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Walsh slams Labor over animal activism report

By Rodney Woods

The actions of animal activists in Victoria will be closely monitored following recommendations delineating specific offences and urging that they be stripped of whistleblowing rights.

The Inquiry Into the Impact of Animal Rights Activism on Victorian Agriculture report was tabled in parliament on February 5, arguing that animal crusaders are lawbreakers who bring fear to farmers.

“Throughout 2018 and 2019, Victoria experienced a series of events where animal rights activists intimidated farmers, stole livestock and disrupted businesses,” Economy and Infrastructure Committee chair Nazih Elasmar told the Legislative Council.

“These events caused a great amount of stress to the agriculture community and rural and regional Victorians in general.”

Analysing different snap actions taken by activist groups that intended to raise alarm on industry practices, the report concludes: "there is a great deal of misinformation in the community regarding modern animal welfare practices and legislation.”

The document claims some activists exploit this alleged misinformation to gain public support for illegal actions, such as trespassing on farms.

“We will always back farmers and their rights to simply get on with their job without fear or intimidation,” Victorian Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes said.

“We welcome the final report and will have more to say about its recommendations in due course.”

Shadow Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh accused Labor of siding with those who want to push their extreme anti-agriculture agenda on Victorians and end livestock farming.

“Labor can’t claim to support our farmers while handing law-breaking activists a ‘get out of jail free’ card,” Mr Walsh said.

“This inquiry was a genuine opportunity to deliver the change regional communities have been demanding.

“But instead of backing our farmers, Labor MPs are moving to tie producers up in more red tape and run a protection racket for the law-breaking activists attempting to destroy our farm industries.”

In response, Ms Symes accused Mr Walsh of undermining the inquiry.

“Mr Walsh does what Mr Walsh does,” she said.

“He gets the information before him and reads it a bit like a horoscope and tries to work out how he can best position his day.

“He's entitled to his opinion, but I think it's under-selling an independent parliamentary inquiry.

“MPs are welcome to all of their views, but I think the report, in the majority, is very well balanced.”

While the politicians squabble over the report, VFF president David Jochinke has mixed feelings about the recommendations.

“The VFF welcomes the recognition that animal activist do have an impact on farmers, their businesses and homes,” Mr Jochinke said.

“The VFF endorses committee’s recommendation that penalties need to put in place to provide adequate safeguards for farmers who run legitimate businesses.”

“The VFF has been consistent calling for the introduction of $1000 (or greater) on-the-spot-fines for any individual trespassing on a farm or agricultural enterprise.

“The VFF and its membership are already working with the Victorian state government to provide transparency and education around changing trends in diet in conjunction with modern farming practices.”