Since running in their first election just 3 years ago, the Animal Justice Party has quickly grown into Australia’s most respected political voice for animals. Across Australia, the Party has had nearly 100,000 votes in their favour and is anticipating a sea change in animal welfare legislation in the upcoming Election.
Up Close with Animal Justice Party
By Natalie Kyriacou
My Green World had the great privilege of interviewing Bruce Poon of the Animal Justice Party, who gave us an insight into the ever-growing animal welfare movement in Australia and the vision of the Animal Justice Party.
Could you please tell us a little bit about you and your professional background?
I’ve lived in Melbourne since I was ten and worked in Information Technology most of my career. About 30 years ago I became vegetarian and then vegan, and for the majority of that time I have worked for a number of fantastic non-government organisations focused on plant-based diet promotion. My role at Vegetarian Victoria included the development and publication of their widely distributed book ‘Eating up the World’.
Can you tell us a bit about when and how the AJP came about?
The Animal Justice Party was formed as a response to growing concern about the neglect of animals and animal protection issues by political parties. There was a desperate need for laws and processes which recognised animals’ needs, capabilities and interests. The proximate cause was probably the Belconnen Kangaroo massacre in 2008. At the time this awful cruelty to Kangaroos was endorsed by all Australian political parties. It was made very clear that a new party was needed and hence the AJP was born.
What inspired you to advocate for animals?
I am not unusual in feeling empathy towards animals, and like many others, I see it as easy to go through life without harming them. However, unfortunately, there is an abhorrent amount of animal suffering that occurs on a daily basis in Australia and ethically I knew I had to do more than just not cause harm myself, I needed to proactively try to protect them.
The suffering of animals where they intersect with human society, in particular, where they are ‘used’ as food or products is the great moral challenge of our time, and the joining together of people to counter this; the animal protection movement will be the great social change movement of this century.
There are few things that can so radically change our relationship with each other as will recognising the rights of non-human animals that we share the planet with.
Is there an issue that you feel is most pressing today, or one that you personally feel most passionately about?
Our key campaigns for this election are to end live export of animals, stop factory farming (with our priority being the most horrific farming practices of battery cages and sow stalls), stop wildlife slaughter such as kangaroos and other native animals, to establish a genuinely Independent Office of Animal Welfare, to reduce the number of cases of animal cruelty and enforce animal protection laws. These campaigns are all measures to reduce the suffering of millions of animals.
I think that animal agriculture and the rearing of animals for food is probably the biggest problem facing the world right now. The negative impacts that animal agriculture has on animals, the environment and human health are huge. Once we successfully transition this into other industries such as plant-based agriculture there will be very few problems that we cannot handle.
Why do you think it is important for animals to have a voice in politics?
Having worked relentlessly to try and help animals as part of the wider animal protection movement, I know what it is like to constantly try and fail. You end up just begging for mercy on their behalf. Those who have the power to change things, mainly politicians, have other priorities. If you actually want the law changed you have to wield political power yourself.
The small amount of political power that we currently have has already proved influential in winning a number of small campaigns. As we get more votes and more power we will continue to make positive changes for animals.
Politicians are the people that set and change laws, they should be interested in what is right but must also be engaged with retaining their seat and supporting their party’s agenda such as economics. The threat of our vote, and our preferences flowing towards or away from them in the next election is often enough to assist them to ‘tip the balance’ on something happening or not happening.
The Australian government has a poor track record in protecting animal rights despite the general public being more engaged in animal-related issues than ever before. Do you think that this election will bring a new era of animal protection policies and positive change for animals?
It will bring some. We have worked with The Greens to try and see a way where they can use their power, potentially holding the balance of power in one or more houses, to deliver real changes for animals. We have had many meetings with the Labor party as well, and they have promised changes such as the Independent Office of Animal Welfare, an end to Cosmetic Testing on animals and improved funding for research into plant-based agriculture.
So what we get will be a function of which party Australians vote into Government.
I think as our vote increases – and it has increased dramatically at every election we have run in – the amount of improvements will also increase. We often joke that our vote has doubled at each election so far…another 5 elections of that trend and we take government.
You are running for a seat on the Senate this year, could you tell me some of the obstacles that you are up against and share with our readers how they can make their vote count?
The Government recently passed legislation to change senate voting which has some good features and some bad features. The bad thing is it will be much harder for minor parties to win a seat in the Senate.
