Senator Chris Back.SENATOR Chris Back has tabled his private Senator’s Bill, which aims to curtail escalating trespass by animal rights activists on livestock facilities.
Nanjing Night Net

The Western Australian Liberal Senator flagged the new laws last year in response to ongoing trespass and campaigning by activists gathering video footage aimed at emotively influencing consumer opinion and laws, against intensive livestock farming.

He said the Criminal Code Amendment (Animal Protection) Bill 2015 was tabled on Wednesday and is aimed at reducing “malicious cruelty to animals” while also making provision to protect lawfully operating animal enterprises.

“This Bill will give people the incentive to report the cruelty without delay”The Bill proposes to impose a five-year imprisonment penalty as punishment for an offence which results in economic damage exceeding $10,000.

An offence which results in substantial bodily injury or economic damage exceeding $100,000 will carry a 10-year imprisonment penalty, and an offence which results in serious bodily injury or economic damage exceeding $1 million will carry 20 years imprisonment.

Life imprisonment is also proposed for an offence which results in the death of any individual.

In a statement, Senator Back said his Bill was an amendment to the Criminal Code which contained two parts.

He said firstly it addressed the reporting of malicious cruelty to animals and secondly it dealt with illegal interference in the conduct of lawful animal enterprises.

“The first division of the Bill stipulates that if a person takes visual images of what they believe to be malicious cruelty to animals, they must report this to the responsible authority without delay,” he said.

“Authorities are then empowered to investigate, to act swiftly ensuring further cruelty is averted and to prosecute the perpetrators if proven.”

Senator Back said his decision to introduce the Bill follows recent examples of activist groups who present visual images – taken sometimes up to 12 months prior to disclosure – effectively preventing the responsible authorities from accurately investigating animal cruelty allegations in a timely manner.

“As a veterinarian, I am as appalled as anyone else in the community when animals are subject to malicious cruelty,” he said.

“This Bill will give people the incentive to report the cruelty without delay in order for the authorities to investigate and end the cruelty immediately.”

Senator Back said the Bill did not “censor or restrict the media, media coverage or any person in any way”.

“As a veterinarian, I am as appalled as anyone else in the community when animals are subject to malicious cruelty”He said the second division of the Bill was directed at anyone who intimidates, threatens or attacks a person or people associated with operating a lawful animal enterprise. It also prohibits trespassing onto or vandalism of such enterprises.

“Such actions are criminal in nature, invade the privacy of affected persons and can place animals at risk from a welfare, biosecurity, health and safety point of view,” he said.

Senator Back said the motives of many animal activists are clear by their own published statements.

He said they want to see the end of Australia’s livestock industries with many opposing any form of animal production and wanting to drastically reduce meat consumption.

“In so doing, they are directly attacking Australia’s international reputation, export trade and the profitability of agricultural and rural communities generally,” he said.

Senator Back told Fairfax Agricultural Media he’d received strong support for the basic intent of his Bill from groups connected to the agricultural sector.

He said he now intended to consult more widely – including with the RSPCA and federal crossbench Senators – given the legislation had been tabled.

Senator Back said he’d already been “attacked” by Greens animal welfare spokesperson Lee Rhiannon over the proposal.

Senator Rhiannon has accused Senator Back of trying to introduce US-styled “ag gag” laws which he has vehemently rejected.

In an interview with ABC radio last December, after Senator Back declared his proposal would formally advance in the new year with support from his party room, Senator Rhiannon criticised the move.

She said the majority of farmers do the right thing and they “love and they care for their animals”.

But she said, “There’s still a role for undercover investigators to expose animal cruelty, and that’s what Senator Back is attempting to shut down”.

“If you look into what Senator Back is saying, he also talks about how the actions are criminal in nature, he talks about invading the privacy of affected people on the farm, and it’s certainly not doing anything to protect the role of whistleblowers,” she said.

Senator Back has previously said he’s been falsely quoted in “every second newspaper around the countryside” as trying to introduce US-style “ag gag” laws.

But he said his proposal represented the exact opposite of those laws because it aimed to strengthen genuine animal welfare protections and safeguards for farmers.

The Bill’s explanatory memorandum says, it uses “the least rights restrictive approach in that it does not censor or restrict media coverage”.

“It does not require material to be approved before it may be published,” it says.

“It does not restrict the ability of journalists to protect their sources. The Bill is not designed to censor the media or any other person in any way. Nor is it designed to allow the relevant authorities to censor the media or any other person in any way.”

The Bill also defines the meaning of malicious cruelty to animals.

It says, “A person engages in malicious cruelty to animals if the person engages in an unlawful activity for the purpose of inflicting unnecessary pain, injury or death upon domestic animals”.

It also stipulates that humane slaughter for the purposes of food production, or for compassionate reasons, “is not malicious cruelty to animals”.

The Bill also defines an animal enterprise as a commercial or academic enterprise that uses, sells, houses or stores animals or animal products for: profit; food; fibre production; agriculture; education; research; testing.

Other animal enterprises include: a zoo, aquarium, animal shelter, pet shop, breeder, furrier, circus; a rodeo or other lawful competitive animal event; and any show or similar event intended to advance agricultural arts and sciences.

Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has also vowed to support regulations that also prevent animal rights activists trespassing on farms and livestock facilities to gather video footage to use against industry.

He’s described those activists as “vigilantes” who are creating biosecurity risks by taking the law into their own hands.

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