News & Media > Editorials > Did Farm Transparency Project Just Help Topple a Government?

Did Farm Transparency Project Just Help Topple a Government?

By Kristy Alger
Thu 15 February 2024, 3:29pm

When activists with Farm Transparency Project first walked into the Tasmanian Quality Meats slaughterhouse in the dead of night, they had no idea that the project they were embarking on would be a significant contributing factor in toppling the Tasmanian Liberal government. And yet, mere months after that first night, that is exactly what has happened. But to fully understand the landscape in which this has unfolded, we have to go back to May 2023.

It was then that Liberal MPs John Tucker and Lara Alexander left the party over the controversial AFL stadium proposal, a multimillion dollar project that has divided the community and already seen an Aboriginal community group lose access to a leased property. Tucker and Alexander were opposed to the lack of transparency surrounding the project, with the Rockliff government making commitments without consulting the community or their own party members, as well as the future debt that will result from the Mac Point Stadium deal.

This placed the Rockliff government into minority rule, forcing them to negotiate a deal with the newly declared independents to guarantee supply and prevent no confidence motions in Parliament. This deal was mostly successful, up until the release of footage from five Tasmanian slaughterhouses by FTP.

Aa cow cries out at Wal's Bulk Meats slaughterhouse
Cow cries out in pain at Wal's Bulk Meats slaughterhouse in Stowport, Tasmania.

Tucker immediately called for mandatory CCTV and independent random auditing of Tasmanian abattoirs, vociferously condemning what had been exposed via FTPs hidden cameras. He is an unlikely ally in this case, being a cattle farmer himself, and having lost a case in 2022 in which he sought to clear ecologically valuable forest on his land for the expansion of grazing pasture. And yet, by the beginning of January 2024 Tucker was threatening to “bring down the government” if his motion relating to mandatory CCTV (as well as one relating to the AFL stadium) was not fully supported.

The Rockliff government seemingly capitulated, voting in favour of the motion. However, rather than immediately acting to mandate CCTV and random auditing, the Primary Industries minister Jo Palmer set up a taskforce to examine reforms to the industry. The taskforce was broadly criticised by many as a meaningless response to the egregious cruelty that was inflicted upon calves, lambs, sheep, pigs, cows, and even deer in the five exposed slaughterhouses, including by FTP.

Tucker responded: “If the motion is not followed to the letter I will be pulling my supply and confidence from this government.”

And despite recent attempts by Rockliff to strongarm Tucker and Alexander into capitulating, that is exactly what has happened. With no guarantee of supply in Parliament, and no protection against a no confidence motion, the Premier has been forced to call a state election 14 months early. Early polls suggest that even if the Liberal party wins the election they cannot attain a majority, and will be forced to negotiate with independents and other parties to form government. However, Rockliff has explicitly stated he will not form government unless it is a majority government.

This is even more significant when we consider that the Rockliff government is the last Liberal state government in the country. 

All of this has occurred against a backdrop of increasing community outrage regarding animal welfare issues in the state. Animal Liberation Tasmania has been consistently releasing footage provided to them from greyhound trainers across the state, resulting in widespread media attention and nearly taking the licence of the state’s most prominent trainer Anthony Bullock. The success of his appeal against a lifetime disqualification for alleged lure offences also exposed the inherent corruption of the appeals system, with his word being taken on multiple levels without the provision of actual evidence. An investigation into practices not only showed the lack of traceability of greyhounds retired from the industry, but also exposed the horrific condition the ill-fated Zipping Princess was left in by her owners when given away on Gumtree.

A trailer full of animal body parts photographed on the property of greyhound trainer Anthony Bullock.

The Office of Racing Integrity has been thrown into absolute disarray, with the secret reappointment of Justin Helmich as Racing Director by beleaguered racing minister Felix Ellis. Helmich then left the role and was replaced by Ash Rushton, who spectacularly quit the job before he began. Now an interim racing director is in charge, but only until such time as the entire office is scrapped and replaced by Tasracing. This was a recommendation of the Murrihy Report, an investigation into the Ben Yole harness racing stables which proved allegations of race fixing and animal abuse, including the starvation of a horse for four days because trainers “forgot” to remove the tongue tie. Felix Ellis MP controversially sat on the findings of the Murrihy Report for two months before releasing the details to the public, during which time Ben Yole was allowed to continue racing.

Never before have animals been so consistently in the forefront of the media and community expectations. And whilst the primary focus of this election will undoubtedly be the worsening cost of living crisis, the housing crisis, ambulance ramping and the continued underfunding of the public health system, animal issues will likewise be front and center.

Jeremy Rockliff has now announced that the governor general has accepted his request to dissolve parliament in preparation for the March 23 election. Between now and then nothing can be undertaken, no legislation passed, no committees held, and recommendations of an already useless taskforce for slaughterhouse reforms cannot be acted upon. The slaughterhouse investigations have literally contributed to the collapse of the current Rockliff government and the shutdown of parliamentary systems. And should they lose the election, as is a very real possibility, FTP will have helped permanently topple a government.

Whilst no one is operating under the illusion that Tucker is a friend to the animals, nor that a change from Liberal to Labor in Tasmania will provide better outcomes for the animals, this is nonetheless animal rights history in the making.


Kristy Alger

Kristy Alger is an animal rights activist from lutruwita/Tasmania. She is currently the key organiser for Animal Liberation Tasmania, and head campaigner for Defund Tasracing. Alger is a published author, releasing Five Essays for Freedom: a political primer for animal advocates in 2020.

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