'Ag-gag' laws expose Coalition's freedom of speech hypocrisy

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(Image via @_AnimalAdvocate)

New laws proposing to fine and/or gaol animal welfare activists for exposing animal cruelty shows that, under the Abbott Government, freedom of speech is only a right for the Right. Peter Wicks from Wixxyleaks reports.

NOBODY LIKES TO SEE a dead cat I’m sure, but it is safe to assume that Tony Abbott was happy to see a dead cat bounce in one of the recent opinion polls.

That bounce in the polls has rattled the chains of those previously silenced within the Coalition over their desires to promote our apparently God-given “right to be a bigot”.

That’s right, folks, the “right to offend” and racially vilify debate is back again and once again, with MP’s like Cory Bernardi talking about altering section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. The plan is to amend the act so that journalists and commentators would have the right to say whatever they like, even if it is offensive to individuals or whole sections of the community. In short, the plan is an open license for racism.

The justification for this insanity is that there should be complete freedom of speech and also the ultimate freedom of the press. A sentiment that, at a quick glance, may look both reasonable and logical — however, put under any kind of scrutiny, the cracks soon start to appear.

Those skeptical of the Coalition's motivations regarding freedom of the press might point to the censorship of media related to asylum seekers. This would include the “on water matters” reasons for information censorship and the allegations regarding the mistreatment of those wallowing in misery in detention centres.

There is, however, another example of censorship that is currently being debated in Senate, however, which has not had the same level of exposure as the asylum seeker issues. In many ways, however, it is even more disturbing in that it seeks to shut down the publishing and broadcasting of existing material, rather than preventing material from becoming available, such as in the case of refugee arrivals.

The proposed changes to laws being currently debated are known as "Ag-gag" laws and they are a form of censorship designed to protect poor struggling farmers who only wish to engage in a bit of animal cruelty.

The Ag-gag laws, if passed, would involve media agencies receiving harsh and heavy penalties that would include severe fines and the possibility of gaol terms should they choose to publish or broadcast footage or material exposed via covert operations or surveillance.

The aim of these laws is not to enforce laws regarding animal welfare and cruelty, instead it seeks to shut down the exposure of those committing criminal acts.

Examples of footage that would not have made it to the public or possibly seen fines and gaol time passed down to media for its exposure are the ABC Four Corners episode that exposed the cruelty within the greyhound racing industry, the surveillance footage from piggeries and virtually every puppy factory video or photograph you may have seen.

In fact, under this bill, the recent campaign you may have seen on TV regarding puppy factories and pet purchases could see the management of Animals Australia, as well as the management of any station that broadcasts the commercial, gaoled for use of footage obtained covertly.

In fact, quite a substantial amount of what is published on this site could see yours truly thinking twice before picking up the soap in the prison shower block if this bill was passed.

As we have seen by the reaction to the recent horrific image of an Australian cow about to have its head bashed in with a sledgehammer in a Vietnamese abattoir, animal welfare is something that the public are passionate about. Given this outcry, politicians should be aware that the public are looking for solutions to end the cruelty not new ways of concealing it.

Some have claimed that a blow from a sledgehammer is humane and quick. Those who think that way should watch the below video from Brazil. Those who do think it's cruel may wish to spare themselves the viewing. You will notice about 15 seconds into the video, the first cow, after several blows, actually raises its head and looks at its executioner as if to plead for its life.


The issue that sections of the current Government apparently has with this type of evidence of cruelty is that the evidence is gathered via trespassing on farmers' land. It would appear that some within the Coalition feel that property laws being violated is more significant than wholesale animal cruelty, which is, of course, also illegal.

Those who shoot footage that highlight these horrific and illegal acts of cruelty would love the footage to see the light of day from other sources so they don’t feel the need to risk their own safety or arrest, however this is just not possible. The reason this footage can only be obtained via covert means is that not one body has the legal authority to carry out surveillance to uncover these hideous crimes — not the police nor the RSPCA.

Until government take steps to increase the powers of the RSPCA and give them similar investigatory powers to police, we are forced to rely on those willing to risk stepping outside the law in order to see these people brought to justice. Let’s not also forget, these are not poor farmers, breeders, or trainers struggling to make a living as some would have you believe — these are people guilty of criminal behavior. Most are also repeat offending criminals who are committing criminal acts of animal cruelty.

As a society, we would not expect the police force to be able detect perpetrators of child abuse or organised crime without the powers of surveillance and the rights to enter and search premises with a warrant. However, government seems to expect the RSPCA to be able to catch and prosecute animal abusers while not giving them any powers with which to be able to gain evidence for a successful prosecution. Time and time again, we see these criminals given pitiful fines for minor offences and walk free on cruelty charges due to the inability to legally gather evidence.

The Ag-gag bill being debated would make the gathering of evidence even more difficult than it currently is. Ag-gag legislation seeks to further protect those criminals who are guilty of acts of animal cruelty. Ag-gag legislation does absolutely nothing to protect the public and only acts to limit the public’s access to information.

One aspect I find truly alarming is that Ag-gag is nothing short of media censorship and it is legislation being pushed by a Coalition government that wants to say it is looking to expand on the freedoms of the press through its debate on section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Ag-gag legislation does nothing at all to prevent the criminal act of animal cruelty, it only makes it harder to discover and prosecute it. It is almost like a government sponsored protection racket.

It would appear that the Coalition have their plan to tackle animal cruelty on display through this debate and it is a relatively simple plan: ignore the abuse and shoot the messenger, once again targeting whistleblowers.

Are any of us really surprised?

Peter Wicks is an ALP member and a former NSW State Labor candidate. You can follow him on Twitter @madwixxy.

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