Senate debates

Tuesday, 25 June 2013


Animal Welfare

11:40 pm

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

About six weeks ago in Young in New South Wales, to the west of us, the owners of an intensive piggery became aware in the middle of the night that their property had been invaded. They became aware of this because some days earlier members of their staff had seen that in the ceiling of the farrowing area, the area in which the heavily pregnant sows give birth to their piglets, had been secreted video equipment and listening equipment. Initially the staff thought that management had put the devices up there to check on them. When they questioned the management of this piggery—and I hasten to say that it is a minimal disease piggery, which I will explain in more detail in a moment—all of them came to the realisation that this equipment had been illegally placed into the piggery. Since the piggery was staffed from dawn until well after dusk, obviously at night there had been a break-in.

But, furthermore, when they came to examine it more closely, it appeared that the source of power required a different type of electrical plug to connect than the power cabling inside the piggery. So it would appear that these people, acting illegally, had actually examined the facility initially. They had gone away. They had modified equipment. They had come back a second time to install it. On examination it was noticed that there was no modem, which obviously then meant that any footage, be it video or audio, would not be able to be transmitted electronically and meant that the people would have to come back again. So they staked the place out and, sure enough, about six weeks ago in the middle of the night these people returned presumably to collect the video material. I assume they would try to use it to allege animal cruelty.

I will make a number of points in relation to this. Firstly, these people were acting illegally. They were illegally on a property where they had no permission to be. Secondly, they placed themselves at risk in the sense that they were interfering with the electrical connectivity in the building. Thirdly, they placed the animals at risk from an animal welfare point of view. One can imagine the distress of and the stress on these animals, many of them, no doubt, first farrowing sows, who are the subject of all of those conditions of females who are having their young for the first time. And, of course, there was the risk to the minimal disease status of this piggery which, indeed, goes to the financial viability of these operations. They are very expensive to establish. They are incredibly expensive to maintain to ensure the biosecurity of the animals in that piggery. Again, it goes to the question of animal welfare.

These activists, upon being confronted by lights and people coming towards them, made off. They left behind a vehicle which clearly identified who they were and from where they had come. It is to me a moment of great regret that to date the New South Wales Police Force have not chosen to prosecute them to what should be the fullest extent of the law. This is an operation of the highest level of professionalism, supervised by specialist veterinarians who oversee the management of that particular facility. What is even worse is that there does not seem to have been a howling of protest by those who are responsible for activist operations in this country of the illegal actions of these people. Where have we got to in this country when it seems that people can simply, at will, move into the private property of others and carry on the way that they have. Is this acceptable in our society? I suggest to you it is not.

I have for some time now been working on the draft of legislation that would, if it was able to be legislated—and I am not sure it can be in the federal area because of the constitutional responsibility for animal management resting with states and territories—would make it thus that it would be illegal for somebody who took or received video or still footage of wanton cruelty to animals. It would also make it a legal requirement that they would immediately, within a limited period of time of 24 or 48 hours, make that footage available to authorities so that it could be the subject of proper investigation and so that action could be taken. Indeed, if wanton cruelty was found to have happened, firstly, it would be nipped in the bud to ensure it did not continue and, secondly, those responsible would be brought before the full extent of the law.

As an example, can any of us in this chamber, or anybody watching this evening, imagine a scenario in which somebody came into the possession of footage of a child being molested or abused who would not immediately want to present that footage or those images to the authorities to make sure that those responsible were examined and prosecuted immediately? I find it totally unacceptable that anybody would take footage, or receive footage, and hold it for any period of time. I cannot understand a possible explanation. In the last couple of years in this place, when I have put that question to people who found themselves in that position, the only answer they could come up with was, 'We needed to get our ducks in a row.' I say that this is a totally unacceptable circumstance.

I will give an example of what we are seeing internationally now. In the United Kingdom, bovine tuberculosis is once again unfortunately seeming to move through the populations of cattle and sheep. Fortunately in this country, as Senator Sinodinos may recall, in the 1970s Australia was able to eradicate bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis. Of course, Madam Acting Deputy President Crossin, being from the Northern Territory, you would no doubt be aware of the BTEC problem, and very proudly does the Australian agriculture and veterinary community point to our capacity to do this. In the UK, they have not been able to, and unfortunately TB is spreading. Regrettably, tuberculosis seems to be being harboured and spread through the badger population. One would think best thing is to control the badger population, control those animals that are carrying or are showing signs of tuberculosis, and you will go a long way to eradicating it in the food producing animals. But no; animal activists have decided, for reasons best known to themselves, that they are going to put themselves in the way of this happening and place at risk human health through tuberculosis in dairy herds finding its way into milk for human consumption.

In the few moments that I have left, I want to speak of another disease exotic to Australia at the moment, and that is foot-and-mouth disease. If it arrived in our country, the most conservative estimates are that, in the first year alone, there would be a $12 billion cost to the Australian economy. That is just the direct cost. Can you imagine, Madam Acting Deputy President Crossin, a circumstance in which, if foot-and-mouth disease were diagnosed, a complete ban was placed on transport across the Northern Territory and the north of Australia? We know what the impact would be. I appeal to reasonable people to work with authorities, to work with industry and to address themselves to this wanton activism.