As Australian animal rights pioneer Lynda Stoner remarked at a recent rally in Sydney, back in the 1970s, when she first became a vegetarian after reading academic Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation, trying to find a restaurant that could facilitate her culinary needs was near impossible.
Stoner, a leading television star, added that these days the change is stark, as one only has to walk down the high street in Sydney’s Newtown or Glebe to understand that veganism and plant-based lifestyles are fast becoming mainstream.
The animal agriculture industry is none too pleased with this outcome, however. And in acknowledging much of the shift is due to the exposure of the barbaric practices within factory farms and slaughterhouses, the highly profitable industry has been at pains to plug this leak up.
The way it’s gone about attempting this is by having its mates in parliaments around the country enact laws that serve to keep the violence that goes on behind closed doors hidden. And the existence of these laws, collectively as ag-gag, are, for the most part, concealed as well.
NSW is about to go to the polls on 25 March, and there’s speculation that the 12-year reign of the Coalition state government might just come to an end. And it’s been under the Liberal Nationals that some significant ag-gag laws have been enacted.
Then primary industries minister Niall Blair oversaw the enactment of the Biosecurity Act 2015 (NSW), which contains laws to prevent contamination outbreaks and, the minister admitted, could be directed towards animal activists, who take action on agricultural land.
Another key piece of ag-gag legislation was the Right to Farm Act 2009 (NSW), which amended a trespassing law enacted to prevent activists taking direct action against fossil fuel operations, so that it also applies to animal agriculture and, in these circumstances, carries prison time.
But, as Stoner further remarked at the Sydney Animal Rights March this month, the fact that so many ag-gag laws are being passed by parliaments is a sign of how powerful the movement has become.
And another key sign is the presence of the Animal Justice Party in NSW parliament.
Indeed, over the present parliament, Animal Justice Party MLC Emma Hurst has moved laws that have seen an increase in the penalties that apply to animal cruelty, prohibitions on ownership imposed upon serious animal abusers and an end to pounds conducting convenience killings.
Heading up the Animal Justice Party upper house ticket for Saturday week’s state election is Alison Waters, who’s long been working in the domestic and family violence sector and is committed to bringing about justice for non-human sentient beings if elected in to parliament.
Sydney Criminal Lawyers spoke to Animal Justice Party candidate Alison Waters about the often-hidden understanding that animal agriculture is one of the leading causes of the climate crisis, the AJP agenda for the next parliament and about eradicating the violence of the animal industry.
Alison, you’re running in this month’s state election as the lead candidate on the Animal Justice Party ticket.
The focus of your party is becoming increasingly important in the community. And over her time in office, AJP MLC Emma Hurst has tabled a plethora of bills, with many resulting in law reform.
On being elected into the NSW Legislative Council, what sort of reforms can the constituency expect in terms of laws and policies prioritising animal rights and wellbeing?
The Animal Justice Party is committed to getting hens out of battery cages. We will work to bring forward the current date that the cage is to be banned, which is 2036.
Millions of hens are suffering in cages so small they cannot turn around. This is unacceptable.
Greyhounds are still being injured and dying on tracks in NSW despite the implementation of a $30 million NSW government track safety program.
We want an end to taxpayer funding of industries that brutalise animals for human entertainment. We want to get animals out of the gambling industry.
We are committed to preventing koala extinction. I live in Lismore and I know how fortunate I am to share my part of the world with koalas. We must protect their habitat, on public and private land.
We want to reinstate the marine sanctuary zones that were removed from the existing marine park network by the NSW government and would like Sydney Harbour added.
‘No take’ sanctuary zones are vital for the protection of threatened species and their habitats. We think that the Department of Planning and Environment should be responsible for marine parks to ensure a focus on environmental protection.
We want to establish a minister for animal protection and an Independent Commissioner for Wildlife.
We are committed to banning puppy farms which are, essentially, factory farms for dogs. Emma Hurst has been an unwavering advocate for dogs subjected to this brutal industry, and she has my full support. We must get this done.
There is so much that needs to be done for animals in NSW, and I am keen to get started.
As you’ve mentioned, you’re a Lismore local. Over the last 12 months, the town has been devastated by multiple climate-driven floods. And a key contributor to rising greenhouse gas emissions is the animal agriculture industry. Although many aren’t aware of this.
Can you talk about how the industry is contributing to the demise of the planet?
It is beyond time to declare a climate emergency. It certainly felt like an emergency for the people of Lismore, who cowered on their roofs in the rain and darkness awaiting rescue.
And, a year on, my town is a shell of its former self. Many businesses have not reopened, and people are living in flood-damaged homes wondering if they will receive a buyback offer.
