• 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.

  • Adjournment Speech on Rewilding our shared environment

    The Animal Justice Party supports the acquisition of land to protect, conserve and expand wilderness, including the rewilding of land once used for animal agriculture. Over the past 200 years we have lost 75 per cent of our rainforests, nearly 50 per cent of all forests and 99 per cent of south-eastern Australia’s temperate grasslands. The remaining ecosystems are under constant threat of clearing and in desperate need of protection. It is a national shame and a disgrace. We need to start looking at ways to bring back life into areas that have been stripped of biodiversity. In Australia ecologists focus on rehabilitating landscapes by killing animals that are deemed to threaten biodiversity. We have poisoned, shot and bludgeoned to death millions of foxes, rabbits, pigs, goats, cats, horses, camels, dingoes and kangaroos over the past hundred years, all in the name of conservation. Our landscapes continue to degrade, and it is clear that we must do things differently.

    In the United States and Europe the concept of rewilding with animals is seen as part of the solution. Rewilding is a critical step in restoring self-regulating ecosystems. Rewilding acknowledges that natural processes are complex and that the interplay between flora and fauna allows nature to evolve to take care of itself. Species are introduced or reintroduced based on the role they can play in an environment. After initial support, they are left to create the balance required. The reintroduction of apex predators such as wolves is one example of successful environmental repair. In Yellowstone National Park grey wolves had been hunted to extinction, and by the 1990s ecologists were concerned about the damage caused by large herds of elk. Once wolves were re‑established in the park, their predation on the elk reduced the damage caused to vegetation. The elk broke into smaller groups, foraged less and moved more frequently, allowing grasslands to recover. Scavenger species began to thrive again, with ravens, eagles, coyotes, lynx and bears feeding on wolf‑kill remains. Insects that fed off the rotting carcasses became the food of smaller birds and rodents.

    It is time to trial the benefits of rewilding in the Australian landscape. Just as in Yellowstone, we have taken our apex predators out of the ecosystem. The mass killing of dingoes changed the environment, and at the same time we introduced species such as foxes and cats. Smaller native predator species such as quolls and goannas struggled with habitat loss. Quolls once numbered in the hundreds of thousands and are now a threatened species. It was not until quoll numbers plummeted that rabbits were able to gain an ecological toehold. A recent trial reintroducing dingoes into Sturt National Park has shown early evidence that dingoes suppress cat and fox populations, with smaller mammals and marsupials surviving in increasing numbers.

    Returning apex predators to the environment is only one part of the equation. Their relationships within ecosystems are critical. Research and evidence-based trials must be undertaken, and we should be open‑minded about what constitutes an apex predator. We cannot go back in time. Foxes, dogs and cats are now native animals; they have been born here for many generations and now fill an ecological niche. Given the massive habitat loss and change in landscapes, we must accept that our ecosystems are evolving and adapting. Rewilding is about allowing evolution and adaptation to occur while reducing destructive human activities. One bulldozer in one day can take out an ecosystem that has evolved for millennia, yet we demonise the fox and the cat. Thousands of hectares of degraded sheep paddocks are more of a threat to biodiversity than a thousand dingoes or foxes. It is well past time to protect and expand our wilderness, for the sake of all the species that share this fragile, ancient land.

  • Opinion: Who benefits from silencing animal activists?

    Recent media publications by The Land and The Guardian of meeting documents provides disturbing details of a forum held in August last year between agribusiness owners, NSW Farmers Federation, Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce and NSW Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair along with Police and the RSPCA. They reveal the extent to which industry and government are working together to silence activists seeking to expose animal cruelty in farming.

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    Federal agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce

    The documents obtained under freedom of information laws confirm what many activists have argued for a long time; the interconnected links between animal agriculture, government and sadly, the RSPCA. The forum participants committed to an action plan to harmonise state laws regarding the supposed threat of “farm trespass” by animal activists. The plan reflects the fears of an industry that understands the implications of its routine practices being exposed to the public. Transparency and truth are to be avoided at all costs. We also see Federal and State governments intent on ensuring cruel practices remain hidden from view. Rather than listening to community concerns and accepting that animal welfare standards need to be radically reformed, government is determined to keep animal welfare legislation in the 1970s.

    One of the more alarming revelations is the active participation of the RSPCA in such discussions. The RSPCA’s willingness to side with industry and government is an affront to their charter, and would no doubt come as a surprise their many supporters. The fact that the RSPCA participated in such discussions which made no mention of enforcement or prosecution of animal cruelty laws is concerning. One is entitled to ask, what is the role of the RSPCA in farm trespass policy discussions? Why are they not holding industry to account for their cruel practices? As has been said many times; if we kept a dog in the same conditions that industry keeps pigs in intensive farms, animal cruelty charges would be laid.

