Chris Back’s animal protection bill vital to protect against radical activism: Agribusiness lawyer

James Nason, 17/04/2015

A Brisbane agribusiness lawyer Australia says a notorious case of animal activism in 2003 provides a compelling reason why Liberal Senator Chris Back’s Animal Protection Bill should be enacted without amendment.

In 2003 South Australian animal activists entered a live export feedlot in the dead of night and fed shredded ham to sheep, making them unsuitable for export to Muslim markets in the Middle East and causing a reported $1.3 million in losses for the exporters who owned the sheep.

One of the activists, Ralph Hahnheuser, was charged with contaminating goods to cause economic loss and trespassing.

He admitted his role in the act, which was video-taped by his Animal Liberation group colleagues, telling the media at the time it was ‘a small price to pay for stopping the brutal trade’ and stating that he would do it again.

However, Mr Hahnheuser was acquitted when a Federal Court judge ruled that he did not intend to cause economic damage as his primary concern, and was acting in the interests of environmental protectionism, arguing that sheep are part of the environment.

Four years later, three Federal Court judges upheld an appeal by the exporters Rural Export & Trading (WA) and SAMEX involved, stating that protecting sheep from harm during a voyage overseas was not capable of being “environmental protection”, and ordered Mr Hahnheuser to pay the exporters court costs, believed to have been in the vicinity of $70,000.


Trent Thorne

Agribusiness lawyer Trent Thorne from McCullough Robertson in Brisbane says a Commonwealth prosecutor would encounter the same ‘intent’ problem if similar actions were taken by animal activists today and proceedings were commenced under the Criminal Code Act 1995 currently in place.

“This is clearly a gap in the legislation at present, but the Animal Protection Bill should address this issue,” Mr Thorne states in a submission to the senate inquiry into Senate Back’s Animal Protection Bill.

He argues that the case provides “cogent and compelling evidence of why the bill should be enacted without amendment”.

Mr Thorne’s submission is among more than 700 submissions that have now been published on the website of a Senate Committee which is conducting an examination into Senator Back’s legislation.

The vast majority of submissions are from individuals and groups urging senators to oppose the legislation.

Several animal rights groups launched a public campaign against the proposed legislation earlier this year, taking out a national newspaper advertisement to actively encourage their supporters to email MPs and Senators involved in the inquiry to voice their opposition to what they described as ‘dangerous ag gag’ laws.

In contrast to many submissions now published on the website, Mr Thorne says he wholeheartedly endorses the “simple aims” of the Animal Protection Bill, which he lists as “minimising delays in the reporting of malicious cruelty to animals” and “preventing interference with the conduct of lawful livestock production”.

Radical elements of animal rights activism

Until now, he says, Australia has been fortunate to avoid the “more radical elements” of animal rights activism that has been present in the United States and Europe for decades. He points to this article from the US National Animal Interest Alliance, which documents many of those examples.

In 2003, the same year that activists broke into the feedlot in South Australia, a radical animal activist in the US bombed two office buildings in the San Francisco area, becoming the first US domestic citizen to be named on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists List.

The FBI has described eco-terrorists and animal rights extremists as “one of the most serious domestic terrorism threats in the US today”.

This was based on “several reasons” including the sheer volume of their crimes (over 2000 since 1979), the economic impact of their crimes (losses of more than $110 million since 1979), the wide range of victims (from international corporations to lumber companies to animal testing facilities to genetic research firms); and their “increasingly violent rhetoric and tactics”. For example, a communiqué sent to a California product testing company said: “You might be able to protect your buildings, but can you protect the homes of every employee?”

Mr Thorne said the US Government responded to the rising campaigns of reckless and wilful damage by enacting the far-reaching Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) in 2006.

The penalties enshrined in the AETA are significant and include life imprisonment.

Mr Thorne said it would be naïve to suggest that such wanton acts of violence and criminal damage would be unlikely to happen to Australian livestock producers in the future, pointing to the 2003 SA feedlot intrusion as an existing precedent.

Mandatory reporting requirement not unusual or unique

He also argues that the scope of the mandatory reporting component of Senator Back’s Animal Protection Bill is not “unusual or unique” in the Australian legislative landscape.

