Government and industry roundtable meetings on animal welfare last year discussed whether animal rights groups should be stripped of their charitable status if they trespass on farmland in their attempts to expose animal cruelty.
Documents obtained under NSW access to information laws by the Greens and published today by The Guardian, detailed discussions held in August 2015 in joint roundtable meetings held to discuss farm trespass by animal rights activists.
The meetings involved a wide range of people including Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, NSW primary industries minister Niall Blair, and representatives from the RSPCA, NSW Police and rural industry groups including NSW Farmers.
According to The Guardian, a report detailing the outcomes of the roundtable discussions indicated the group questioned whether farm trespass was “an effective method of promoting good animal welfare and achieving improvements in those facilities which are truly substandard”.
The documents show a number of options were discussed in relation to trespass by animal rights groups.
Among the range of strategies considered, such as making it easier to prosecute animal advocates by altering how evidence can be gathered (such as the so-called ‘ag-gag’-style Surveillance Devices Act recently passed in South Australia), the roundtable proposed an option of stripping some animal groups of their charitable status.
“In a section titled “findings from the roundtable” it cites as one of several tactics revoking tax benefits for animal rights groups. Some animal welfare groups are listed as charities which grants them certain tax benefits,” The Guardian reported.
“Where there are organisations supporting animal activists in their activities, these organisations often derive significant taxation benefits from their recognition as charities, yet often appear to have other dominant purposes for existing,” the report states.
“For example, it may be possible to establish that the main purpose of the organisation is political rather than charitable and seek a determination as to whether this may be grounds to terminate its charitable status.”
Other options reportedly canvassed by the group included:
- that the NSW government “review the adequacy of penalties” for inclosed lands trespass offences;
- encouraging farmers to engage in legal action, and providing “information packs to farmers on launching civil action” for intentional trespass and nuisance;
- making it easier to prosecute animal rights activists by altering how evidence can be gathered under covert listening devices laws and increase the statute of limitations for certain offences;
- asking police to train farmers in surveillance tactics to monitor potential animal rights activists. It states they will “work with industry and police to facilitate training on best practice on-farm surveillance methods”;
- suggested tactics for farmers also include ensuring that a “balanced story” is presented to the community to “disenfranchise the activists from their ‘shock value’ tactics”. It recommends that they “humanise” trespass to “create a supportive united front to discredit tainted or biased information”.
Animal protection group Voiceless said it was stunned that “once again animal welfare has been pushed aside by those in a position to enact real and meaningful change, who instead continue to focus on silencing advocates and stifling transparency”.
“This is clearly an attempt to try and gag the whistleblowers, rather than address the heart of the issue: animal abuse across Australian industries. “
Voiceless said in recent years it had been animal activists who had:
- Exposed widespread live baiting in the greyhound industry, leading to government reform in Queensland, NSW, Victoria and Tasmania.
- Revealed extreme abuse of animals at Echuca’s Riverside Meats Abattoir, resulting in the abattoir being sanctioned and an investigation commenced by Victoria’s Chief Vet.
- Repeatedly uncovered systemic breaches in Australia’s live export industry.
“It has too often fallen to whistleblowers, individuals and animal organisations to expose systemic cruelty, cruelty which has not been picked up by the relevant authorities – those same authorities who are ostensibly responsible for ensuring good animal welfare on Australian farms,” a Voiceless statement said.
“Yet perhaps the most astonishing fact revealed by these documents is that at a meeting between federal and state agriculture ministers, it was not animal welfare that was discussed, but how to stop animal activists.
“Instead of wasting time and our tax dollars trying to silence the messenger, those responsible for animal welfare in Australia need to refocus on the heart of the issue – fixing systemic animal abuse.”
Escalation of illegal farm invasions is concerning: Minister
A spokeswoman for the deputy prime minister said the federal government was concerned about an escalation in illegal farm invasions.
“Animal cruelty is against the law and the Coalition Government does not condone animal cruelty. Evidence of acts of animal cruelty should be provided to the relevant enforcement authority for proper investigation,” the Minister’s office said in a statement to Beef Central.
“The Coalition Government is concerned about an escalation in illegal farm invasions carried out by animal activists to disrupt, harass, obstruct and interfere with lawful and legitimate farming and business activities.
“These illegal activities pose significant threats to on-farm biosecurity measures which increase health risks to animals, cause distress to farmers and their families and results in poor welfare outcomes for animals on these farms.
“Just as people are not permitted to trespass on urban private properties they should not be able to do so on rural enterprises, many of which are farmers’ family homes.
“The Coalition Government’s long term goal is to encourage state and territory governments to strengthen trespass laws and to seek a national approach to the protection of animal industries from disruptive and illegal activities undertaken by animal activists.
“Taxpayers would not support the concept of subsidising the operations of organisations that wilfully break the law through tax breaks.
“Animal welfare organisations that claim charitable tax status should be able to demonstrate the funds donated to them go to support bona fide charitable activities.
“Veterinarian and Coalition Senator Chris Back introduced legislation to the former Parliament which would have required immediate release to authorities within 24 hours of any evidence of animal cruelty obtained by animal welfare organisations that trespass on properties. I note this private members’ legislation was supported by a Senate Committee investigation and has significant merit.”