IMAGINE there was a group of activated individuals in our society who committed their lives to exposing the use of illegal drugs.
Imagine that they believed so much in their cause that they broke into suspects’ homes and installed cameras in the hope of recording and exposing illegal behaviour.
But then once that candid footage was obtained, instead of passing it onto the relevant authorities immediately they would leak it strategically to maximise media impact and public embarrassment.
There would be a public outcry against such underground tactics - and rightly so.
No-one has the right to breach someone’s privacy, nor to enter one’s property without permission.
Certain rights, like property and privacy, are inviolable unless there is firm evidence to suspect you of a crime.
It is for the police and courts to determine whether such evidence exists, not for self-appointed, paramilitary activist groups who think they deserve to abrogate the responsibilities of police and judges with none of the countervailing accountabilities.
Yet, right now, something just like this is happening on our farms and in food processing facilities, and there is little outcry about it.
Indeed, an American campaigner, Will Potter, is touring Australia receiving support for the argument that anyone should have the right to trespass on a farmer’s property and surreptitiously record whatever they like.
Last year animal extremist groups were sprung installing hidden cameras at a piggery near Young in NSW.
The piggery’s owner, Edwina Beveridge, said she felt “violated” adding that, “I have a young family, I live on our farm and it is quite close to the pig farm, [it's an] an awful feeling”.
In 2011, an Animals Australia extremist, calling herself “Kate” and passing herself off as a university student, asked to take photos at a meatworks in rural Victoria.
She used out-of-context footage so that Animals Australia could claim widespread cruelty.
The Victorian government immediately shut the meatworks down, but then failed to prosecute the owners of the meatworks who maintained their innocence.
In July 2011, Greenpeace extremists broke into a CSIRO facility and destroyed a scientific field trial of genetically modified wheat with whipper-snippers.
The vandals were later convicted and the judge ruled that the act was “clearly carried out at either the instigation of, or with the backing of, Greenpeace Australia”.
To this day, Greenpeace can receive tax deductible donations under the Australian government “Register of Environmental Organisations” program.
Yet, Will Potter describes such activities as “undercover investigations”, as if they are part of some quasi-police force, and that animal activists are doing “pioneering work”.
I wonder how he would feel if someone broke into his home and installed cameras in his ceiling without a warrant or even a pretext of an allegation of wrongdoing?
Farmers and farmer groups in the US have had enough, and have successfully backed laws in Utah and Idaho seeking tougher penalties on those that impinge on farmers’ rights of privacy and property.
Opponents have described these Bills as “ag-gag” laws - but they are not that at all.
The Idaho law, for example, only makes five things illegal.
In brief terms, under Idaho law now: you cannot enter a farm or obtain records by “force, threat, misrepresentation or trespass”; you cannot obtain farm employment by misrepresentation with the intent to cause economic injury; you cannot record audio or video on a farm that is not open to the public; and you cannot intentionally cause physical damage to a farm’s operations.
The Idaho law does not “gag” anyone from saying anything but it does let you protect the sanctity of your property. These are not “ag-gag” laws, they are “lock the gate” laws.
Most, if not all, of these things would be illegal already but they toughen the sentences for the illegal acts that animal activist groups seem to revel in conducting.
Australia rightly has tough laws against animal cruelty.
Genuine claims of animal cruelty should be exposed, investigated and, if necessary, prosecuted.
Like all laws in this country they should be enforced by those authorities established by the law with special powers and privileges.
Everyone deserves to be treated as innocent before guilty and no-one deserves to be subject to a trial by media rather than a court of law.
If some in our society don’t like the way that works, then perhaps we need stronger laws to protect the integrity of our judicial system, the property of individuals and everyone’s right to privacy.
This article was originally published in the Queensland Country Life on 9 May 2014. The original article is available here.