death from heat stress of 40 dairy cattle at Shoalhaven does not become a regular occurrence in our paddocks and cattle and sheep feedlots, in particular where this occurred due to the failure to provide adequate shelter?

    The Hon. NIALL BLAIR: I thank the Hon. Mark Pearson for his question. I am sure that he had a good holiday, like the rest of us. He had plenty of time to fly his drone, no doubt. I hope he is well rested. I hear that he has not yet finished. I thank him for his question. I know that issues in relation to how stock handle extremes of temperature, including heat stress, is something that is managed by a lot of private businesses in our primary industries. In relation to the dairy that the Hon. Mark Pearson spoke about, I will take the question on notice and come back to him with a detailed answer. Given the nature of the question and given the timelines he spoke about, I am sure that there will be ongoing investigation. It would not be helpful for me to make comments while an investigation is being undertaken so I will take the question on notice and come back to him.

    Mr Jeremy Buckingham: Point of order: The question from the Hon. Mark Pearson clearly mentioned climate change, which is a very serious issue and an issue of interest to people across New South Wales as well as honourable members. So far the Minister has not mentioned climate change in his answer. It is pertinent. It is central to this issue, and I would ask that the President direct the Minister to be relevant to the question that was asked.

    The PRESIDENT: Order! I ask Mr Jeremy Buckingham to be seated. That is not a point of order by any stretch of the imagination. Mr Jeremy Buckingham should not use points of order as an opportunity to make debating points. The Minister was being generally relevant, and he will be heard in silence.

    The Hon. NIALL BLAIR: Before I take this question on notice and come back to the Hon. Mark Pearson I just make the observation that any person who would use the death of stock like this as some sort of political stunt in this Chamber, as Mr Jeremy Buckingham has just done, is an absolute disgrace. The Hon. Mark Pearson asked about—

    Mr Jeremy Buckingham: You’re a disgrace, mate. People are going to the wall and you won’t even say the words “climate change”. You’re a fool.

    The PRESIDENT: Order! I remind Mr Jeremy Buckingham that it was not my intention to call honourable members to order in this first question time. I ask that Mr Jeremy Buckingham allow the Minister to finish his answer in silence. The Minister has the call.

    The Hon. NIALL BLAIR: We all know that the Hon. Mark Pearson is passionate when it comes to animal welfare. He has asked a genuine question. I was showing the member’s question the respect that it deserved, and I was going through it and answering the substantive part of the question. The stunt that Mr Buckingham has just pulled is something that every member of this House should stand up and condemn him for.

    Mr Jeremy Buckingham: You pulled the stunt, Mate.

    The Hon. NIALL BLAIR: To use the death of stock and the loss of livelihood of a primary producer for a political stunt on climate change is nothing but a disgrace. If the rest of his colleagues had the respect to come to question time and to actually sit through this then I am sure they would be absolutely disgusted as well. He is a disgrace—using an unrelated topic to make a point like this.

    Mr Jeremy Buckingham: They are disgusted by you, mate. Thousands are farmers are going to the wall. The Minister is an absolute dinosaur and a fool.

    The PRESIDENT: Order! I will not tolerate Government Ministers, Government members, Opposition members or crossbench members yelling at each other across the table. It is clearly disorderly. It is not something that I will accept. I ask that the Minister direct his answer through the Chair. Does the Minister have anything further to add?

    The Hon. NIALL BLAIR: Getting back to the substantive part of the question, I thank the Hon. Mark Pearson for his question. I will take it on notice and come back to him with as much information as possible in due course.

  • 23/03/2016: Debate speech to Greens Climate Change Bill

    In the ensuing debate around climate change, emissions and human impacts that took part in reference to the Greens Climate Change Bill, all ignored the cow in the room, that is animal agriculture. Whilst I and the Animal Justice Party acknowledge the devastating impacts as a result of fossil fuels, we think it is somewhat convenient that animal agriculture is omitted from the debate. Is it easier to force government and industry to change than to change our own habits? In my speech I didn’t feel the need to address the common enemies but to challenge those that believe in climate change to acknowledge the impact of animal agriculture and hopefully change their lifestyle to suit.

    Google ‘meat and climate change’ or ‘diet and climate change’ and countless articles supporting this pop up, the UN acknowledges it and here in Australia it is the hot topic. When we have 29 million cattle, 72 million sheep and just 23 million people, our accumulated climate impact is right up there with France, with its 66 million people. It’s not always the human population that determines a country’s environmental impact.

    Read my speech below and for the full debate go HERE

    The Hon. MARK PEARSON: The Animal Justice Party supports the Climate Change Bill 2015. I congratulate Ms Jan Barham and her staff on all the work that has gone into this bill. The Animal Justice Party will support the Opposition’s amendment to refer this bill to the relevant committee. In December 2015 the landmark climate conference in Paris found that animal agriculture contributes more to global warming than the transport system around the world, so it is important to take this issue on board. Thirty-eight years ago Russian scientist Vladimir Nesterenko publicly stated that the death of frogs in the Himalayan mountains was a measure of climate and atmosphere crisis. Frogs have a membrane that measures in the most sensitive way any changes to the environment. Vladimir Nesterenko was a visionary scientist.

