When Crime is Crime, and When it Isn’t

08/04/2019

The simple definition of crime, in this context, is stuff that people in power can get away with, where if anyone else were to do the exact same thing, or something notably less impactful they would be hounded for it. Such is the case when you compare two bits of environmental news today.

The first is the vegan protests that took over Melbourne and a few other locations across Australia, including a situation in Queensland that ended in the freeing of three sheep. The other is about Energy Minister Angus Taylor’s familial ties and financial stake in a company currently under investigation for illegal land clearing in New South Wales.

I’m not going to pretend to know much about the vegan movement because I am not particularly interested in it beyond the occasional news about advances in ‘lab grown’ meats. Nor am I going to profess much knowledge about land clearing laws beyond what I picked up reading about the investigation into the company Jam Land (bizarre name). What I do wish to talk about, however, is the government’s response to each of these events. The difference is quite striking, but by no means surprising.

In the case of the protests, both the government, and a majority of the media/social media commentators, were quite distasteful in their comments. Like the ideas of veganism or not, or agree with their actions or not, there really is no justification for some of the vitriol that spreads about them. But that is a rather normal reaction whenever stories about vegetarian or vegan protests/movements take place. The surprising thing about the government’s reaction, though, is that it is very critical.

They have called for harsher penalties for trespassers – the main offense when activists take to farms and other private properties. While I have no particular opinion on the matter, I feel raising the penalties will not do much to deter future action, especially seeing as it is a movement gaining, if slowly, some momentum. This isn’t even the part I take issue with, however.

There were some calling for a boycott of all animal rights groups, up to and including the RSPCA. Again, like or hate the vegan movement, who cares. But animal welfare and the humane treatment of livestock should be something that everyone takes a positive stance on, and demanding that people reject charities and groups dedicated to that cause seems, to me, overly punitive.

But as if the Coalition calling for a boycott of animal rights groups wasn’t mildly detestable enough, they also announced that any farmers or the like who wish to take legal action will have the backing of the government to do so. Whether or not a farmer or some landowner has a case to do so is irrelevant – I do not believe the Commonwealth, our government, should be involved. They are clearly ignoring the context of these peoples’ actions, which is to protest. Granted, trespassing is breaking the law, but I do not like the precedent set by merely labelling them “green criminals”.

I know it would probably be hard for the party that has continued with the practice of live exports, but acknowledging the message that is trying to be conveyed at the least should be expected. There is a troubling record from this government, being the aggressive opposition to any and all political activism and protesting that works against their interests.

Now, compare this to the investigation into Jam Land. It is alleged that about 200 hectares of land was cleared illegally by the company that was ‘unaware’ of the laws around it. It basically says that if 50% or more of the (in the instance) grass was of a native species, it cannot be cleared. A NSW investigation into it was dropped and a Federal one was picked up. But rather than hound the people responsible in an attempt to uncover the truth, and any potential conflicts of interest within the Taylor family, the push is going the other way.

The company and stakeholders have submitted complaints about how the issue has been handled; they have gone out of their way to get experts to ‘confirm’ that the percentage was just below 50%; the familial ties have been deemed irrelevant, and nothing needs to be looked into there; and lastly, the company cried ignorant, saying they were not aware of the law and that such regulations should have been clearly stated. Might just be my cynicism, but I don’t buy the whole ignorance plea. To so actively fight against this investigation, with ties to a government Minister, suggests that surely they knew they were not being entirely honest about it all.

But not a word from Morrison about these potential criminals – indeed, Taylor’s energy policy is so anti-green that it’s the complete opposite of ‘criminal’ in their eyes. It’s fine to call for harsher penalties for protesters and activists, but as soon as it comes to people illegally clearing land, or the rabid expansion of fossil fuels, it’s borderline criminal to oppose them.

Liked this? Read Earth Hour? We Need Action, Not Fleeting Goodwill

Previous piece: The US Hasn’t Really Changed

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