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

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

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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