By Mitchell Clarke
Nationals Eastern Victoria MP Melina Bath has accused the State Government of “failing” Victorian farmers following the release of the final report into the Inquiry into the Impact of Animal Activism on Victorian Agriculture.
The report made 15 recommendations focused on building confidence in existing animal agriculture standards, modernising the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 and ensuring reports of animal cruelty were addressed appropriately.
“Our recommendations address the problems raised with us by people across the state and will help to build public confidence in an industry that is vital to Victoria and that has high standards of animal welfare,” committee chair Nazih Elasmar said.
“Those animal rights activists who are engaging in illegal behaviour must stop – they can make their point, but they must do so without harassing and frightening farmers and their families and staff.”
But the Nationals MP wasn’t convinced, accusing the committee members of ignoring farmers.
“Instead, Labor MPs drove the Inquiry in another direction altogether delivering recommendations to indulge the ideological agenda of law-breaking activists,” Ms Bath said.
“After receiving hundreds of submissions supporting stronger farm trespass laws and the emotional and financial distress caused by animal activists in Victoria, committee members have largely ignored farmers.”
The report also recommended strengthening biosecurity laws in a bid to address the risk of pests and diseases being spread by activists at agriculture businesses.
“The committee has determined that animal rights activism poses a significant biosecurity risk to animal agriculture businesses and to our economy,” Mr Elasmar added.
“Fortunately, we have avoided an outbreak of disease linked to activists entering Victorian farms. To avoid an outbreak in the future the committee has recommended all Victorian commercial farms and abattoirs have a biosecurity management plan in place and that visitors who fail to comply with those plans be penalised.”
Ms Bath brought the issue to Parliament’s attention following a widely publicised incident where activists broke into the Gippy Goat Café.
Gippy Goat owner John Gommans, who also owns the Caldermeade Farm and Cafe said farmers would be particularly concerned by the recommendation to ‘codify public interest exemptions’.
“The 50,000 farming families who grow the food and fibre that feeds and clothes our state are now faced with government-sanctioned surveillance,” Mr Gommans said.
“It will mean anyone caught breaking into a farm and installing cameras can argue they were acting in the public interest – even though trespass is breaking the law.
“I’m calling on the Andrews Government to urgently reject this recommendation.”
The report said there was a need for mandatory CCTV in all slaughterhouses.
Animal Justice Party MP Andy Meddick said he was “pleased” the committee took a reasonable and balanced approach.
“Routine practices in farming would be illegal if we did them to our cats and dogs,” Mr Meddick said.
“I hope this committee report is the first step in addressing the abhorrent cruelty animals used in agriculture endure.
“There were a total of 15 recommendations and I don’t agree with all of them, but some of the key positive recommendations that, if enacted, will improve the lives of animals.”
The committee received more than 500 written submissions and conducted seven public hearings in Melbourne and regional Victoria.
57 witnesses, including animal rights activists, abattoir owners, farmers, transport operators and Victoria Police gave evidence.