One has to be suspicious of a government that deviously packages up two completely different parliamentary Bills into one, in an attempt to wedge their way through parliament and into the law of the land.
We have a glaring example of this currently in full swing with the Animal Welfare and Trespass Bill which according to the Attorney General John Quigley has been drafted in response to calls by farmers for tougher penalties against animal activists.
You will recall the antics of James Wardan, the recidivist anti farming vegan who received a suspended sentence for breaking and entering into a dairy farm and stealing a calf.
At the time of the crime the Attorney General promised to respond with the introduction of tougher new penalties within weeks, but it never happened, in fact months went by and the activists continued with their activities giving the impression that the government had lost any interest in the issue.
In fact the government was very interested but not in the vegans, they had tweaked that this was the perfect opportunity to use the call for action by farmers, as a smoke screen to reintroduce parts of their Animal Welfare Amendment Bill 2017 which the Minister for Agriculture had previously tried and failed to get passed unamended.
Parts of that Bill sought to allow powers of entry for a new class of inspector into non-residential places without a warrant. These changes were knocked out by the opposition parties in the Legislative Council to the great embarrassment of the Minister.
Never one to give up the Attorney General and the Minister are now trying again but this time they have got clever and have linked it to the Animal Activists Bill.
The threat is simple, if farmers want real penalties for animal activists then they have to cop intrusive inspectors having access to their farms without due cause.
This sleight of hand is really an outrageous attack on the reputation of our farmers, something which Peter Rundle the respected National Party Member for Roe eloquently outlined in a recent withering attack on the Attorney General in Parliament.
I have farmed for more than 30 years, including extensive sheep grazing and sheep grazing on an intensive level. I understand what this bill is trying to do. I have been to abattoirs; to WAMMCO in my hometown of Katanning and Hillside Meat Processors in Narrogin. I have drafted sheep at the Katanning saleyards for an extended period, loaded sheep onto trucks and been involved in intensive pork operations. I have also been to supermarkets and restaurants so I understand what we are dealing with.
We are dealing with two separate issues. During estimates last year, the Attorney General said that he is a bushie because his Land Rover has been to Fraser’s Restaurant King’s Park several times. Bushie or not, this legislation is way off the mark and it does not meet the pub test with our regional constituents and industries.
As Peter Rundle states, this combined Bill is a blatant attempt to confuse two completely separate issues by implying that farmers and activist are one and the same, and they need to be treated as such.
While there is ample evidence of activists getting away with repeatedly breaking the law, the government has no such evidence of repeated failures of the livestock industry to care for the animals it commercially produces.
In fact if anything the government should have targeted the new inspection powers specifically at domestic and companion animals, as both the RSPCA’s own inspectors and the police will tell you, there are parts of our community often linked to high rates of domestic violence which pose a far greater risk to the welfare of animals than farmers ever will.
In fact, if the government really cared about animal welfare it would be taking the inspection and compliance powers for domestic animals off the RSPCA and leaving them to focus on funding shelters throughout the state.
As it stands the RSPCA is woefully under resourced and has no capacity to address the extent of the animal welfare issues that are occurring and almost no presence in the north.
Why there is not a political debate about why a non for profit organisation that is heavily reliant on donations, which has entrenched views on live exports continues to hold statutory powers is beyond me. These powers should sit with a well resourced agency with livestock and companion animal investigations split into suitably qualified units.
As for the commercial livestock sector, if there really were systematic problems with our 4000 farmers and pastoralists or with the two dozen or so processing and saleyard facilities that handle the states 15 million sheep and cattle then the government should act.
However, while there remain very few cases of livestock abuse outside of a select few poorly run cattle stations in the north, then there is no need to add yet another level of compliance to the livestock sector and certainly not without additional funding.
What the government conveniently forgets is it already has all the powers it needs to deal with any livestock related animal welfare issues.
If they were really concerned about what was happening out in farmer or pastoralist land, then they should be doubling the DPIRD livestock compliance budget and putting more inspectors on the road. But this has not happened.
Instead what we are seeing is the government avoiding all discussion of the real risks and resources needed to address the issues that they claim exist with livestock welfare and instead they have raced down the route of suspicion and control, wanting unfettered legal access to every commercial livestock property any time and without any good reason.
Claims by the Minister that the industry should embrace new inspectors as a means of retaining social license is an interesting insight into what members of the government really think of farmers rather than what the community thinks. Independent survey results of community perceptions of farmers show a strong level of trust, something that politicians certainly do not enjoy.
The thinking of some government ministers seems to be along the old Marxist view of the world that profit equals exploitation, hence where there is livestock produced for profit there must be welfare issues, hence the only solution is to give the government yet more power.
The government should take off its ideological view of the world and listen to Peter Rundles advice and separate the two Bills and focus on the animal activists and not the farmers. Then it needs to wait for the outcome of its own review into the Animal Welfare Act 2002 which has yet to report, then and only then should it proceed with any new legislation.
If however the Minister fails to get the Bills split, fails to wait for the outcome of the review and fails to acknowledge the existing problems that exist with the welfare and compliance of companion animals then the farming community can rightly conclude that the Minister is more interested in the political points to be gained than the welfare of animals.