Animal Protection > Activist Interviews

A MAN LESS ORDINARY an interview with Richard Jones MLC

Richard Jones MLC is well known in the animal rights movement as a relentless crusader who has been at the forefront of many fine rescue missions. It all started in 1971 with the early anti-fur demos and anti-trap campaigns and it took off from there. What is not so well-known is that Richard is now a fully-fledged vegan. We asked him recently how's it all going?

First published in Vegan Voice magazine.

Picture (right) is from the cover of a past issue of Action magazine with Richard lending a hand with the rescue of piglets.

Q. Richard, you were a vegetarian for many years . What was the turning point in your switch to total veganism?

A. The turning point from vegetarianism to veganism was just a logical step in the process of opposing exploitation of animals. On my property in Northern NSW I hear the cows crying for days when their calves are taken away, and witness the cruelty caused by butter, cheese and milk production, not to mention the extraordinary wasteful use of former rainforest land. I used to eat free-range eggs but even that is not good enough, bearing in mind the large number of male chicks that are gassed or suffocated and the fact that the hens are discarded after they are no longer useful. Dairy products are not great for our health nor for the environment.

Q. Have you tested the waters yet to veganism and travelling? What's it like at Parliament House? We hear vegan food and wines are now served. Is that correct?

A. I am finding it exceedingly difficult to find vegan foods whilst travelling and even at work. Vegans are not catered for, vegetarians are. There is very little understanding in the community as to what veganism is and why people are vegans. People often offer me fish, thinking that vegetarians eat fish! The only place it is easy to be vegan is at home.

Yes, it is true that there are more vegetarians in Parliament now and, I believe, three vegans. Parliament is beginning to reflect the community, even though it is usually lagging behind in community attitudes. We had regular vegetarian food put on the parliamentary menu only when one Government member lost weight, because she couldn't find anything to eat.

Q. Would you mind going through some of your background in Animal Rights?

A. I became a vegetarian 13 years ago after realising the absurdity of working for the animals whilst at the same time eating them. Around about 1977 I joined Project Jonah's campaign to save the whales. My involvement included having made a giant blow-up sperm whale, Willy, who went around the country publicising the plight of the whales. He was towed across Sydney Harbour, down the Torrens, up the Yarra, across Lake Burley Griffin and made his final appearance at the International Whaling Commission conference in Canberra, where he was slashed to pieces by Japanese whalers when he was inflated in the corridor outside their hotel rooms. I placed advertisements in every major newspaper in Australia describing whaling from the perspective of a mother whale. The response was overwhelming.

In 1978 I was instrumental in starting Greenpeace in Australia by placing advertisements for it in all major media. A portion of the money raised was taken by two Australian activists for an unauthorised operation against the pirate ship MV Sierra which was based in Spain. They joined Paul Watson and filled the bow of the Sea Shepherd with concrete and rammed the Sierra amidships causing $5 million worth of damage and putting it out of action.

Again in 1978 I arranged with conservationists to "take over' the IWC meeting in London where certificates alleging crimes against nature were presented to pro-whaling delegates. I poured a litre of decoagulated blood over the working papers of the Japanese and Icelandic whaling delegations, which received global TV coverage. The following year I founded the Fund for Animals at the suggestion of Cleveland Amory, and ran a campaign against the killing of baby harp seals in Canada. Lynda Stoner and I went to Newfoundland in 1982 to witness the hunt and talk to the sealers. Lynda received global coverage, as well as front page coverage in Australia for a week. I went again in 1983. The Fund collected 500,000 signatures against the hunt, which was presented to the Canadian Royal Commission on Sealing as evidence of public opinion opposing the killing.

I have worked on numerous campaigns both inside and outside of parliament. My Private Members Bill to stop the annual duck season passed and put an end to the slaughter of ducks and all the other birds that were killed at the same time. I also successfully moved a number of amendments in the lower house preventing people from killing cats and dogs when they trespassed onto other peoples properties.

Q. What do you think of the Australian Animal Rights Movement now?

A. The Australian Animal Rights Movement is not nearly so well developed as the movement in the UK and the States. Unfortunately we are a big meat-eating nation and a major exporter of meat and sheep. Overcoming the tradition to "feed the man meat" is really quite hard. The small number of people in the movement however have had significant successes. The next major move is to ban the battery cages for hens. The problem will be that the ban will be a state by state ban and not a federal ban. We have to get each state to agree. You only need one conservative state to resist the ban to make it fail. The battery operators could then move to the rogue state. We really need to recruit more people to the movement in order to make major changes.

Q. On the subject of vivisection, you mentioned at a recent rally that you foresaw an end to animal exploitation even if it took another 50 years. Can you please elaborate on this?

A. The fight against vivisection has been going on for over 100 years. We are now beginning to see some victories. Some universities will no longer use animals; some cosmetic companies are now producing their own cruelty-free range. The UK has produced a ban on puppy farms. We also had a small win with a ban on pound animals in NSW being supplied to research labs. There's a growing realisation that alternatives to animal testing work and that testing on animals is bad science. There will be an end to vivisection, just as there finally was an end to slavery, as soon as the majority of people realise that it is fundamentally wrong. It may take 50 years, it may take longer but it will happen eventually.

Q. What is your vision for the future?

A. My vision for the future is a world where animals are recognised as sentient, intelligent beings not far removed from humans, where the gap between human and non-human animals have rights. A world where humans are vegans would allow vast areas of the earth now used for the production of meat, dairy and other animal products to revert back to there natural state, providing habitat for the wild creatures. It is in our own long-term interests to stop exploiting animals.

Q. Finally, is there any particular area that you find more disturbing than others when talking about animal rights?

A. I just hate the callous disregard we have for animals raised for food. I have met a few pigs and it is so obvious that they are highly intelligent and sensitive and yet they are treated as dollars on the trotter and not sentient beings at all.

I am appalled at the way that dogs and cats are treated in Korea, where the dogs are hanged and beaten to death and the cats are boiled alive. I am horrified by the shooting of millions of kangaroos and in particular the shooting of the mothers and their joeys. The cruelty goes on and on .........