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Chris Back’s Animal Protection Bill attracts more than 400 submissions

James Nason, 02/04/2015
Veterinarian and Liberal Senator for WA Chris Back

Veterinarian and Liberal Senator for WA Chris Back


The Liberal senator and veterinarian has tabled a bill in Parliament which, if passed, would require people with images or footage of animal cruelty to hand it to authorities within a day of receiving it.

It also seeks to increase penalties against people who intimidate, threaten or attack people associated with operating a lawful animal enterprise, and would prohibit trespassing onto or vandalism of such enterprises.

The Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport legislation committee is currently conducting an inquiry into the proposed legislative changes, and more than 400 submissions have now been published onto the committee inquiry’s website.

The vast majority of published submissions are from individuals who oppose the bill. Many of these submissions follow a nearly identical format, containing just 50 to 100 words in total.

Several submission writers said they were motivated to act by the recent advertisement placed by animal rights groups in the Australian newspaper urging public opposition to Senator Back’s legislation.

An underlying theme of most opposing submissions is that animals in agricultural enterprises are being mistreated and laws requiring mandatory immediate reporting of animal cruelty footage and stronger penalties for trespass only serve to protect people who abuse them.

Many submissions describe the proposed legislation as “Ag Gag” laws, a term Senator Chris Back vehemently rejects (more on this below).

Selected quotes that give a sense of the content and tone of many opposing submissions include:

  • “This is a misguided attempt to silence investigations”;
  • “(this) criminalises those who reveal the abhorrent cruelty”;
  • “the clear intent (of this legislation) is to protect industries practicing animal cruelty from public exposure”;
  • “(this is) is intended to gag those whose intent it is to highlight gross abuses of animal cruelty through the accumulation of evidence”;
  • “(this) would hinder brave and committed animal activists from shining a light on despicable acts of animal cruelty”;
  • “(this) would allow people guilty of cruelty to be let off for insufficient evidence”;
  • “Unauthorised entry is justified when individuals have reason to believe illegal practices or breaches of accepted standards are occurring”;
  • “I have little faith in most farmers and people who choose to make money from animals” and
  • “Basic common sense will tell you nobody can build a case against such horrid practices if any evidence gathered must be turned over in 24 hours”.

Opposing submissions have also been lodged by several animal welfare and rights groups (ie the RSPCA, Animals Australia, PETA Australia, Animal Liberation) as well as the Law Council of Australia, the Law Institute of Victoria and the Law Society of South Australia. The Law institute of Victoria says the provisions of the bill “unreasonably and unjustifiably curb the human rights of journalists and animal activists to exercise their rights to freedom of expression”, while the Law Council of Australia says the bill produces a number of anomalies and unintended consequences, and “does not sufficiently demonstrate the necessity of legislating the key offences”.

Submissions which support the bill have been lodged by individuals, farmers and numerous agricultural sector groups such as the National Farmers Federation, the Cattle Council of Australia, the Sheepmeats Council of Australia, Livestock SA, Australian Dairy Farmers and Australian Chicken Growers.

Where opposing submissions typically work from a base position that animal abuse is commonplace in animal agriculture, farmers in their submissions make the point that good animal welfare goes hand in hand with good business and profitable farm enterprises.

‘The first lesson a farmer learns is that welfare of farm animals underpins the whole successful production cycle…’

“The first lesson a farmer learns at a young age is that while farming is a business, it is the health and welfare of the farm animals that underpins the whole successful production cycle,” one farmer wrote.

Supporters of the bill emphasise the point that trespass is illegal and no individual or organisation should take the law into their own hands.

Nor should any lawful enterprise be subjected to harassment, threats or vandalism, supporters of the bill maintain.

A western Queensland cattle producer wrote of receiving abusive phone calls and death threats in the wake of the June 2011 live export controversy.

“I am a beef producer. My home is my work place. I have been at the receiving end of abusive telephone calls and social media attacks because of my business. One such phone call, it was suggested that my own throat and that of my daughters should have been slit and our heads smashed on concrete instead of the cattle abused in Indonesia which was highlighted in the ABC A Bloody Business. The man from Victoria did not identify himself, but took it upon himself to judge me without knowing me, because I stood up for my industry, He felt it his right to state that my daughter and myself should be inflicted with pain and suffering because he was emotionally driven by horrific sense of abuse on a TV program.”

The Australian Chicken Growers referred to instances where animals had been released during raids which led “to aggression between dominant animals and resulted in the animals having to be destroyed”.

Another submission said farmers were being vilified while animal groups were “merely looking to stockpile cases of cruelty simply for greater media and shock value”.

A common theme of many supporting submissions surrounded the biosecurity risk posed by unlawful farm entries.

For example the Australian Lot Feeders Association suggests that the bill be strengthened to include breaches of farm biosecurity standards that result from unauthorized property access. “The importance of farm biosecurity standards cannot be understated, particularly given that the close proximity of animals in a feedlot results in a higher risk of disease spread,” the ALFA submission states.

The Australia Veterinary Association made the point that people should report cruelty as soon practically possibly, but said the time frame in Senator Back’s bill was “too limited and restricted”.

The AVA’s submission recommends greater investment and resourcing of animal welfare enforcement agencies, increased investigative powers and strengthening of existing animal welfare legislation.

