Animal cruelty focus of NSW High Court bid

·2-min read

Surveillance laws in NSW have been used to "hinder the exposure of systemic, commercialised animal cruelty," animal rights activists have said as they launch a High Court case against the state.

The Farm Transparency Project says police have increasingly used certain laws to limit public awareness of large-scale harm to farmed animals.

Their lawsuit was served upon the NSW attorney general on Monday and argues implied freedom of political communication in the Australian Constitution is breached by certain state laws.

The Surveillance Devices Act in NSW prohibits the publication or communication of footage or photographs of "private activities".

But NSW police have unfairly used "ag-gag laws" to pursue criminal charges such as those faced by Farm Transparency Project director Chris Delforce in 2015, according to his statement on Tuesday.

Mr Delforce faced prosecution after publishing video footage of "lawful cruelty in numerous piggeries and the country's largest pig slaughterhouse," he said in the statement.

According to court documents filed on June 10, similar surveillance laws exist in most other Australian states that achieve the same level of privacy but give clear exemptions for public interest material.

NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman said the question of whether the act should contain a public interest exemption had previously been considered and rejected.

"Such an exemption would risk encouraging people to unlawfully enter agricultural land, potentially putting them in harm's way and creating biosecurity implications," he said in a statement.

"There are established non-government organisations such as the RSPCA, which operate within the boundaries of the law to address animal cruelty in the agricultural industry."

But the animal protection organisation said Australian politicians upheld such laws on behalf of the agricultural and racing industries.

"Media outlets won't touch animal cruelty footage from NSW, for fear of being charged under this Act," Mr Delforce said.

"Our damning exposes of the NSW horse racing industry last year revealed the ongoing slaughter of ex-racehorses in breach of the industry's own rules ... but ag-gag severely hampered the media's willingness to report on it."

Farm Transparency Project has launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds in its legal fight which ultimately seeks to scrap parts of the Surveillance Devices Act, or at least amend it.

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