Voiceless media comment: Ag-gag Senate inquiry

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Friday, 15 May 2015, 1:53 pm

Today, Voiceless spoke out against Australia’s first proposed federal ag-gag bill at a Senate Committee hearing in Canberra.

After months of debate and public discussion, today a Senate Committee hearing will be assessing the merits of the Criminal Code Amendment (Animal Protection) Bill 2015 (Bill) which was introduced by Western Australian Liberal Senator Chris Back in February. Learn more about the Bill here.

The Bill, which targets undercover investigations of animal enterprises and businesses, has been controversial from its introduction with Australia’s leading media outlets, civil libertarians, consumer protection groups, workers’ unions and animal protection groups unifying in opposition to the Bill. As a result, the Bill attracted an overwhelming 810 public submissions with witnesses, including Voiceless, now called to a public hearing today in Canberra.

Alongside RSPCA Australia, the Barristers Animal Welfare Panel and Sentient, The Veterinary Institute for Animal Ethics, Voiceless told the Senate hearing that ag-gag laws help to conceal animal cruelty and prevent the public from having a full knowledge of how animals raised for food are forced to live.

“While Voiceless does not endorse unlawful activities, it is clear that undercover investigations exposing routine or systemic cruelty, such as the recent greyhound live baiting exposé, have directly contributed to improving the welfare of animals in Australia,” said Emmanuel Giuffre, Voiceless Legal Counsel, who represented Voiceless at the hearing.

“Investigations which make use of undercover footage have resulted in individuals being charged under State-based animal cruelty laws; policy and law reform which improves the welfare of animals in animal enterprises; and enforcement action being brought against producers under Australian consumer law.”

“The true intention of this Bill is not to protect animals from malicious acts of cruelty, but to protect the commercial interests of animal enterprises from the damage which can result from the public finding out about incidents of animal cruelty and inhumane business practices,” said Giuffre.

Adding significant weight to opposition of the Bill, a consortium of some of Australia’s leading media bodies including News Corp, SBS, ABC and Fairfax Media have also published their own joint submission to the inquiry. Their joint submission warns against the criminalisation of sources, whistleblowers and journalists and the implications this Bill could have on freedom of political communication.

“This is a draconian measure targeted at lay persons and unmatched in any other area of law including suspicions of terrorist activity or other significant matters,” said their submission.

From Voiceless’s perspective, the sentiment of this proposed Bill is backwards: it targets undercover investigators and whistleblowers who risk their wellbeing and livelihoods to expose illegal acts of animal cruelty, rather than the perpetrators of that cruelty.

If Senator Back is serious about animal welfare, he should be working to strengthen the monitoring and enforcement of existing animal cruelty legislation, rather than seeking to prosecute individuals who speak up when they see animal abuse.

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For media enquires: 

Elise Burgess, Head of Communications

elise@voiceless.org.au | ph: 02 9357 0703 | mob: 0421 225 876

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