The Prime Minister has vowed to introduce tough new penalties for vegan activists if he is re-elected in May. The Melbourne CBD was shut down last week by a peaceful protest against the use and abuse of animals in factory farms. The protest was part of a national day of action, when protesters also targeted farms and abattoirs across Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. Scott Morrison condemned the protesters as ‘shameful’, ‘unAustralian’ and ‘Green-collar criminals’.
What happened during last week’s protest?
Last Monday, vegan activists chained themselves to three vehicles stopped in the middle of the intersection between Flinders Street and Swanston Street in Melbourne. The protest caused significant delays for commuters, disrupted tram routes and made it necessary for ambulances to be rerouted. 39 people were charged as a result of the protest, among them several teenagers. The charges included obstructing a roadway, obstructing police and resisting police.
Activists held signs promoting veganism and inviting people to watch the recently released animal rights documentary Dominion, which documents the horrific practices of Australian factory farms in meat and egg production. Organisers belonging to the campaign Vegan Rising called for people to go vegan and stop supporting the exploitation of animals.
A simultaneous protest was held around the Melbourne Aquarium. Vegan activists also chained themselves to hired excavators at an abattoir and blockaded a gas chamber at a pig farm.
Responses to the protests
The federal government condemned the protests, labelling the protesters as extremists and militants. Some members of the public ridiculed the day of action on social media and vowed to continue consuming meat products. However, others reported finding the vegan activists’ message persuasive, saying they had been moved to reconsider their consumption of animal products. Some animal rights advocates said they supported the message of the protests, but not the methods the protesters used. Viewings of the Dominion documentary on Youtube reportedly skyrocketed after the protests.
The farming industry injects around 60 billion dollars into the economy each year. However, vegetarianism has been growing in Australia in recent years due to increasing awareness of how the farming of animals contributes to greenhouse gas emissions as well as a growing awareness of animal rights issues. A recent study estimated 11% of Australians now adhere to a vegetarian diet.
In January 2019, Animal Rights group Aussie Farms launched a website that lists the locations of all public farms in Australia. The National Farmers Federation has condemned the database, saying it is used to harass and intimidate farmers and their families and that its publication infringes on their privacy.
Proposed new laws
On Wednesday, the Attorney-General Christian Porter announced that if the Coalition is re-elected, it will introduce criminal sanctions for any use of an online platform to incite criminal trespass on agricultural land or agricultural business with the intent to cause commercial damage. The offence would carry a penalty of imprisonment. Porter said the new laws would be designed specifically to protect farmers and producers from unlawful protests by animal rights and vegan activists.
Porter stated that the Aussie Farms database has been used to promote ‘vigilante’ behaviour by activists. Under the proposed laws, it would be an offence to use the internet to distribute information about specific farms, processing plants or abattoirs, with the intent to encourage trespass on those premises.
The Prime Minister said that the use of information about the locations of farms to harass farmers and disrupt the industry was harming hard-working Australians. He vowed that people “seeking to trespass or cause these types of injuries to the well-being of our farming community’ will be hit with stiff penalties.
Similar laws have been enacted in the US. Known as ‘ag-gag laws’, the laws criminalise covert investigations of farming practices. Vegan activists say such laws keep animal rights abuses concealed from the public.
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