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Australian State's Proposed Ag-Gag Law Threatens General Right To Protest, Critics Warn

from the watch-out-mushy-headed-vegans dept

Ag-gag laws usually claim to be about protecting farmers from animal activists. But trespass laws already do that quite effectively. In reality, ag-gag laws are mostly about preventing activists from gathering photographic evidence of the poor conditions in which animals are kept on some farms. Techdirt has written a number of stories about ag-gag laws in the US, and how they are being ruled unconstitutional. Now it seems that Australia is intent on bringing in ag-gag laws in response to an upsurge in animal rights activism in the country. Australian politicians have been getting vocal on the topic for a while. Back in April, Australia's Prime Minister called the activists "green collared criminals". In May, Western Australia's attorney general told journalists:

"I don’t know what the mushy-headed vegans think, or why they think, but they better get this through their mushy heads: that we're changing the law in a substantial way that spells trouble, big trouble, for anyone who goes trespassing on agricultural land with the intention of disrupting agricultural production"

In New South Wales (NSW), ag-gag legislation called the "Right to Farm Bill" (pdf) has already been published. According to the Guardian:

The Right to Farm Bill 2019, currently before the NSW parliament, can punish unlawful entry and disruption on "inclosed lands" with up to three years in jail, and increases the fine from $5,500 to $22,000.

The bill is aimed at stopping animal rights protests on farms, but a range of groups and MPs say the wording would outlaw civil protest on any enclosed space, including schools, hospitals, mine sites or banks.

The problem is that the definition of "inclosed lands" is far wider than just farms. It means:

any land, either public or private, inclosed or surrounded by any fence, wall or other erection, or partly by a fence, wall or other erection and partly by a canal or by some natural feature such as a river or cliff by which its boundaries may be known or recognised, including the whole or part of any building or structure and any land occupied or used in connection with the whole or part of any building or structure.

In addition, the new law would create an "aggravated" offense, which applies to "circumstances in which the person hinders, or attempts or intends to hinder, the conduct of the business or undertaking". "Hinder" is incredibly vague, and would catch all kinds of peaceful protests against any business, although this is denied by the NSW agriculture minister, who said the bill had been "mischaracterised by minority groups". However, given Australia's awful track record on protecting freedom of speech, people there are certainly right to be worried by the proposed law.

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Filed Under: activism, ag gag, australia, free speech, protests, reporting


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  • identicon
    Panky, 2 Oct 2019 @ 9:40pm

    Punish them

    Hi I live in Australia and have seen the incredible damage these protesters are doing. No wonder the farmers want them off their farms. Farmers are people as well and raise animals for food obviously. Most farmers do the right thing and hate to see animals suffer. Some don't and we need to do something about these individuals. But. We can't have activists stating that no one can make animals available for human consumption. We need that type of food. Activists are bone headed idiots period. They need to be reigned in a lot especially the young inexperienced ones that don't know a lot of facts. These laws although may be oppressive in a lot more places are needed to corrall these twits and take them out of the way of farmers quickly. And punish them for damage done without taking time and money from the farmers. The current liberal government are level headed people who want the best for Australia mainly. I support these laws and oppose ignorant young hoodlums.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 2 Oct 2019 @ 9:57pm

      We can't have activists stating that no one can make animals available for human consumption.

      Whenever anyone says “we can’t have people saying [x]”, that makes me suspicious of what other speech beyond [x] they want censored. See, the statement “no one can make animals available for human consumption” is less a edict and more an opinion. If you disagree with the opinion, fine, go nuts — but saying people can’t even express the opinion to begin with is…well, it’s unsettling, at best.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Matthew Cline (profile), 2 Oct 2019 @ 10:20pm

      Re: Punish them

      Hi I live in Australia and have seen the incredible damage these protesters are doing. No wonder the farmers want them off their farms. ... These laws although may be oppressive in a lot more places are needed to corrall these twits and take them out of the way of farmers quickly.

      There's already trespassing laws to handle that.

      And punish them for damage done without taking time and money from the farmers.

      And also already laws to deal with vandalism and/or destruction of property.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2019 @ 7:29am

        Re: Re: Punish them

        I was thinking the same thing. There are already laws in the book to take care of these protestors. You listed them. So why do they really need these new laws? Well, they don't want someone getting a job to work for them and the real intention is to film what they are doing wrong like Animal abuse. If you're working for them, you're not trespassing. This is what I think they're really trying to stop.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Stephen T. Stone (profile), 3 Oct 2019 @ 8:11am

          That is exactly what they’re trying to stop.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Gary (profile), 3 Oct 2019 @ 10:26am

          Re: Re: Re: Punish them

          Well, they don't want someone getting a job to work for them and the real intention is to film what they are doing wrong like Animal abuse.