Others had no choice but to leave the region to find housing. Many families are separated from their animals because their temporary accommodation won’t permit them to have animals.
A common topic of conversation is how soon the next flood will come. Parents contemplate the future that their children will have in Lismore, and whether there even is a viable future for Lismore.
Significantly, we’re all experiencing collective trauma to some degree. I know that other communities have suffered floods, bushfires and extreme weather events. My heart goes out to them.
Successive governments have failed to take action on climate change, and people and animals are bearing the brunt in communities across the country.
In the public sphere, the focus is often on the contribution that the coal, oil and gas industries make to climate change. And so, it should be. However, we must also acknowledge animal agriculture.
The Animal Justice Party is prepared to talk about the negative impacts of animal agriculture. We are the only political party that acknowledges the contribution of animal agriculture to climate change.
The emissions generated by this sector are a leading cause of global warming. We know that animal agriculture is the leading cause of species loss globally.
It is responsible for ocean dead zones, soil erosion, land clearing, desertification and animal cruelty on an unimaginable scale.
Billions of animals experience pain, distress and a violent death at the hands of this industry.
When I talk about animal agriculture as a vegan, people sometimes assume that I am anti-farmer. I am not anti-farmer. Farmers grow the fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes that my family and I eat.
Farmers have been impacted by droughts, floods, fires and other extreme weather events.
As a social worker in a regional area, I know that farmers experience higher rates of suicide than non-farmers.
A couple of years ago, the National Rural Health Alliance released a study that indicated that the suicide rate amongst farmers had trended upwards over a 10 year period. A number of factors were identified including drought, climate change and high workloads.
The Animal Justice Party supports the implementation of programs to retrain and transition animal agriculture businesses and individuals to sustainable, humane, plant-based industries.
We also have to rewild and reforest the land that has been damaged by animal agriculture so that new carbon sinks are established and habitat for native animals is expanded.
The federal election and that in Victoria were marked by a significant turning away from the major parties. Single issue parties are on the rise. And of course, those representing such parties don’t solely vote for their priority issue.
So, what other issues will be a priority for you during the next parliament?
As a social worker, I am committed to social justice and human rights. The Animal Justice Party’s values are kindness, equality, rationality and nonviolence. These principles and values influence and guide me.
Therefore, in the NSW parliament, I will support the implementation of the NSW Women’s Alliance election platform to eliminate gender-based violence.
Having worked in the domestic and family violence (DFV) sector, I know how under-resourced it is.
I would like to see more funding for specialist services for children. At present, children are largely treated as an adjunct to their mother’s experience of violence, rather than a victim in their own right.
I recognise that Aboriginal women experience DFV and hospitalisation due to violence at much higher rates than non-Aboriginal women.
Aboriginal women are more likely to be misidentified as perpetrators of DFV by police than non-Aboriginal women.
Aboriginal women are murdered at rates of up to 12 times that of non-Aboriginal women. Our system is failing Aboriginal women.
This is an injustice, and we have to fix it. Aboriginal women must be supported and resourced to lead the change in their communities.
We must recognise and support their leadership and knowledge, and we have to do this alongside a commitment to addressing broader issues such as racism, child removal and incarceration rates.
I will advocate for the full implementation of nurse/midwife-to-patient ratios in NSW.
Our health care systems are in crisis and experienced health care professionals are leaving the industry in droves due to the dangerous and stressful working conditions.
My father has dementia, and it has given me an insight into the lack of services to support people with dementia and their families.
I would like to see carers – people like my mum who is 80 years old – be able to receive more support in the home. Currently, the wait times are significant, and it is a difficult system to navigate.
It’s clear that we need to do a better job at supporting paramedics. NSW has the worst pay and conditions for paramedics. They are also leaving the industry for better wages and conditions in other states.
I am committed to gambling reform. I find it obscene that the gambling industry profits from people who are vulnerable and experiencing addiction.
It would be impossible for me not to mention the housing crisis. Successive governments have failed us. I am a tenant and I have faced housing insecurity, low rental vacancy rates and skyrocketing rents.
As a domestic violence worker, I know that a lack of affordable and social housing is a huge barrier for women who are escaping violent partners, particularly if they have children and animals in their care.
Incidentally, I don’t consider the Animal Justice Party a ‘single issue’ party. Animals are not a homogenous group.
When you consider the range and diversity of species on this planet, animals cannot be regarded as a single issue.
Our platform is animals, people, planet. We are interconnected, and humans disregard that at their peril.
The impending extinction of koalas is not just a tragedy for koalas, it is a tragedy for biodiversity and for our ecosystems.
There has been a crackdown on nonviolent direct action focused on animal rights over the last decade, both over here and in the US.
