Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 1126

Senator RONALDSON (Victoria) (21:41): I would like to associate myself with the comments of Senator Crossin. I was also fortunate enough to be in Darwin for the weekend, particularly for 19 February, and I was at both the Peary and the cenotaph commemoration. I would like to pass on my congratulations to all associated with arranging those commemorative services.

Senator Crossin, I am going to make some comments about your comments in a second. I just want to put you on notice. If you want to stay in the chamber you should feel free to do so.

We should remember, of course, that there were more bombs dropped on Darwin than there were on Pearl Harbour. Nearly 300 fellow Australians died during those bombing raids and it was high time that the anniversary of the bombing of Darwin did become a day of national significance.

I am bitterly disappointed with Senator Crossin's speech today. Senator Crossin finally had the opportunity to acknowledge the role of the member for Solomon in relation to this, and she failed again to do so. I think it is instructive that if you reread Senator Crossin's speech you will find that she spoke about her apparent involvement in the day before she spoke about the day itself. And I think that tells a story.

Senator Jacinta Collins interjecting

Senator RONALDSON: You were not there and I think you would be very wise to keep quiet in relation to this. Just keep very quiet because you will just dig a bigger hole for yourself, Parliamentary Secretary.

The reality is that the one person who drove this with a motion in the House of Representatives was the member for Solomon. Senator Crossin had opportunity after opportunity to recognise her. None of those 5,000 people who were there on Sunday will forget the response to the two speeches between the Prime Minister's and the Leader of the Opposition's. When the Prime Minister refused to acknowledge the role of the member for Solomon and spoke only of the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, who on my understanding did not even think about proposing such a motion about the official recognition, there was silence, Senator Crossin. When the Leader of the Opposition, who quite rightly referred to the role of the member for Solomon and the role of Senator Scullion, there was widespread responsive applause from those 5,000 people. I thought Senator Crossin might have learnt from that and at least tonight had the dignity and the good grace to acknowledge the person who commenced the commemoration—the member for Solomon. Her churlishness will be long-remembered. Fortunately that magnificent ceremony last Sunday will be remembered for even longer.

I would like to go on to the matter I wanted to discuss tonight. While I would not describe it as central to my political life, I am, however, no stranger to the meat industry and there was a time some years ago when I worked on the floor of the Ballarat abattoir. Alas, after a two-month holiday job, I opted for a less eventful career path. My grandfather was somewhat more successful, serving as the Chairman of the Australian Meat Board after his time as the member for Ballarat during the 1930s. But those ties aside, I believe that all Australian businesses, including meat processors, are entitled to conduct their affairs free from unlawful interference.

I rise tonight to express concern at the recent airing of footage obtained by Animal Liberation through trespass on the ABC. Contrary to what might be expected, while unethical, this action is perfectly legal for broadcasters. It has been over a decade since the High Court found in the 2001 case of the ABC and Lenah Game Meats that if a broadcaster received footage which they knew was obtained lawfully then so long as the broadcaster was at arm's length from the perpetrator that footage could be aired freely over any objection by the victim. But even if that footage was evidence of some unlawful activity, the fact is that it makes the trespass no less unlawful or justified. The law of course frowns upon trespass. While this broadcaster's loophole continues, however, it must be acknowledged that for Animal Liberation and like-minded groups there is a very real incentive to violate it.

I would now like to turn to contempt for the law and the role of authorities. Honourable senators have no doubt been made aware of the recent closure by the New South Wales Food Authority of the Hawkesbury Valley Meat Processors, an abattoir located in Western Sydney. This happened shortly before Lateline aired undercover footage from which it would appear animals were being mistreated at the facility. I do not feel it appropriate to discuss the allegations against Hawkesbury Valley or the involvement of the New South Wales Food Authority at this early stage in the investigation. The comments of Animal Liberation spokeswoman Emma Hurst, however, in admitting that the footage was obtained unlawfully are an entirely different matter. On 10 February Jen Rosenberg and Ben Cubby of the Sydney Morning Herald reported that according to Ms Hurst, Animal Liberation 'planned the covert operation with the whistle blowing worker and the installation of two pinhole cameras'—and the words 'whistle blowing' in that quote are mine. Such behaviour invariably goes to that old question of 'do two wrongs make a right?' The tort of trespass to land, as summed up by Halsbury's Laws of Australia, at paragraph 415-480, is that:

Every unjustified entry directly by a person on land in the possession of another, which is carried out either intentionally or negligently, is an actionable trespass, even though no damage is done thereby.