If animal rights activists believe animals should be afforded the same rights as humans, he asks, should it not be mandatory to immediately report evidence of malicious cruelty to animals, just as it is mandatory under law to report cases of domestic violence and child abuse?

While societal expectations alone would support such evidence being delivered without delay to the relevant authorities to ensure that the perpetrators were brought to justice, the State of Victoria last year introduced a new criminal offence imposing a clear legal duty upon all adults to report child abuse information. The maximum penalty for failing to disclose the information to police is three years imprisonment.

“This needs to be compared to the position advocated for by the animal rights groups that are against the mandatory reporting obligations in the Animal Protection Bill,” he said, quoting a Voiceless press release which states that forcing individuals to present evidence as it is discovered means that incidents of cruelty will always be characterised as ‘one-offs’.

“Campaigners for victims of domestic violence and child abuse did not bemoan the fact that incidents are reported to authorities on a ‘one-off’ basis,” Mr Thorne said.

“On the contrary, the emphasis is on reporting each incident to stop the circle of violence and abuse.

“If we take a step back and follow the philosophy of the animal rights groups, they endorse an ideological construct that humans and animals should be afforded the same rights.

“In a society where humans and animals should be afforded the same rights, why would an animal rights group believe that is it acceptable for them to suppress and censor suffering to satisfy a media focused agenda, which has the clear potential to be detrimental to the health and well-being of the allegedly abused animals?

“There is no benefit derived from waiting to build a greater body of evidence for domestic violence and child abuse victims; if evidence exists it must be used to pursue prosecution of the perpetrator without delay.”

“If this is compared with the position of the animal rights activists, they operate on a self-imposed time schedule, are not ‘animal-centred’ and do tolerate abuse in circumstances where they acknowledge that it is a deliberate tactic to aggregate footage of alleged abuse, which causes delays in reporting cruelty to the relevant authorities.”

Conflicting views among animal groups

Mr Thorne says he also believes some groups have a clear conflict over this issue.

“I would submit that it seems perverse that the position being advanced by the RSPCA is that lawful agricultural operations performing lawful activities are mandatorily required to report incidents of alleged animal cruelty, but activists who enter these facilities unlawfully, and record alleged animal cruelty within these operations, are not to be subjected to the same mandatory reporting requirement.

“…Does this mean that the RSPCA believes that animal rights activists are in a separate class, and are not required to report animal cruelty on a mandatory basis?

“Where is the ‘morality’ in holding onto footage of alleged animal cruelty, in circumstances where the delay in providing the footage to the relevant authorities will potentially lead to further acts of cruelty.”

“In any event, it could be argued that the prosecution of offenders is an afterthought for the activists, because the main purpose of their media campaigns is to turn public opinion.

“How much abuse is ‘enough’ to show ‘systemic abuse’ and why do the animal rights activists get to be judge, jury and executioner in terms of the material that is disseminated to the Australian public?”

He said that, in his view, it could be argued that some advertising campaigns by animal rights groups bordered on misleading or deceptive conduct under Australian Consumer Law.

In many cases a livestock property is where producers also live, and breaking into their property is the equivalent of breaking into their home.

In Australia you are ordinarily deemed innocent until proven to the contrary. However, animal rights activists started from the other end of the spectrum and operated under a different paradigm, namely that businesses/individuals operating in livestock production are immoral and breaching animal rights on a daily basis, and are guilty on that basis.

This was despite it being clear that there was no incentive for producers to treat livestock in their care poorly, as they have a vested interest in getting the livestock to market in the best possible condition so that they an achieve the best possible return.

“It cannot under any circumstances be deemed acceptable that the participants in a lawful industry (and the employees working within that industry) can be subjected to intimidation, threats of violence and/or property damage; the people who are making these threats and/or carrying out property damage are aligned to a minority philosophical position (animal rights) i.e. there is no current societal endorsement that this type of conduct is acceptable in Australia.

“By way of conclusion, if an individual has sufficient conviction in their beliefs and are concerned with livestock production, they are free like every other citizen in this country to engage in political debate and attempt to change the way our society operates via our elected representatives, not undemocratic, vigilante action.”

“…There is absolutely nothing dignified or courageous about sneaking around on other peoples’ property after dark, often with nothing more than threadbare allegations from disgruntled former employees. The simple reality is that there are current avenues available to deal with alleged animal cruelty issues via complaints to the RSPCA or the police.”

