Last week I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing the Honourable Mark Pearson MLC. Mark was elected to the NSW Legislative Council last year as a representative of the Animal Justice Party (AJP) and before that he was the Executive Director of Animal Liberation. Below is an edited version of our interview.
Can you start by telling me a bit about when and how the AJP came about?
MP: About 6 years ago I was contacted by Maryland Wilson from the Australian Wildlife Protection Council who had been talking to Professor Steve Garlick (current AJP President) about starting up a political party for animals. This was largely inspired by 3 things: Dutch woman Marianne Thieme was elected to the Dutch parliament, the first person in the world to be elected on an animal protection platform. Secondly, the protests against live export after the Indonesian crisis, which galvanized a broad section of the Australian public to speak out against animal cruelty. And finally, the public outcry over the slaughter of thousands of kangaroos in the ACT. A number of meetings were organised and eventually the AJP was registered as an official political party.
You are the first person in Australia to ever be elected to parliament as a representative of a party solely focused on animal issues. What do you think this says about Australian society and our attitudes toward animals?
MP: I think this signals a new era in Australia. Animals are no longer a fringe issue or only thought about as a knee jerk reaction when animal cruelty is exposed. It shows that Australians are deeply concerned about animal welfare issues and I believe it proves that animals are the new black!
I know the AJP has policies on a wide range of issues that affect animals but what do you see as the main area or areas where the AJP can make a real and tangible difference to the lives of animals?
MP: My first Bill will ensure whenever animals are enclosed, whether in intensive farming systems or in free range systems where they are brought into enclosures at night, there are mandatory sprinkler systems in case of fire and sophisticated alarm systems for when ventilation systems break down. Another Bill up for discussion will introduce mandatory CCTV cameras in abattoirs and another Bill is to ban the use of primates in research.
In 2-3 years, after the next election I will be introducing a bill to phase out the use of battery cages by the egg industry. I’ve had both Fred Nile and the Shooters and Fishers say that they will support that. Unusual bedfellows I know!
What have been your successes so far?
MP: I have managed to get my first notice of motion up for debate to be unanimously accepted, which commends farmers who are breeding out the wrinkles in their sheep, so that they don’t have to muelse, and those providing pain relief to their sheep if they do muelse. This sends a strong message to industry that Parliament wants change in this area and will make an amending the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act easier, which has the potential to improve the lives of 23 million lambs affected by these cruel practices every year.
Also, two committees have been established so far. The Labour Party has formed a committee looking at a broad range of animal welfare matters and another committee has looked at companion animal breeding facilities. While unfortunately the government didn’t accept most of the recommendations the committee came up with, at least now if a breeder is advertising dogs for sale they must have a license number on the ad so the tracing of these animals is much better.
Have you got plans to run candidates in the upcoming Federal election and if so, what do you think the chances of AJP representatives being elected are?
MP: Yes we do and with the double dissolution we’ve got double the chance. I think we’ve got a pretty good chance in Tasmania and a reasonable chance in Victoria and NSW. It certainly will be very interesting to see what happens.
What are some things Australians can do in their everyday lives to improve the lives of animals.
MP: It’s really important for people to educate themselves about what they eat and where their food comes from. They should also read up on the lives of animals and how they experience the world. This is the new revolution in science, which is showing that animals have the capacity for a wide range of emotions. We need to go beyond just thinking about meeting animals’ basic needs for food, water, shelter etc. to nurturing animals’ capacity to live the best life possible.
How can people get involved with the AJP if they would like to?
MP: They can attend one of our monthly meetings (to find out more please contact Anna Hall in NSW, Bruce Poon in Victoria and Brenton Edgecombe for all other States). With the election coming up there will be lots of opportunities for helping out, especially at polling booths on election day.
What is your favourite vegetarian meal?
MP: Creamy truffle pasta – with mock cream of course!
What is your favourite vegetarian restaurant?
MP: A Tavola in Darlinghurst. It’s not solely vegetarian but they have a great range of vegetarian dishes. I also love Peace Harmony.
A huge thanks to Mark for being so generous with his time and we wish the AJP lots of luck in the upcoming election. Don’t forget to vote 1 for the animals!