Not long ago, Berejiklian oversaw the passing of The Right to Farm Act at the state level, while Morrison enacted laws that make a person who might discuss such issues online liable for any disruptive actions taken by others if their input is found to have influenced it.
What do you think about this built up of laws that collectively are referred to as ag-gag?
Most people have no idea of the horrors that occur for animals in factory farms and slaughterhouses.
Obviously, this secrecy supports the status quo. I think of the slogan: Nothing humane happens in a slaughterhouse.
I know most people don’t think about how their food goes from being a living, feeling animal to a packaged product in a supermarket freezer.
I was talking to a non-vegan friend about the Sydney Animal Rights March recently. I was compelled to ask him: Did you know that pigs are gassed in chambers? He looked shocked and said no.
I told him that the pigs fight so hard to resist the pain and torment that, sometimes, their hooves are ripped from their bodies. I asked if he wanted to see footage of pigs in the chambers.
He replied, “Why the fuck would I want to see that?” I understand that. Who would want to see that? I hate that I have those images in my head.
It’s not that he didn’t care. However, how can we change the situation for animals if we don’t understand it from their perspective?
I know that undercover footage has played a central role in bringing the horrors that animals experience to light.
I feel demoralised that we live in a world where the people who film these horrors are considered criminals while the people who perpetrate the horrors are considered to be ‘just doing their job’.
Animal Justice Party NSW has spoken out against the NSW Right to Farm legislation.
We have campaigned for greater transparency in the animal agriculture industry because we believe that the public has a right to know how this sector treats the millions of animals that are subjected to it.
And we will continue to campaign on these issues.
You work in the domestic and family violence sector. During this last parliament, Hurst saw the link between domestic violence and animal cruelty officially recognised.
The animal agriculture industry involves the mass slaughter of animals that are highly mistreated prior to being killed. This violence underpins society.
As this violence is mainly carried out behind closed doors, is the general population unaffected by it or does it have consequences for the wider community?
I am really glad that you asked me this question. As someone who has worked in the domestic and family violence sector since the 1990s, I have been asked, numerous times, what I think the solution is to ending violence against women.
I also became vegan in the 1990s, and my understanding about the link between animal abuse and abuse against humans has grown in that time.
In recent years, I have consistently given the answer that we will never eliminate violence against women – indeed, against people – as long as we condone and legitimise violence against animals in industries like agriculture, gambling, animal experimentation, and the like.
As long as we, as a society, expect some employees to brutalise and kill animals as a requirement of their jobs, we will not eliminate violence against people.
We have to ask ourselves, is it fair and reasonable to expect some people in our communities to perform legalised acts of cruelty against animals in order to make a living?
It is undeniable that animals are brutalised in factory farms and slaughterhouses. I first became aware of this at the age of 16, when I was exposed to graphic and violent images of animal abuse and slaughter in a book called Old MacDonalds Factory Farm.
We all know the nursery rhyme. There was nothing idyllic or heart-warming in this book.
We know that much of the violence that happens to animals in these environments is legal – painful procedures without anaesthetic and barbaric kill methods, such as gas chambers.
There are slaughterhouses in the catchment area where I worked as a DFV worker. Over the years, I spoke to women who were experiencing violence from partners who were employed at these facilities.
I have heard disturbing accounts of animal abuse that their partners had witnessed or participated in. I heard stories about the tools of the trade, such as knives, being kept at the family home.
Over the years, I have read US research about the link between the location of a slaughterhouse and higher rates of DFV and PTSD in that town.
The information I have gathered over the years is anecdotal, but I would be interested in further Australian research in this area.
And lastly, Alison, Hurst has achieved significant animal rights reforms over the last four years, and the issue has been receiving greater exposure.
But what is the end goal for Animal Justice Party, and indeed, the animal liberationists who participated in the recent Sydney Animal Rights March.
What do you want to see achieved in the long run?
I am guided by a vision of a kinder world where people and animals are valued for their inherent worth, where people are not marginalised and vilified, where animals are not brutalised for the appetites and whims of humans.
I am committed to the banning of the battery cage for hens and the sow stall for pregnant pigs.
These reforms would impact the lives of millions of animals. They are important reforms that we must achieve.
However, in line with my vision of a kinder world, I will continue to work towards the broader goals. That is, ultimately, a society that respects and values hens and pigs simply for who they are, not for what they can do for us.
Having worked in the DFV sector for over twenty years, I know that progress can be slow and incremental.
My focus is on the broader goal – a society that is free from gender-based violence – but I will continue to push for important reforms within the police and court systems that will improve those systems for women who are seeking legal protections.
The Animal Justice Party fights for a vision where animals and nature have the right to live and thrive, free from negative human interference and a human society which functions with kindness and compassion.