Being with a smaller party makes it tough to win a seat in the parliament. The major parties set the rules, and they set them to suit themselves. For example, they get all of the funding. Funding only kicks in at 4% of the vote, so if we get less than that, we get no funding. They get tens of millions of dollars of public funding, additional corporate or union donations, and spend a huge amount of money promoting themselves each election. We have very little funding by comparison, no paid staff, just a tonne of passionate volunteers.
Our main chance to win a seat is in the Senate. We think we can get more votes than a lot, and possibly all of the other smaller parties. If we can get ahead of them, especially in this Double Dissolution election, we have a good chance of picking up the last Senate seat. Vote 1 AJP and remember to number 2 to 6 as well, selecting parties who are better for animals if you can find them.
In the lower house, it is unlikely we will win any seats, but we want to get the best possible primary vote to put pressure on the major parties in those seats. If we could get 5% in every seat we run in, that could turn the whole election.
The AJP has the most comprehensive policies on issues affecting animals. What do you see as the main areas where the AJP can make a real and tangible difference to the lives of animals?
The main point of our existence is to supplement the ongoing campaigns of the NGOs, animal groups and grass-roots activists using our political pressure to get those in power to make changes to legislation. Once we have more MPs in parliament, we can also use that ‘soapbox’ to help educate the public on the issues.
In this last parliament, for example, we have worked for years with a range of parties to ensure that legislation is promised that can ban the sale of cruel animal tested cosmetics. We heavily influenced the Greens in introducing a bill but this received no support from the major parties. Largely, this was for political reasons. This led to the ALP consultation, which has convinced the ALP to cement their commitment to this legislation. We have also worked with a Liberal politician to get the same or better commitment from the current government.
At the end of the day, we are the party that just wants the legislation passed and the animals saved from torture. For other parties, it is a small part of their overall agenda, but for us, it is the reason we exist.
Do you think that policies (such as the withdrawal of Government financial support for animal-product industries) would negatively impact businesses and/or farmers? What would you say to people who want to prioritise animal welfare but are worried that their livelihoods may be imperilled?
An improvement in our relationship with other animals is no threat to the overall economy, although it will mean changes. Change is always hard to sell, as people are worried about the losses, and are lukewarm about the benefits. Jobs change over time. For example, when we moved to have ATMs to distribute cash, a lot of bank tellers were lost. But those people now do other jobs and everything is more efficient. Similarly, cuts to animal agriculture can be easily replaced with increases in more efficient plant-based agriculture. This could easily deliver more profits, more jobs and an improved environmental footprint. Our catch line is very often “A better life for ALL Australians”, which hints at our belief that while there might be changes, overall things will be better for humans and non-human animals.
Of course, transitions must be done in a fair and equitable way. Sometimes there might need to be compensation, or transition plans over a long period, in order to ensure that all the systems and people can adapt successfully to better animal laws.
What have been your successes so far?
We ran in our first election just 3 years ago in 2013. Across Australia we had nearly 100,000 people vote for us, which was a great first result. Since then, our vote has increased significantly throughout subsequent elections. In the 2014 Victorian state election, we ran in 9 lower house seats and came 4th behind the majors in 6 of them. Our voters and preferences turned the seat of Prahran from Liberal to Green. In 2015 we had our first MP elected, Mark Pearson to the NSW upper house.
In negotiating with major parties, we have seen some great changes to animal laws committed to, even if not all of them have been legislated yet. There was a major review of the Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) laws in Victoria that kill innocent dogs, which will lead to their repeal. Major changes to stop “puppy milling” (huge factory farms to produce pet dogs) are in the process of being introduced. Within a year or so we’ll see the banning of animal tested cosmetics.
There is still a very long way to go.
What would be the best-case scenario for the AJP in the upcoming election? What do you hope to achieve?
Some of what we hoped to achieve has already been achieved. This is the commitment to action from the bigger parties. Some of what we hoped to achieve has been lost…for example we didn’t have the votes to negotiate an end to Live Export.
We think we can win 1 or 2 Senate seats, given the right vote and the right ‘luck’ in how the votes fall between the majors. We hope we can also turn a number of lower house seats with our vote across the country.
Ideally, the seats we win will hold the balance of power in the Senate. We will then see what political power can do for animals.
What are some things Australians can do in their everyday lives to improve the lives of animals?
Treat animals with respect and dignity. Don’t eat them! It is bad for your health and very bad for their health too. It is also destroying the environment and our economy. Adopt, don’t shop. Support environmental initiatives that would allow wild places for them to live away from humans.
How can people get involved with the AJP?
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to get involved or check us out at ajpvic.org.au and get involved in this election, or the next one. We welcome new volunteers and members, and once you have signed up, we will keep you in touch with all our activities.
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