“This will reduce the need for covert and illegal tactics to uncovered malicious cruelty,” the association states.

It also calls for the Animal welfare strategy, or an equivalent program, to be reinstated to promote sustainable improvements in animal welfare across all animal use sectors and to coordinate animal welfare improvements.

Back rejects “Ag-Gag” tag

Addressing the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association conference in Darwin last Friday, Senator Back said the proposed legislation had sparked vitriol and attacks on him personally.

He said his bill was “simply to do with protecting animals”.

“If someone sees and films malicious cruelty to an animal, they are obliged to go and tell the responsibility authority and produce the image.

“Nothing else stops them, they can keep to doing it, they can go to the media, they can go to parliament, they can go to Aunty Maud, they can work with that responsible authority and if they think it is sustained they can keep going.

He said also rejected the mainstream media’s widespread use of the term “Ag-Gag” laws to describe his bill.

“People call them ag-gag laws. How the hell something is gagging someone when it actually requires you to report cruelty is beyond me.”

He said past actions by animal activists who illegally entered legitimate farming businesses made it essential to have stronger laws to protect people, property and animals on those farms.

He cited one example last where activists broke into a feedlot in WA and cut off the water supply to the animals and then cut the hydraulic supply lines beneath trucks and trailers.

“Anyone who breaks in and puts those animals at tremendous risk will find themselves in default under this legislation,” he said. “Perhaps that is why I’m getting such a huge amount of criticism.”

It was also essential to protect these operations from biosecurity risk. A Foot and Mouth disease outbreak across Australia’s agriculture sector would cost Australia an $50 billion a year, he said.


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  1. Denise wilson, 07/12/2015

    there were actually well over 600 submissions regarding this Bill.

  2. Gwen Ferry, 20/04/2015

    Saying farmers love their animals is the same as saying they love their bank accounts and independent lifestyle. That is all it is to them. same as greyhound owners who love their dogs! Governments who allow atrocities to occur are as guilty as those that perform the atrocities. Barnaby Joyce, Sinister Minsiter for animal cruelty is one of those! He is for the anti gag bill, he wants animal exports strengthened, he wants caged hens, gestation crate pigs and on it goes. Minister for Animal Cruelty is his true vocation!

  3. Neil Roberts, 11/04/2015

    the danger of ag-gag laws is it promotes activists as the bad guys.. Recently we have seen so many examples of extreme animal cruelty.. Not through the rspca, police or government bodies but through activists putting their lives on the line to expose those who are protected by the system. We can not have faith that these corporate bodies are doing their jobs.. The greyhound industry is a great example of this.

    People want those who commit atrocities against animals exposed and brought to justice.. We should be questioning why the tax payer is funding all these institutions who are failing the animals and the people in the first place. This is a blatant attempt of keeping these horrific acts of cruelty hidden away.. If anything we should be supporting the work of activists. At least they get results..

  4. Jack Hateya, 11/04/2015

    Of course this legislation is designed to hinder those who seek to document and put a stop to legalised animal cruelty. It’s so blatantly obvious. What those involved in agriculture in this country seem unable to comprehend is that what they view as “normal”, their customers view as cruel. It’s time they changed their questionable ways rather than trying to muzzle those with a genuine concern for the welfare of animals. It makes them look evasive and guilty. If there’s nothing to hide, why would they fear the scrutiny of anyone?

  5. Albert Mah, 10/04/2015

    Put simply the requirement to report photo and video evidence of animal abuse in farming would put an immediate stop to further accumulation of evidence. This is why the proposed legislation is labelled Ag-Gag.

  6. Annette Mason, 10/04/2015

    If the govt “animal welfare police” were seen as effectively doing the job, animal advocates & activists would not be needed to ensure the general public is kept informed.

    The hush jobs going on have just been highlighted by the disgraceful Greyhound Racing Industry. I have nothing to do with that industry but was well aware of the evil practices so dont try and tell me the authorities didn’t know. That there is/was taxpayer funding for the “sport” just amplifies the disgrace. Some farmers and their meat and dairy industries are equally deplorable. The lies and rubbish about live export again atests to the willingness of the govt to protect what should be abolished.

    The old chestnut of nothing to hide means nothing to fear is right. Activists are hardly going to waste their time and limited resources exposing soneone doing it right.

  7. Teri Kocbek, 10/04/2015

    How can you gag Australia when the proper legislative foundations are not yet applied – “report to an authority” and yet the rspca for eg. is not ‘equipped’ to act. Plus why do you keep publishing accusations about activists breaking the law before proven guilty.? As if genuine activists would do such a thing – especially at a time – ag gag legislation is being considered – that’s right – they wouldn’t.

  8. Trish Brown, 07/04/2015

    My thoughts exactley Katrina and liam

  9. Liam Hansen, 03/04/2015

    It is frustrating when the bill in it’s nature inhibits groups from obtaining enough information to provide enough evidence of cruel practices, and then forces them to advise those who they are investigating that they are under investigation.
    I wonder how the police would feel if they had to inform the public within 24 hours of obtaining any evidence. I wonder if they felt this improves the ability to prosecute.

  10. Katrina Love, 03/04/2015

    Punish the abuse, nto the exposure of it. The ends justify the means.

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