Mr Thorne’s full submission can be viewed here



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  1. Katrina Love, 21/04/2015

    Not sure what happened in that last sentence of mine in previous comment, but it was supposed to say “the end justifies the means” .

  2. Katrina Love, 20/04/2015

    James’ logic is seriously flawed in his comparison of child abuse and animal agriculture: do not police paedophile task forces set up intricate and complex stings which infiltrate and monitor for months, possible even years, known paedophile rings, gathering information, working undercover, gaining trust etc. in order to get a successful conviction?

    James also maintains that there are current avenues available to deal with alleged animal cruelty via complaints to RSPCA and the police. Might I point out that as was the case in the recent exposé of the horrific cruelty and abuse being meted out to small animals (and greyhounds) by greyhound racing identities and staff, RSPCA relied on the evidence gathered by Animals Australia and Animal Liberation QLD in order to gain police assistance in entering properties for inspections and siezing more evidence; had Back’s Bill already been in place, it is likely that we would have seen the undercover activists arrested rather than the perpetrators of the abuse.

    Sorry James, but sometimes the end justifies the abuse – punish the abusers, not those who expose the abuse.

  3. Jack Hateya, 19/04/2015

    I want Chris Back’s self-serving AG-GAG bill to be defeated. It is clearly designed to protect animal abusers and silence those who, at considerable risk to themselves, expose those who inflict cruelty in the name of profit. What most involved in animal agriculture can’t seem to comprehend is that the truth is now out there, thanks to social media and the internet, and their customers do not like what they see. What the industry views as normal and acceptable, the vast majority clearly do not. Stop trying to silence those who expose the ugly truth, try evolving instead.

  4. Brad Petersen, 19/04/2015

    It is not a false impression, people involved in livestock production actually are a minority.

    I would also challenge your inference that the populous are taken in by minorities using one sided campaigns, that’s an insult to the intelligence and the reasoning skills of the general populous, made based on nothing more than an assumption.

    Remember this too: the bill would effectively apply a ‘shield’ to a great deal more animal enterprises than just livestock production. It could be used, for example, by greyhound trainers, many of whom would no doubt be wishing this bill had been passed before the 4 Corners exposê on live baiting.

    I’m making an assumption in saying that I think you are probably a livestock farmer, thus it is more likely you who has the one sided campaign, and it would be based on your own self interest.

    Perhaps you should read the other submissions to get an idea of where the majority is on this issue, and in particular, the one the editor kindly posted a link to in response to my last comment. I’ll add that those are the tip of the iceberg, there are many many more submissions which have not yet been published on the senate webpage.

  5. Garry Edwards, 19/04/2015

    Finally some intelligent, rational context being placed against an incredibly sensitive and serious issue for all involved in livestock production. I would like to personally congratulate Trent on such an articulate response to the issue at hand. The most dangerous thing about this issue is that the vast majority of people involved in Livestock Production enterprises do not speak up and as such create the false impression of being a minority. The reality is that in many circumstances, such as the animal rights debate, it is the vocal minority that attempt to influence the perception of the general populous through one sided campaigns. If anyone is serious about the issue of animal welfare surely they have a moral obligation to report incidents of abuse immediately. I have no sympathy for anyone caught abusing animals. Farmers must stand up for their rights to conduct a lawful business.

  6. Brad Petersen, 17/04/2015

    So James, I see you have reproduced just one of the submissions made to the senate committee charged with investigating the impact of the proposed Bill which is commonly, and very accurately referred to as the ‘AG Gag Bill’. There have been hundreds of other submissions to that committee, the vast majority of which state a very different position to this by opposing the bill, some of which represent legal groups. Why have you not presented the counter arguments? Isn’t that what real journalism entails, given a balanced view? Oops sorry, of course it’s ok to give just the one viewpoint, the one you think your readers will want to read, never mind any other. Wouldn’t want to give the impression the views of your readers are in the vast minority now, would you!

    Brad, we ran two stories on Senator Back’s bill yesterday, one focusing on agribusiness lawyer Trent Thorne’s submission, and one focusing on animal welfare lawyer Dr Malcolm Caulfield’s submission which you can read here: – Editor

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