    The document identified that;

    38 piggeries in the Young area of NSW, along with poultry farms in other states, were known to have been “invaded for the purpose of installing unauthorised surveillance devices, ostensibly to ‘reveal’ animal husbandry practice believed to be poor”.

    Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, this statement reflects the absolute lack of concern for animal well-being. The treatment of these animals is appalling, not poor. Animal cruelty is standard industry practice, not an aberration. Activists seek to bring transparency and truth to the public arena, enabling consumers to make balanced decisions about their purchases and food choices.

    If industry is confident that their practices are acceptable then there should be no issue with footage showing industry practice. If the government is confident that their animal welfare laws are so robust, then let’s show those lawful practices to the public. Tail docking, castration, eye teeth clipping, debeaking, removal of skin (mulesing), battery cages, farrowing crates, faeces laden broiler sheds- let’s shine the camera light onto the everyday cruelties that these animals suffer.

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    NSW Assistant Police Commissioner Geoff McKechnie is documented as stating that;

    “These incursions fall into the ‘trespass with intent’ category, NSW Police have been investigating these incidents actively, but evidence gathering around such incidents presents significant challenges”.

    No comment on the crimes exposed by activists?

    Many may not be aware, but the NSW Police are also an enforcement agency under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. It is not just the RSPCA or Animal Welfare League that has powers to enforce and prosecute animal cruelty crimes, yet the attitude of government and the NSW Police is to leave enforcement to a poorly resourced charitable organisation that is almost completely unaccountable to government. Yet significant police resources are being used to investigate and pursue animal activists.

    Statistics show that cruelty committed against animals often leads to crimes committed against people, yet, as can be seen from this attitude of the NSW Police, significant police resources are being used to investigate and pursue animal activists filming intensive farms. This shows a narrow-minded approach to tackling crime and future protection of the community. Would the community, or indeed government be satisfied if a child services charity were tasked with the investigation and prosecution of crimes committed against children? Would it be acceptable for the NSW Police to be actively pursuing whistle-blowers filming or recording child abuse despite the physical smacking of children being lawful?

    NSW Police also told the forum that;

    “the ideology of farm trespass by animal activists was “complex” and not based on improving animal welfare practices.”

    This is correct, it is not the job of animal activist to improve animal welfare. This is the job of every stakeholder that attended this forum and their decisions should be based on truth, transparency, and the wider public’s expectations of what is acceptable welfare practices. Indeed, the activists are doing the job that all these stakeholders are failing to do themselves, that is to publish the truth to the public and allowing the public to decide what they expect. Instead, animal welfare is seen as an unnecessary cost to already profitable business models that seek to sanitise and disconnect the public from what really goes on behind the factory farm shed door.

    The documents go on to suggest;

    “Introduction of other measures to improve evidence collection, for example, security cameras may also be considered.”

    How can someone, on one hand, justify installing elaborate security recording networks to deter activists YET dismiss sensible reforms such as mandatory CCTV of inside the shed or inside the slaughterhouse? Does one not stop and think that maybe, if farmers installed cameras facing in the shed, on the animals, then there will be no need for cameras facing outside the shed to deter activists?

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    Indeed, for me it has become personal. Twelve months ago I attempted to visit Rivalea pig slaughterhouse to discuss the cruel method by which pigs are subjected to gassing prior to slaughter. I was refused entry at the front gate and never left public space and yet I am currently the subject of a police investigation as a result of that visit. Again, this is a sign of cover up and intimidation, rather than let an elected MP formally tour the facility and witness the slaughtering method, I was denied access. Rivalea engaged their industry heavyweight, Australian Pork Ltd, and now almost 12 months to the day I am contacted by the NSW Police and informed that I am under investigation. It is true that, due to all the industry efforts to hide and cover up standard practices that they are ironically so proud of, they have in fact made the public more suspicious.

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  • MEDIA RELEASE-Animal Justice Party MP questions Katrina Hodgkinson’s priorities concerning Blantyre Farm’s DA

    MEDIA RELEASE

    Mark Pearson, Animal Justice Party MP, has questioned why Member for Cootamundra, Katrina Hodgkinson, is advocating priority for the interests of intensive pig farmers Blantyre Farms, over the interests of her own electorate. Intensive pig farmers, Edwina & Michael Beveridge of Blantyre Farms lodged a development application in December 2015 to duplicate their Young shire, Golden Grove and Dead Horse Gully piggeries in the neighbouring Hilltops council region. Blantyre Farms have continued to attract wide spread criticism since the public exposure of their Young piggery practices and operations through the Aussiefarms campaign in 2013.

