Animal Protection > Activist Interviews

Interview with three directors of Animal Liberation NSW

Spend any time around Mark Pearson and the directors of Animal Liberation and you soon come to realise these people mean business.

Whether you're gum-booting across a paddock with them in the dead of night on your way to a battery hen rescue or whether they are working within the law with their new "special constable" rights just awarded to them, the artifice of the Animal Liberation structure is geared towards lasting results and effecting change especially for those animals, the so-called "food" animals.

Over a quiet beer at the local pub recently they expanded their philosophy about animal rights and we found out the low-down on the live export trade in Oz, direct action, these "special constable" rights in this new era where strategies from the past are modernised in keeping with the times.

Pictured above from left to right: Bede Carmody, Mark Pearson, Ben Costello.

Interview by Claudette Vaughan, July 2000.

CLAUDETTE: For years the police have been nothing but antagonistic towards activists and at best indifferent to the plight of factory-farmed animals. Is climbing into bed with Police Commissioner Ryan such a wise choice for Animal Liberation now?

MARK: Yes, we think so because it will work in the animals' favour.

CLAUDETTE: How did it come about?

MARK: Well really it was a decision that came about over a long period of time. Leone Manwaring, one of the directors of AL was basically looking at the history how over time the organisation has gained more standing in the community and how we were actually looked to by the government for advice and submissions in regard to animal welfare. So in the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act we looked at the section which mentions an officer can be a special constable which is appointed through the courts and this officer has to come from a charity or a company.

CLAUDETTE: So you got in contact with the police...

MARK: Yeah and they wrote back favourably. We discussed all our concerns particularly the fact that farm animals were still receiving very little protection and if this same type of cruelty was shown to a companion animal then the person who was in charge of that animal would be prosecuted and possibly go to jail.

CLAUDETTE: Were the police willing to assist you?

MARK: Surprisingly we were quiet amazed at the enthusiasm. What I think that they did was look at the issues, and as the community is now more willing to speak out about animal welfare the complaints have also increased. The RSPCA keep saying that there is more cruelty now than ever before but I don't actually believe that to be true. I believe that the consciousness of the community has shifted so much to an extent that people are now willing to pick up the phone, write a letter and say "Look this is happening and this is not acceptable".

CLAUDETTE: This new relationship with the Police. Is this the end of Direct Action as we know it?

MARK: I don't see this as a problem because obviously the special constables that have been appointed (there are 3)* cannot participate in that form of direct action but if people are so concerned about animals that they are undergoing pain and distress if these people felt compelled to step over that fence to assist that animal and then brought it to our attention then our special constables* would have a duty under the Police Officers Act to respond to that information. Now we have a leverage an agency which is within AL and is an honest and appropriate response to any information that comes our way. We must act on it. If not then we are actually failing in our duty to the animals.

CLAUDETTE: Why is the live export trade so secretive in Australia?

MARK: Because the industries involved don't want the Australian public to know what's happening. Nor do the farmers as a matter-of-fact. We've recently received evidence from activists in the Middle East on the conditions that the animals suffer both in transport and unloading and slaughter over there which is completely against the Australian standards of animal welfare. If word got out about it there would be a public outcry and this would grow to such an extent that the government would have to ban it.

CLAUDETTE: What countries are live exports going to Mark?

MARK: Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan and the Middle East.

CLAUDETTE: Animal Liberation has always placed a lot of emphasis on direct action as a tool for change. What's your philosophy behind it?

MARK: What happened was we started to get farmers telling us about conditions up in farms in the area around us, which was Paul Keating's piggery at the time. Similarly at the same time I met Patty Mark at the AGMs and watched her strategies closely. I went down and spent a bit of time with her and watched what she does which is clearly direct action. What's important about direct action is not that it's just direct action but it focusses on the individual animal which is really what's central to what this organisation all about. You can have hundreds of thousands of animals together but Animal Liberation is about equal consideration for all animals so that inspired me. I came back, we had some abattoir workers contact us about the dreadful conditions of pigs arriving at Scone abattoir and then we adopted some of the principles that Patty Mark was using in Victoria.

