(Debate, 9 September 2015, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
I put on the record my concerns, and the community's concerns, about the Biosecurity Bill 2015. This bill is ostensibly about the prevention, elimination and minimisation of biosecurity risks. However, many in the community believe that it will also help prevent exposure of systemic problems and cruelty and gag those working for animal rights. I have had numerous constituents contact me and ask me to oppose these parts of the bill. While I support measures to ensure biosecurity for our farms and food supply, I oppose the catch-all provisions in this bill that could criminalise animal advocates working to uncover cruelty in factory farming. We should protect whistleblowers and those who expose illegal and unethical behaviour, particularly when it is out of sight and there are strong financial incentives.
The bill imposes penalties for breaches of up to $1.1 million and three years imprisonment or $220,000 for individuals, depending on the category, with further significant penalties for each day that an offence continues. I am concerned that these penalties may be used to stifle and punish those exposing cruelty and abuse. It would appear that people who expose animal cruelty could be punished more harshly than those who commit violence on animals and trick consumers about the production methods they use. The work of animal cruelty campaigners has already exposed the gruesome live export industry, caught workers pushing sick animals with bulldozers, and forced some real changes to improve animal welfare and ensure that consumers know what they are buying. This work is often the only way we know about widespread animal abuse in our food production system.
Since the mid-twentieth century, factory farming has been the dominant method used to rear animals for meat, eggs and dairy products. Animals are kept in cramped conditions in cages or barns and are unable to act on their natural instincts by roosting, foraging for food, socialising or rearing their young. They never go outside to breathe fresh air or to see sunlight. Voiceless estimates that 500 million animals are kept in these awful conditions each year. Exposure of cruel, illegal and unethical practices is also vital for informing consumers about false labelling and marketing that covers up the real conditions. Improvements in labelling legislation and codes of practice have come about following these campaigns, albeit that more reform is needed.
We have seen what happens when consumers and the community find out more about battery hen cages, sow stalls and the live export industry. Consumers need to be reminded of how harshly animals can be treated so we can use our purchasing power to demand change. I am concerned that this bill may impede that exposure and prevent consumers from being able to act from an informed position. Animal rights campaigners have often been the main scrutineers of animal welfare standards. We need strong, independent checks to prevent systemic cruelty and abuse. I hope that the audit and inspection powers in the bill are used to ensure that all farm animals are treated with compassion and respect. Constituents and advocacy groups have raised with me serious concerns about this bill and I share their concerns about these aspects.
Read Full Debate HERE