    The Blantyre Farms Development Application has generated significant community and public interest with thousands of objectors raising valid and legitimate concerns and issues, which have been echoed by council and state government agencies.”
    There is mandated planning process at both state government and local council level, and Ms Hodgkinson should just allow that process to take place in the interest of a thorough examination of the merits of the application.

    Mr Pearson confirmed issues raised by thousands of objectors includes the welfare of animals, the environment and a broad range of concerns about the impact on the community, immediate neighbours, workers and consumers, public health, biosecurity and biodiversity.

    From my understanding, it has not been a case where Hilltops council have ‘sat’ on this DA or that the ‘approval process had been lagging’, as has been suggested by Ms Hodgkinson.

    The assessment period has been exacerbated by information from Blantyre Farms themselves, which has repeatedly been found ‘wanting’ with questionable, missing, ambiguous, and non-evidenced information.

    Most recently Blantyre Farms have been required to revise information they have previously submitted to council. This includes pig mortality numbers now estimated to be approximately 8,600 per year. These are the piglets and pigs which die or are killed in the Blantyre Farms intensive sheds.

    A critical factor environmentally, is how the massive volume of Blantyre Farms generated waste would be managed. In their previous information, Blantyre Farms stated they would be able to disperse all the effluent and dead composted pigs on their property. Blantyre Farms have now stated they will still have an excess surplus of approximately two hundred & fifty tons of manure per year. This surplus waste will now need to be disposed of elsewhere. Mr Pearson is also concerned that Ms Hodgkinson does not appear to acknowledge the voice of the local community, her own electorate and the public and has not acknowledged the critical inclusion of submissions and council’s obligations to adhere to the planning process.

    Ms Hodgkinson was dumped by her own party from any ministerial responsibility. Her sole responsibility now is to represent all members of her own electorate in a fair, balanced and non-biased manner. Based on concerns I have had raised with my office, this does not appear to be happening.

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    Mr Pearson has continued to strongly oppose intensive piggeries and was one of the original activists involved with the exposure of a Parkville based piggery in which former prime minister, Paul Keating had a commercial interest.

  • When is a pig effluent spill on a public road acceptable?

    For all the government’s talk about biosecurity and environmental protections, it seems that the Minister overseeing such areas of compliance is not even aware of major breeches involving trucks overflowing with pig effluent being spilled on public roads. Not only is he not aware but also seems to think the issue has something to do with the roads Minister.

    Last year this same Minister rammed through attempted ag-gag legislation under the guise of biosecurity. Biosecurity is a serious issue, yet it seems piggery owners transporting pig waste from their intensive piggeries and then spilling effluent on public roads is acceptable, well acceptable enough for the Minister not to be aware of this ongoing issue. Watch my question to the Minister and his attempted answer, in which, not only does he not seek to investigate the incidents but seeks to give a pat on the back to the piggery owner in question.

    The Hon. MARK PEARSON:  There have been a number of complaints to Hilltops Council from Harden residents concerning the frequent spilling of animal effluent on the public roads from Blantyre Farms piggery. Residents have had difficulty obtaining accurate information about these spills given that industry is only required to “self report” problems concerning the transport and disposal of animal waste off site.

    What steps has the Minister’s department taken to investigate whether Blantyre Farms has failed to discharge a biosecurity duty under section 23 of the Biosecurity Act 2015?

    The Hon. NIALL BLAIR: I certainly draw no correlation between the question in relation to pig excrement and the last day of Parliament for the year. I will take the opportunity to welcome also the Hon. Rick Ball who has chaired one of our local land services [LLSs] here in New South Wales. Good to see him in the Chamber. I will take the question on notice because I know that there was an element of the question that directly related to my portfolio from a biosecurity point of view. But this issue also relates to local government, and the Hon. Duncan Gay’s portfolio in relation to road transport. Some of the things that I know the Hon. Duncan Gay has been working on with local government and the Department of Primary Industries are the issues of truck washes. It is certainly something that we are attuned to, it is something that is not isolated to one part of the State and it is something that we want to make sure is as practical as possible.

    We know that it is one thing to have fantastic producers, it is one thing to have fantastic growing conditions here in this State, but it is also vitally important to make sure we allow those producers to get their livestock transported easily throughout New South Wales. That is one of the reasons why the Hon Duncan Gay has put so much work into his pinch points and Bridges for the Bush program, to make sure we unlock some of those pinch points and not put extra costs or burdens on to our producers to be able to transport commodities like livestock, whether it is to saleyards, processing facilities or within different farms. To get a holistic answer, particularly in relation to biosecurity and my portfolio, I will take the question on notice and come back to the member.

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