Australian State's Proposed Ag-Gag Law Threatens General Right To Protest, Critics Warn
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.Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter, Diaspora, or Mastodon.