Such acts can also amount to a criminal offence, as provided, for example, by section 4 of the New South Wales Inclosed Lands Protection Act 1901 and section 9 of the Victorian Summary Offences Act 1966. It would be quite reasonable to surmise that Animal Liberation has on this occasion broken the law.

I now want to turn to Animal Liberation and the ABC. I am deeply concerned by the recklessness and contempt for the law which Animal Liberation and like-minded groups are, by their activities, promoting. Their attitude is that the end justifies the means, that because their activities can expose animal mistreatment, their activities are above the law. This is an attitude that is beyond unacceptable. But I am also concerned by, and this goes to the very heart of the matter, the actions of the ABC. If a private citizen obtained such footage, the appropriate course of action, in the first instance, would be to go to the authorities, who can and will investigate the matter and take appropriate action. That is due process, to which even the most grievous offenders are entitled.

The ABC deprived Hawkesbury Valley of due process by airing the unlawfully obtained footage, exposing them to public consequence that would normally follow an investigation, but without having allowed that investigation to occur, let alone begin. A troubling possibility is that, if Hawkesbury Valley had not been presented with footage from reporter Steve Cannane, it might not have made its way to the food authority before the story aired. But I say this more generally: showing such footage is a problem in itself, even if nothing illegal features. The fact is that, to most Australians, the sight of slaughter is not pleasant and can damage the reputation of processors at home and abroad. Compliance with regulations will have little bearing on such innate responses.

The Hawkesbury Valley abattoir is not the only facility into which Animal Liberation and other like-minded groups have trespassed, and from which footage has been passed onto the ABC. If their current 'success', as they no doubt consider it, is left unchecked, it is unlikely to be the last. I am reminded by this incident of one particular anecdote, which occurred in 1999. The victim then was Lenah Game Meats of Tasmania, an abattoir who processed possum meat, which at the time was being exported to China. Then, too, the footage was taken covertly, and, following a High Court appeal in 2001, was featured on the 7.30 Report. Unlike Hawkesbury Valley, the airing of the Lenah footage was not said to show breaches of the relevant welfare standards. Then, as now, the ABC could air the story, despite the footage being a product of unlawful entry, because the broadcaster itself committed no wrong nor were they found to have encouraged or assisted the unknown third parties. Indeed, the High Court indicated that, unless some trade secret was revealed, the fact of the unlawful entry in itself does not provide the victim with any recourse. This means, in effect, that regardless of content or the foreseeable consequences of broadcast—and, again, Lenah did nothing illegal—so long as the broadcaster are at arm's length from the trespass there is no prohibition on the footage going to air.

There is undoubted value in the exposure of unlawful activities. I am not convinced, however, that, especially in the meat industry, the national broadcaster should be playing that role. The fact that Animal Liberation, in the course of their trespass, have exposed alleged illegality makes their actions no less unlawful—indeed, it is not their role as private citizens to be conducting investigations which are the proper domain of the authorities. And what message does the national broadcaster send when it airs footage that it knows has been obtained illegally? It says: 'Well, you broke the law, but we won't punish you; we'll reward you! After all, we can't be sued; we'll air the footage that you could not put on your own website.' To break the law and still get your desired result is more than sufficient encouragement to do it again.

What we saw at Hawkesbury Valley is a direct result of the precedent set in 2001. Indeed, if Animal Liberation knew the ABC was prepared to air such footage, it stands to reason that the broadcaster is effectively an accessory to the trespass. The ABC has behaved in an irresponsible manner and it has done so on numerous occasions. It is a reckless trend, with no foresight as to the consequences. What if the investigation into the Hawkesbury Valley footage were to clear the facility? What if the footage misidentified the location? The ABC will have destroyed livelihoods and reputations and, at the end of the day, it is the taxpayer who will foot the bill. This is not about freedom of press but about the responsibility of journalists. Would the ABC have aired the footage without first informing the regulator? Was it not at least prepared to wait for the investigation to begin before showing the footage? The ABC, like all broadcasters, plays with people's livelihoods when it reports such issues. This cavalier attitude must cease, and the ABC should start behaving more responsibly.

