Landmark High Court challenge to Australia's ag-gag laws

We’re taking on ag-gag laws in Australia, and we need your help.

Update: High Court upholds ag-gag law

10 August 2022: Today, the High Court dismissed our challenge to the “ag gag law” in the NSW Surveillance Devices Act 2007, by the slimmest majority of 4:3. 

The Justices were sharply divided about the validity of this ag gag law.  Regrettably, the case avoids deciding whether the ag gag law itself is invalid, and decides only that a person who has unlawfully trespassed to obtain footage of animal cruelty can be forbidden from publishing that footage.  We were found to have been such persons.

Despite an enormous amount of work and funds raised by our small organisation and legal team to seek a definitive answer to the central question of whether media outlets should be able to report on matters of public interest such as animal cruelty, the court has dodged that question.

The strong implication is that a media outlet not involved in any trespass to obtain the footage would have won the case.  We call on a media outlet to challenge this ag gag law in the High Court.

In the meantime, businesses or individuals that engage in animal cruelty, and the state and federal governments that support them, will no doubt take this ruling as an assurance that they are not required to be transparent in their activities, and that consumers have no right to know what sort of horrific activities they're paying for when they purchase meat, dairy and eggs, or attend a horse or greyhound race.

In the ruling, Justice Edelman notes that while the footage and photographs captured in numerous farms and slaughterhouses in NSW depict "undeniable" and "shocking" cruelty, this cruelty is not unlawful. In fact, much of it is considered standard industry practice, funded by consumers who are by law prevented from seeing or knowing about it.

We will not let this ruling stop our important work and will continue doing what we've always done - forcing transparency on industries that rely on secrecy to get away with unacceptable abuse.

Thank you to everyone who supported us in launching this case. This is not the end of the road; a clear path has now been set for ag-gag to be struck down if the case is reheard in slightly different circumstances. We'll be pushing as hard as we can to make that happen.

Update: Hearing concluded, awaiting outcome

The hearing for our High Court challenge against ag-gag has concluded, having taken place over February 10-11. We expect the transcript and video recording to be available on the High Court's website in the coming days. As is usual in such cases, the judgment has been reserved - so it may be 3-6 months before we get an outcome.

We watched the hearing over a remote connection from our solicitors' (Bleyer Lawyers) office in Melbourne, with our barrister Angel Aleksov viewing from a separate location, instructing our QC Peter Dunning who represented us from QLD. We were looking forward to being all together physically at the High Court in Canberra, but unfortunately COVID-19 had other plans, forcing an entirely remote hearing.

We believe we presented a strong case on behalf of the animals suffering in our nation's farms and slaughterhouses, and on behalf of the public who have a right to see it and make informed decisions. Of course there are no guarantees, but we're optimistic.

Thank you so much to everyone who supported us with donations or kind words - we have been absolutely blown away by your generosity and affirmed in our decision to mount this case in spite of the risks. Whatever the outcome, we firmly believe this case will prove a step forward in the fight against industrial animal cruelty and exploitation.

Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram for further updates regarding the case and our ongoing work for the rights and protection of animals. 

Thank you,

Chris Delforce and the team at Farm Transparency Project


Update: Hearing set for February 2022

The High Court has confirmed that the hearing for our constitutional challenge against ag-gag will take place over two days: 10 and 11 February, 2022. While originally set to be held in Canberra, due to the current spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, the hearing will now occur remotely.

The legal fees associated with this case have exceeded our initial estimate, so we are now seeking to raise a further $30,000 to see it through to the end (donate via Chuffed).

Of course, if we are successful, this will not be our last legal challenge - we're already excited about several options for our next one. Any remaining funds from this case will be put towards further legal action on behalf of animals. 

If you support our work, you can also make a general donation to us

You can read our written submissions and the pre-hearing timeline on the High Court's website: Farm Transparency International Ltd & Anor v. State of New South Wales

We’re taking the NSW Government to court for their ag-gag laws, to set a nationwide precedent

Australian politicians are increasingly seeking to pass "ag-gag" laws that would criminalise the publication of footage or photographs exposing animal cruelty in factory farms and slaughterhouses, modelled after similar laws in the United States.

In NSW, an existing law - the Surveillance Devices Act 2007 - has already been used to target such publications, despite this not being the Act's original purpose. Section 11 of the Act prohibits the publication or communication of footage or photographs of 'private activities', including intensive farming and slaughtering operations, with penalties of up to 5 years in prison.

In 2015, Farm Transparency Project's director, Chris Delforce, was raided by police and subsequently charged with publishing footage and photos depicting lawful cruelty at numerous piggeries and the country's largest pig slaughterhouse. The slaughter footage was the first time that the supposedly "humane" carbon dioxide gas chambers (now used by all major pig slaughterhouses across Australia and much of the world) were exposed for their horrific reality.

While the charges were eventually dismissed on a technicality, police have continued to use the Surveillance Devices Act at the behest of the agricultural and gambling industries to target whistleblowers and limit the ability of the Australian public to know what they're paying for when they purchase meat, dairy and eggs or attend horse or greyhound racing.

Now, media outlets won't touch animal cruelty footage from NSW, for fear of being charged under this Act. Our damning exposés of the NSW horse racing industry last year revealed the ongoing slaughter of ex-racehorses in breach of the industry's own rules, with even billionaire Gerry Harvey implicated, but ag-gag severely hampered the media's willingness to report on it. We then hit the same issue when a secret audio recording suggested that RSPCA NSW may have been bribed to drop cruelty charges against a notorious piggery operator.

Similar laws in other states have clear exemptions when the published material is in the public interest, but the NSW Government refuses to make such a simple but meaningful change. We've had enough - these industries need more transparency, not less. The animals suffering in our nation's farms, slaughterhouses and knackeries deserve to have their stories told, and the Australian public deserves the opportunity to hear them.

We're mounting a constitutional challenge in the High Court of Australia

Australia's Constitution contains an implied freedom of political communication. In 2001, the High Court ruled in favour of the ABC against a possum abattoir whose operations had been covertly filmed by an activist (Australian Broadcasting Corporation v Lenah Game Meats Pty Ltd). The Hon. Michael Kirby stated:

"Parliamentary democracies, such as Australia, operate effectively when they are stimulated by debate promoted by community groups. To be successful, such debate often requires media attention. Improvements in the condition of circus animals, in the transport of live sheep for export and in the condition of battery hens followed such community debate."

Yet, twenty years on, animal-use industries continue to push for ag-gag laws, and politicians continue to listen. Challenging the constitutional validity of one such law is the only way to stop them once and for all. If successful, the NSW Government will be forced to scrap or amend section 11, and passing such laws in the future anywhere in Australia will be just about impossible. And while not the focus of this case, this will be the first time that the inherent and undeniable cruelty of Australia's intensive farming and slaughtering systems will be seen by the country's most powerful court.

We've put together an incredible legal team comprising a QC, a barrister and two solicitors, to make sure we've got the best possible chance of winning the case.

High Court litigation is an expensive undertaking - this is where you come in. Amazingly, a generous donor has offered to match the first $75,000 raised: this means any donation up until we reach $75,000 will be doubled, to a total of $150,000. We are beyond grateful for anyone that can afford to give to this important cause - any contribution, no matter how small, will be valuable.

Together, we can fight to ensure that exposing animal cruelty doesn’t come with a jail term. 

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