          So the intent of the law is to criminalize whistleblowers filming animal abuse?
          And for doing anything that generates bad press for farmers?

          But it isn't about trampling crops, or other sabotage - which is already illegal?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Toom1275 (profile), 2 Oct 2019 @ 10:36pm

      Re: Punish them

      [Asserts facts not in evidence]

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2019 @ 2:37am

      Re: Punish them

      You really aren’t helping the stereotype of rural people being fucking idiots bro.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Rocky, 3 Oct 2019 @ 3:53am

      Re: Punish them

      I support these laws and oppose ignorant young hoodlums.

      Which is pretty much what the ruling class in the old British Empire thought about those uppity Irishmen that dared to oppose the status quo. The irony is delicious, but luckily for those "ignorant young hoodlums" you refer to, is that Australia doesn't have a newly founded crown-colony to dump them in as prison-labor.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2019 @ 5:53am

        Re: Re: Punish them

        LOL

        You're confused about which side Australia is on in the British Empire debate.

        (hint: Look at the flag)

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Yummy Vegan Cheese, 3 Oct 2019 @ 6:15am

      Re: Punish them

      Yes, surely if there is any evil in this world that needs to be severely punished it’s those awful .....vegans?

      The amount of spiteful vindictiveness towards “inexperienced” individuals who are just trying to support a cause is the real evil here. Although, I gotta say it’s been a long time since I’ve seen someone do such a spot-on parody of Mr.Burns from the Simpsons.

      “Are those smelly fake cheese eating vegans protesting again? “Release the hounds!”

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2019 @ 6:20am

      Re: Punish them

      Is this satire?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2019 @ 6:33am

      Re: Punish them

      The current liberal government are level headed people who want the best for Australia mainly. I support these laws and oppose ignorant young hoodlums.

      Y'see, that's the problem right there in a nutshell. You trust the current government to execute these laws as intended. But the laws aren't going to sunset with the government. Even assuming your faith in the current government is not misplaced, in 4 or 8 or 12 years, you'll have new people in government. And they won't necessarily be as "level headed" as the current one.

      But it's not the government (as in "the legislature") that enforces the law. And the prosecutors and police aren't going to be limiting their scope to just farm protesters once the shiny has worn off.

      The Bill is labeled and sold as targeting farm protesters, but there is no such restriction in the law being proposed. Any activist, any business, as long as the property can be defined by part of a wall, canal, or river. That's pretty sweeping. And remember, once the bill passes, the label on it disappears, leaving only the law.

      You think farm protesters are getting out of hand? Well then, you should make sure that the remedies being proposed are well suited to the problem. This one isn't.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      bhull242 (profile), 3 Oct 2019 @ 11:28am

      Re: Punish them

      To the extent that you’re talking about trespassing and vandalism by protestors and/or journalists, those things are already illegal; increasing the fines isn’t going to help farmers any, and jail time is unlikely to help, either.

      To the extent you’re saying that people are defaming farmers, that too is unlawful already, and there are steps you can take against that under existing law.

      To the extent you’re arguing against people stating their opinions, even in ignorance, and against journalists doing journalism, you’re trampling on free speech and freedom of the press, and government action isn’t the proper recourse in the debate of public opinion or misguided journalism. Even if they are advocating for the government to ban meat (which isn’t always the case), they should be allowed to express that opinion without fear of government reprisal. Even if what journalists report is not what farmers would like them to, the government shouldn’t be involved in this.

      And could you be any more condescending? “Ignorant young hoodlums”? “Bone-headed idiots”? That’s an awfully large brush you’re painting a lot of activists with, many of whom aren’t saying to ban all meat for human consumption, are only targeting the farmers you say should have something done about them, are reasonably informed on the issues (a lot of the ignorance comes from farmers being protective over “trade secrets”), and/or are not engaging in vandalism or trespassing. Also, many are not that young.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 2 Oct 2019 @ 10:24pm

    Telling what wasn't said

    "Hinder" is incredibly vague, and would catch all kinds of peaceful protests against any business, although this is denied by the NSW agriculture minister, who said the bill had been "mischaracterised by minority groups".