In finishing this part of my contribution tonight I want to say the following. What makes the trespass at Hawkesbury Valley distinct from a decade ago is that Animal Liberation have been very open about their involvement. The fact they have exposed some evidence of illegality is no reason for them to be exempt from prosecution. This is of course, I acknowledge, a matter for the New South Wales authorities. What also must be considered, however, is whether a broadcaster should be permitted to behave as the ABC has done in this instance. No broadcaster should be providing encouragement for trespass—nor should the law allow them to. Are we really saying that the actions of Animal Liberation are wrong but that a broadcaster who benefits from that wrong has no responsibility? Are we saying that only the third party can cause the damage, that the broadcaster bears no responsibility? The events following the break-in at Lenah Game Meats, and the subsequent High Court ruling, set a dangerous precedent, and we are now seeing the results. Even if footage exposes illegality, the actions of the ABC, and the laws allowing it to so act, are contrary to the laws against trespass and encourage further trespasses. This matter must be addressed.

The Health Insurance Restricted and Regional Membership Association of Australia, otherwise known as HIRMAA, is a peak industry body representing all 13 restricted-access insurers and four non-restricted-access regional private health insurers. It was formed in 1978 and, since its formation, HIRMAA has advocated for the preservation of competition, believing it to be fundamental to Australians having access to the best value healthcare services. I want to read out some of the funds that are part of HIRMAA, because it puts paid to the lie that only the rich have private health insurance and therefore that justifies the government's recent actions in relation to the PHI rebate. Just try some of these, Mr Deputy President—I will not go through all of them: Defence Health Ltd, Navy Health Ltd, Police Health Ltd, Queensland Country Health Ltd, Queensland Teachers Union Health Fund Ltd, Railway and Transport Health Fund Ltd, Reserve Bank Health Ltd, Teachers Federation Health Ltd and Transport Health Ltd. They are representing not the rich but average Australians in the Defence Force, in the teaching profession, in railway and transport: not the rich at all.

HIRMAA wrote to, and pleaded with, the Independents to do something about this—particularly the country based Independents. What they quite rightly said was that as a result of any 'downgrade' of 'health insurance as a result of the rebate changes, all privately insured Australians will be forced to pay higher premiums.' Ron Wilson, Executive Director of HIRMAA, wrote an open letter to Mr Oakeshott. There was another letter from Mr John Rashleigh, the President of HIRMAA. Mr Wilson wrote to Mr Oakeshott and said:

As you are aware, many private health insurers in Australia are not-for-profit restricted and regional funds. These funds operate solely to offer their Members the best health insurance at the most affordable price. Members of these funds will find that they will now have higher premium increases and for some this will mean they will drop or downgrade their insurance. This will inevitably place added pressure on the capacity of private hospitals, especially in country Australia—

I repeat: especially in country Australia—

to provide full services and access to specialists.

In an open letter to the newspapers Mr Wilson said:

Independent MPs thinking of supporting the rebate changes should also consider the negative impact on specialists working in private hospitals in rural and regional Australia. As people leave private health insurance, private hospitals in country

Australia will have reduced capacity to attract and retain specialists.

In a letter to Mr Windsor, dated 17 August last year, Mr Rashleigh, the President of HIRMAA, said:

As we have communicated to you earlier, HIRMAA is aware of the wide variation in the estimates of the impact these changes will have on PHI membership. The Federal Government estimates that the impact will be as little as 25,000 less memberships (99.7 per cent retaining their PHI) while a recent survey conducted by Deloitte, on behalf of the Australian Health Insurance Association, concluded that:

1.6 million Australians will exit their private health hospital cover with a further 4.3 million downgrading their level of cover;

Private health insurance premiums will rise 10 per cent above what would otherwise be expected;

There will be an additional 845,000 treatments in public hospitals as people withdraw from their private cover at an estimated cost to government of $3.8 billion.

It is our contention, that if you take a conservative view that the damage lies somewhere in between the two estimates, that damage will be significant and with long-term ramifications.

As a result of strong PHI coverage, private hospitals throughout Australia, and particularly in regional and rural Australia, have been able to provide invaluable services to millions of Australians. Well over half of all surgical procedures take place in the private hospital system and that includes Tamara Private Hospital in Tamworth and Armidale Private Hospital. It is inconceivable that any government would pursue any policies that will reduce the capacity of these hospitals to provide first class facilities and services and the availability of first class clinical specialists to patients accessing these hospitals.

I have a lot more information provided to the Independents by HIRMAA, representing, as I said before, average Australians who are doing average jobs and are far from rich. What Mr Oakeshott and Mr Windsor have done is to put at risk the health of their constituents, whom they ostensibly represent, on the back of the clear danger to the private health and hospital system in rural and regional areas.

This policy was on the back of another broken election promise. The government stand utterly condemned for these changes, which they swore they would never make. They come on the back of the carbon tax and on the back of these Independents letting down the people who elected them. (Time expired)