A Senate Committee has recommended that Federal Parliament pass amendments proposed by WA Liberal Senator Chris Back to national criminal laws, which would prevent people from holding evidence of animal cruelty for long periods before releasing it to authorities, and strengthen penalties against trespass.
After conducting an inquiry into Senator Back’s proposed Criminal Code Amendment (Animal Protection) Bill 2015, the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee handed down two recommendations last Friday.
The first recommendation was that the requirement in Senator Back’s bill for people to report evidence of cruelty within one business day to the relevant authority be changed to require evidence to be reported “as soon as practicable”.
The second recommendation was that, subject to the first recommendation being accepted, the bill be passed.
The six member committee which handed down the final report and recommendations comprises three Government Senators (two Liberal Party Senators and one National), two ALP senators and one Australian Greens Senator.
The Australian Greens submitted a dissenting report calling on Members of Parliament to oppose the bill.
In his concluding comments committee chair and Liberal Senator for New South Wales Bill Heffernan said the committee acknowledged that a significant number of the submissions to the inquiry questioned both the intention and the likely operation of the bill in regard to animal cruelty.
This included arguments that the proposed legislation would unfairly target those who seek to uncover animal cruelty, such as whistleblowers (including abattoir, farm and factory workers), undercover investigators and investigative journalists.
“Whilst the committee acknowledges these views, it also notes that the bill does not remove or limit the ability for people to report animal cruelty, nor does it preclude any individual from lawfully pursuing a specific case of ongoing and/or systematic animal cruelty,” Senator Heffernan wrote.
“The committee does note, however, the argument raised by some submitters about the prescriptive nature of the timeframe for reporting.
“The committee acknowledges that, particularly in the case of remote locations, reporting within one business day may not be practical or possible. The committee therefore suggests that the time frame for reporting be less prescriptive.”
In the Australian Greens’ dissenting report, Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon said the amendments proposed by Senator Back sought to “deter and punish” people who tried to expose visual evidence of animal cruelty in commercial animal industries.
“It would do this by effectively criminalising investigators while turning a blind eye to the perpetrators of that cruelty,” Senator Rhiannon wrote.
“Indeed, the bill would result in greater penalties being imposed on those who make visual records of animal cruelty, than those who would commit the cruelty which remains an illegal act.”
Senator Rhiannon said the overwhelming majority of the1600 plus written and proforma submissions received by the inquiry condemned the bill and its intentions. She said support for the bill came only from minorities that with commercial interests that would benefit from less scrutiny of their animal welfare practices.
“Without the voices and actions of Australians from all walks of life and political persuasions; without the journalists, activists and investigators of animal welfare issues; without the hard work of our animal welfare organisations across Australia, animals suffering systemic and casual cruelty would forever remain voiceless and unnoticed behind closed doors.”
The Greens have proposed their own recommendations, primarily that the bill not proceed, and calling for stronger legal protections for people who report animal cruelty.
To read the committee’s full report click here