CLAUDETTE: Has there been a cost to adopting an unadulterated without vested interests voice for the animals?

BEN: No. If anything we're taken more seriously now.

MARK: We found that people in government, for example, had serious concerns about animal welfare and they wanted to improve things for animal welfare. They realised that they weren't going to win by science or that approach and they realised that the RSPCA has been compromised as an agent of government and industry now and they were looking to a community voice to get their information out. By taking the stance we have and going about it the way we do gives people a chance to put their hands up and give us that information.

CLAUDETTE: What's your assessment of the animal rights movement in Australia now?

MARK: It's obviously growing enormously even just in terms of the public acceptance of it. I think one good measure of it is if you mention the name "Animal Liberation" now and you don't get the baulking or the discomfort from the public that we used to get. I think there's more of a respect for us now because we've been out there shouting from the rooftop and we've been winning issues but remained non-violent and reasonable at the same time.

CLAUDETTE: What pisses you off, if anything, about the animal rights movement?

MARK: Well, it's hard work. (laughter) On occasion we get people who do come in and they're not willing to observe for a while and learn from the people who have been doing it. They've got strong views and they want to change the direction of the organisation without really understanding where we're at and the procedures that are in place and sometimes have agonisingly developed over the years. These people can be obstructive but it's really just the odd individual.

CLAUDETTE: What's your advice to animal activists who want to up-the-ante on their own activism?

MARK: Always make sure that they do their homework so that they know and have actually done their research and be prepared for the most difficult questions. Of course, you know, just coming in on the emotional level is fine but with the backing of research it gives the activist the edge.

CLAUDETTE: Do you think that activists should became more politically savvy for example?

MARK: Yes definitely. And become more savvy on all levels about what the issue is and what the governments policy is or similarly if they are going to take a front-line approach. Being credible's important. If you don't know the answer to something learn to say "I'm sorry. I don't really know that at the moment but I'll go and find out and get back to you." Make sure to get to the bottom of that particular question.

BEN: Be prepared to re-evaluate the way that you've been doing things. Sometimes the tendency is to keep doing things the way things have always been done and it's healthy to have new ideas, new approaches to see how they work to keep evolving. It's too easy to keep on doing the same old thing because it's always been done that way.

MARK: Because the public is shifting too in the way that they are responding to our actions so we need to change so that the community keeps seeing the issue of animal suffering in a new light also. As we've gone along we've modified our campaign strategies.

BEN: Sometimes it's been best to drop direct actions for a while and then bring it back.

CLAUDETTE: What about Australian abattoirs?

MARK: We've had this major breakthrough with this abattoir in Young through approaching the Police Commissioner and talking with the Police and showing them the evidence. It's the first time the police are prosecuting a major animal cruelty matter and in a place which will expose a whole area and where people haven't thought much about it before. The so-called "quiet death" isn't the case at all. Even Animal Liberation to an extent, never broke through into exposing abattoirs before. Of course we advocate vegetarianism and veganism but in terms of going into that dark corner and having a look, well, we thought that is going to be the last campaign that we will probably win when we get more people becoming vegans and veggos but the times are a changin'.

BEN: This issue seems to have presented itself in the natural course of things although there's a lot of work involved but all of a sudden we've got 4 or 5 things happening where previously you could say it's been in the too-hard basket to crack open.

CLAUDETTE: Bede, is there anything you'd like to add?

BEDE: I'd like to say that what Mark was saying before, that we've changed our strategies, so we've gone from being an organisation that was known as a protesting organisation which it still is but now we're also doing it legally. There's pollies on our side and now we have the media on side which hasn't always been the case. In this day and age you have to have the whole package. By going out their and ranting and raving leads nowhere. By using the legal channels we follow up on our campaigns, we're using the people elected to represent us in Parliament and we're making EVERYTHING count without compromising the grass-root nature of our endeavour, namely animal liberation.

CLAUDETTE: Is there a book in the making?

MARK: I think it's time for a book on Australian abattoirs, don't you? What convinced me is Gail Eisnitz's success with "Slaughterhouse". I read it and I didn't think anything like that is happening in Australia but obviously it is.