Activists map farms

Michelle Slater

An animal rights group has targeted hundreds of Gippsland livestock industries which have been identified on an interactive map with photos, videos and documents.

The activist group Aussie Farms is also a registered charity asking for public donations and has a form for volunteers to offer to get arrested or break the law which could threaten the group’s charitable status.

A spokesman for the Australian Charities and Not for Profit Commission said it took all concerns seriously and would investigate where there was evidence of misconduct.

“Registered charities cannot have a purpose of engaging in or promoting unlawful activity,” he said.

“This can be grounds for the revocation of charity registration which removes access to Commonwealth charity tax concessions.”

The map identified Gippsland farms, aquaculture, dairy processors, slaughterhouses, racetracks, and greyhound trainers, and contains more than 5000 operations across Australia.

Yarragon’s Gippy Goat Café owner John Gommans said he was aware of the website after 70 activists targeted his farm before Christmas and allegedly removed several head of livestock.

Drone footage of his goat sheds appears on the website, along with some basic information about his business holdings.

“I don’t think the footage looks bad. The farm looks neat and tidy. I have nothing to hide,” Mr Gommans said.

“We keep the goats in the sheds to protect them from foxes, which predate them heavily, and wild dogs which we have had problems with. The goats are happy and well-fed. There is no abuse here.”

However, Mr Gommans said he was concerned the website was inciting volunteers to take part in criminal activity against law-abiding farmers.

“It’s bloody terrible. They are inducing people to undertake illegal activities and soliciting funds for it. Whoever manages livestock is a potential victim of these activities. This is not right at all,” he said.

The Boolarra goldfish hatchery is listed as a food production outfit, which owner Russell Wucherpfenning said showed a lack of reliable research.

“They should get their facts straight. We are not producing food fish. We don’t slaughter our fish – they are ornamental,” Mr Wucherpfenning said.

“It’s in our business to make sure the fish are healthy and well-looked after or people won’t buy them.”

Aussie Farms executive director Chris Delforce said the map was previously a resource for a small number of activists and organisations.

He said it was opened up to the public “in an effort to force transparency on an industry dependent on secrecy.”

“We believe in freedom of information as a powerful tool in the fight against animal abuse and exploitation,” Mr Delforce said.

“We believe consumers have a right to know of the existence, location and operations of these businesses.”

Member for Morwell Russell Northe said he hoped the website would not encourage activists to take the law into their own hands, particularly in light of the Gippy Goat incident.

“People are quite within their rights to be passionate about issues that are important to them, but to ask people if they are prepared to break the law in their activism is not acceptable, particularly for a charitable organisation,” he said.

“Those who deliberately mistreat animals or break the law should be held accountable for their actions and rightly so.”