    So, funny thing, if the bill didn't leave open that 'loophole' it strikes me that it would have been much easier to just point to the language of the bill that clearly prohibited such issues. By instead trying to frame it as a 'mischaracterization' it reads more like an attempt to say that it wouldn't, rather than couldn't be used that way, and given the individual in question seems to have a hefty bias I'd say they can be trusted as far as they can be thrown one-handed.

    I suspect the claim will be put to the test when, rather than if, it comes up, with the only question being how long that will take.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2019 @ 1:39am

    inclosed ... got it

    So, what does 'enclosed' mean in legalese?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 3 Oct 2019 @ 7:48am

    Militant Veganism Isn't An Oxymoron

    I fear that some of our more distinguished commenters have missed the point. Militant veganism is a thing, unfortunately. As an unrepentant carnivore, I object to the idea of being harassed by activists intent on getting between me and a lamb chop.

    It seems that some of these people are getting out of hand, not merely seeking evidence of horrible cruelty to report to the authorities, they're actively trying to disrupt a perfectly legal business operation. Not okay.

    Here in Manchester activists have set up a stall on Market Street under the bridge that links the Arndale to Boots. They have posters up and give out free food samples and leaflets. That's fine. Keep it there. As a result of the upsurge in veganism, food outlets of every kind have increased the number of vegan food products; this is the market talking. Also fine.

    Marching into someone's farm, abbatoir, or other facility, disrupting work, and "liberating" the animals? Not fine.

    Yes, the laws against this kind of thing exist, and yes, they should be exercised. I see this as the government looking for an excuse to become more authoritarian. Liberal? I wonder if they call themselves that ironically.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      bhull242 (profile), 3 Oct 2019 @ 11:33am

      Re: Militant Veganism Isn't An Oxymoron

      Oh sure. I doubt anyone disagrees that militant vegans exist, and anyone looking at them would agree that they are in the wrong. I just don’t think it justifies any new laws or changes to existing laws, particularly ones that would negatively affect legitimate protests, activism, and/or journalism.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2019 @ 3:06pm

    I think the issue is that "trespass" is considered a very minor thing--technically, someone cutting across the corner of his neighbor's yard is a violation, but who would even bother to prosecute? Or if the neighbor complained, what would be the likely penalty.

    What is happening here is very different--malicious trespass, like vandalism in that it causes financial harm, like assault and battery in that it causes severe distress. Unfortunately, it doesn't cause exactly the same kind of financial or physical harm than those felonies, and can't be prosecuted as them. Like a luddite protester might shut down a factory assembly line for an hour--causing no physical harm at all but costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost productivity.

    So ideologues can go in, cause hundreds or thousands of dollars of lost profits or wasted work, and then pay a pittance (if anything at all) in fines.

    A law that identifies the elements (malice) and harm (interference with work) can distinguish these criminals from the people who merely enter someone else's property without permission (but also without meaning to cause harm.) That kind of distinction is (appropriately) common in the law--consider the difference between murder and negligent homicide.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Oct 2019 @ 5:44am

    Rather than enforce the laws against animal cruelty, let's pass a law against reporting it because as we always say ... if you can not see something then you can not say anything about it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Blue hopper, 4 Oct 2019 @ 4:38pm

      Re:

      "as we always say ... if you can not see something then you can not say anything about it."

      Reminds me of infant circumcision where they refuse to allow the parents to be in the same room when it is happening. There is a reason for this. If they were allowed in, you can bet the practice would have died out a long time ago.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    jaack65 (profile), 10 Oct 2019 @ 3:59pm

    Free Speech in Australia Is Not Possible

    I expected this bill's wording from the "People's" Republic Of China or the Russian Federation but not Australia. So politicians whose job is supposed to be crafting laws we are to live under should have done a better job. Seems they left the law writing to the farmers' legal team to make it all-encompassing and definitely vague.

    Censorship is abhorrent to freedom and information is the currency of democracy. "I am opposed to any form of tyranny over the mind of man." Thomas Jefferson
    So to prevent mistreatment of animals or sending sick animals that cannot walk to slaughter, we make speaking about these things illegal. Silence the whistleblower because PROFIT is more important than the quality of the food supply sold to the world. Everyone knows profit is king over everything else especially the rights of people. Sad that Australia has become a Trumplike continent. Money and more money and we make the laws vague and all-encompassing and put people in prison and then litigate later. Hope Australia doesn't become more like America where the rule of law is overridden by profits.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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