New fronts for animal liberation . I am getting more convinced than ever that animal liberation is one of the western world’s growing political movements and maybe the traditional political parties are beginning to grasp its significance. Demonstrations over the mulesing of sheep and the transportation of live sheep to the Middle East are now regular occurrences in Australia and passions were stirred in Canberra recently over the killing of kangaroos on Defence Department land. For the politicians these are difficult issues because of the economic cost to farmers of changing livestock handling practices but they’re not going away. This morning sees the Victorian Racing Minister Robert Hulls feeling sufficient pressure to write to the Racing Victoria noting, reports The Australian, “the current public debate about the future of jumps racing in Victoria” and demanding an “urgent update” on safety measures. The calls for Victoria to abandon jumps racing as every other state has now done were renewed after last Saturday’s fatality at Sandown, when Crying Storm jumped the hurdle near the finishing post only to shatter a leg on landing.

The RSPCA is leading the lobbying on the issue. Racing Victoria should perhaps be thankful that the ban is being sought just for races over hurdles and steeplechase fences. In the United States the critics are calling for dramatic changes to racing on the flat as well after horses broke their leg in major races. And in Massachusetts the Committee to Protect Dogs this week submitted 45,000 signatures to local election officials to put banning dog racing on the November ballot. Animal cruelty is also stirring passions in Britain where, with fox hunting now banned, animal liberationists are turning their attention to intensive farming of pigs. The Independent newspaper is proving a staunch ally with a major report this week on Government vets launching an investigation into Britain’s pig farming industry after disturbing images showing dead and diseased animals were passed to the paper.

Put it in the post . The growing method of illegal drug importation into Australia — the annual National Report on Illicit Drugs by the Australian Crime Commission shows a big increase in the number of detections of heroin being imported with the average size being much less than a decade ago.

The Tibet hysteria must be over . There is one thing we can be sure about the decision announced this morning by the Prime Minister Kevin that he will attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games: there is no overwhelming anti-Chinese sentiment among Australians following the crackdown in Tibet. This Prime Minister is more attuned to public sentiment than any politician in my 40 plus years in Canberra. He would not be going if there was a prospect of losing votes because of it.

Gambling on principle . What a strange thing that the most cynical political machine in Australia for decades (if not ever) – the NSW Labor Government – is gambling on its Liberal Party opponents being people of principle! Premier Morris Iemma knows he must get the votes of the Opposition if he is not to have his electricity privatisation proposal defeated and made to look very silly in the process. So when the would-be-Premier Barry O’Farrell said he wanted a report from the Auditor General before his Party made up his mind, Mr Iemma could not oblige quickly enough. Legislation to give the Auditor the necessary power to make such a special report is now before the State Parliament.

Yet clearly the Auditor General Peter Achterstraat is not going to produce a report which unequivocally advocates that privatisation should proceed. His comment that “I don’t think I’ll be asked to make a decision whether they should sell the power or not” made it clear that he does not want to be at the centre of this political debate. “I think,” said Mr Achterstraat, “that’s ultimately for Parliament. I would like to give the Parliament as much information and data as possible to help the particular members make that decision.” So what we actually have is a wonderful tactic by the Liberal Party of prolonging Mr Iemma’s agony for a few more months. The ultimate decision for the Liberals will be whether to follow the Party’s long standing principle advocating privatisation or to take the pragmatic course of humiliating a Premier. My money is on the humiliation.

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Peter Fray

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