    We are now seeing the consequences of his prediction. It is important to look at the chain of events that led to animal agriculture. We clear old growth forest to grow grain with a lot of water, the grain is then harvested and transported long distances creating further emissions, it is stored in silos and from those silos transported to feedlots that practise intensive farming such as cattle, piggeries, battery hen facilities and other livestock. That then creates massive effluent pools. It is clear that the movement towards animal agriculture on such a major scale around the world is, as the Paris conference finding states, contributing more to global warming than the transport system around the world, which is quite a statement. It is irrelevant whether climate change is due to a natural change in the universe caused by the movement of the sun and earth or is directly related to human kind’s activities or a combination of the two—which the Animal Justice Party says is the case.

    What is relevant is that the human species is capable of bringing change, grappling with problems and crises and can contribute to reducing global warming. What is clear is that we have to support a move towards a plant-based diet. While we push animal agriculture into China and other Asian countries we are striking at and feeding the fundamental problems contributing to global warming. The Animal Justice Party supports this bill but will also support the Opposition’s amendment to send the bill to the relevant committee. The Animal Justice Party will push for terms of reference to include an analysis of the animal agriculture industry and its contribution to global warming. I commend the bill to the House. I commend the Opposition’s amendment to refer the bill to the relevant committee.

  • Close up shot of stranded barbed wire

    24/02/2016: The Devils Rope-The history of barbed wire

    On Wednesday 24th of February i gave an adjournment speech about the deleterious effects of the Devils Rope more commonly known as barbed wire.

    THE DEVILS ROPE

    For millennia, the great American plains were covered in fertile grasslands grazed by countless herds of buffalo, but that all changed with the coming of the cowboys and their cattle, followed by settlers planting their crops of corn and wheat. When the interests of these two groups collided, American ingenuity came up with a deadly solution that the American Indians called “the devil’s rope.” In the 1860s, Joseph Glidden designed a fence with sharp metal barbs twisted around a strand of smooth wire. This fencing kept the cows in, the buffalo out and the crops safe. By the late 1870s, three million pounds of barbed wire was produced annually and the buffalo died in their millions, cut off from food and water. By the end of the century, the west was crisscrossed with the devil’s rope.

    The devil’s rope quickly found its way to Australia and by the late 1860s barbed wire fencing was being rolled out across the country, creating death traps for wildlife and causing untold damage to introduced animals, including farm animals. As the twentieth century progressed, a new and searing image of barbed wire would enter the modern consciousness. Barbed wire became the symbol of World War I trench warfare and, later, the deathly emblem of the world’s concentration camps. Barbed wire truly is the devil’s rope.

    Today, barbed wire fencing is ubiquitous throughout New South Wales. One hundred and fifty years of barbed wire fencing has left a blight on the landscape and an ever-present danger for animals, killing and maiming flying foxes, gliders, native birds, and other vulnerable and endangered species as well as livestock—cattle, horses and sheep. More than 60 native specie’s across New South Wales have been recorded in barbed wire entanglements, and they are just the ones that have been witnessed. Two of the greatest risks are the proximity of the wire to food trees and water sources.

    There are simple solutions to this problem and it is a tragedy that more landholders are unaware of or have not considered these options in removing risks to animals: removing barbed wire from orchards and plantations where there are no livestock; removing barbed wire from old fencing no longer in use; replacing the top two strands of barbed wire with plain wire; covering the top strand of barbed wire with polypipe tubing; and stringing fencing with plain wire, which is now significantly cheaper and stronger than barbed wire.

    Many landholders use barbed wire out of habit from previous times when wire was not as strong and fencing labour was cheap. There is no longer any need for barbed wire fencing, except in limited circumstances. In the vast majority of cases, barbed wire can be reduced or removed without any adverse impacts on livestock management. Removal of barbed wire from agistments will also reduce the number of serious injuries caused to horses each year. Landholders should also be aware that they may be liable under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 for causing harm to protected animals caught up in barbed wire on their property. It is important for landholders to check their fencing regularly so that it does not become a death trap for native animals.

    The most enlightened legislation for the use of barbed wire can be found in Norway. Under the Norwegian Animal Welfare Act barbed fences must be constructed and maintained to reduce the risk of harm to grazing animals, and courts may order the removal of fences deemed dangerous to animals. Local councils are also empowered to prohibit the use of barbed wire for fencing on private lands. As parliamentarians we can mandate the removal of barbed wire fencing from national park boundaries and government-owned lands. We can provide funding for education materials to highlight the fencing options available to farmers to reduce the risks to wildlife, farm animals and other animals. Is it not time the devil’s rope was consigned to history?

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