The politics of change
Three years into her term as a member of the NSW Legislative Council representing the Animal Justice Party, Emma Hurst is fulfilling her long-held mission of making the world a kinder place for all.
Walking into the chambers at the NSW Parliament for the first time, Emma Hurst shivered. Not with fear, but because the room where legislation is debated was incredibly cold. She was later told by another female MP that the air conditioning is set to a temperature that’s comfortable for “a male wearing a wool suit and a tie”.
It’s one of the many challenges the Animal Justice Party (AJP) MP faces in an environment that’s frustratingly slow when it comes to advancing rights for both women and animals. “Going into parliament is like going into a time machine back to the 1930s,” Emma says. “There’s a lot of really outdated attitudes.”
Fortunately, Emma, who was elected to the NSW Legislative Council in 2019 after defeating a pro-animal-farming opponent, is there to disrupt the status quo.
PRIMED FOR POLITICAL CHANGE
Her journey into animal advocacy began when she was a young girl holding a hen in her arms. “I remember thinking: this hen is showing joy in the same way as my cat does, and if I couldn’t eat my cat, then I can’t eat this hen,” she says. Emma promptly wrote a note to her mum proclaiming she was now vegetarian.
Several years later, after learning about the cruelty involved in the dairy and egg industries, thanks to an activist handing her a flyer in the street, she became vegan. “I knew then that I wanted to be part of a great movement that was going to change the world for animals,” she recalls. This awakening led to Emma switching her university study from education to psychology. “I knew that animal cruelty was a human-caused problem, so we needed a human-focused solution,” she says.
Since leaving university, Emma has worked for animal rights and protection groups, including Animal Liberation, PETA, and World Animal Protection International, and has even won several competitions as a vegan bodybuilder. All this primed her for a career in politics. “When I was asked to run for the AJP, I asked myself where I could be best placed to help animals,” says Emma. “Politics is so far behind where the rest of society is on animal protection. I knew that we needed as many people as possible to be willing to make change in this arena.”
Image by TK Kurikawa on Shutterstock
CHAMPIONING ANIMALS IN THE CHAMBER
During her first three years in parliament (with five more to go), Emma has emerged as a powerful, effective, and charismatic champion for animals. She credits her success to being willing to talk with and work with everyone.
“You have to throw your assumptions away and realise that animal protection is not a right or left issue, says Emma. “We need to be able to sit down and have an open and honest conversation with people who might have opposing positions on so many other things. It’s not about me or how I feel. It’s about recognising that these are the people that have been elected for me to work with, so I have an open-door policy.”
It’s this collaborative leadership approach that has resulted in cross-party support for many of Emma’s initiatives, including the outlawing of convenience killing of animals in pounds if a shelter is willing to take them. Among the systemic changes she’s most proud of helping to bring about is recognition of animal abuse within domestic violence environments. This includes animals now being listed on Apprehended Domestic Violence Orders and securing a $500,000 grant from the Attorney General to enable refuges to build shelters for people fleeing violence so they can take their animals with them.
“Research shows that around 70 percent of victims in domestic and family violence delay leaving a dangerous situation because they don’t have the capacity to take their animals with them,” says Emma. “And they know that leaving those animals behind could be a death sentence for them.”
It’s a situation particularly close to Emma’s heart. Last year she revealed in a Daily Mail article that she’s a survivor of domestic abuse after her partner of four years turned violent. “Violence doesn’t discriminate,” she says. “The act of violence is the same, it’s just the victim that changes. Being a victim of violence myself, I can see that more clearly. We need to have a low-tolerance stance on all forms of violence.”
ENDING VIOLENCE FOR ALL VICTIMS
Since animals are brutalised, killed, and exploited in so many ways, many of which are legal, there’s no shortage of issues for the AJP to address. One major initiative Emma is currently championing is an inquiry into the use of animals in experimentation. “There are certain experiments in Australia that remain legal which force animals to smoke tobacco or force them to nearly drown in beakers,” reveals Emma. “We’ll be pushing for alternatives to animal models and for proper funding for those technologies.”
Another important issue Emma is tackling is putting an end to puppy farming – the mass breeding of dogs in appalling conditions akin to factory farms – starting with an inquiry. COVID lockdowns saw an increase in demand for puppies, resulting in more puppy mills. In NSW, there’s no limit on the number of female breeding dogs or the number of litters that each dog can have, and no minimum staffing ratios. “Technically, you could have one person with up to 800 dogs in one of these facilities,” says Emma. “And unless somebody found an act of extreme animal cruelty, there’s nothing that can be done.”
Emma speaking at puppy farm rally • image courtesy of Emma Hurst
Farmed animals remain some of the most abused. Emma is taking a dual approach to remedy this: she’s part of an inquiry to review the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and is campaigning for a Minister for Animal Protection who has no conflicting interests. Currently, animal protection falls under the Minister for Agriculture’s portfolio, a scenario that Emma likens to “having a Minister for Mining in charge of the environment”. In addition, she’s keen to support plant-based agriculture programs. “This is the big shift that we need, both from an animal protection perspective, but also the climate emergency,” she says.
BE THE SYSTEMIC CHANGE
While Emma is beavering away within the political system, she encourages everyone to do their part to create systemic change for people, animals, and the planet. “We need to recognise that all those three areas are linked,” she says. “Even though we can pick an issue that we’re most passionate about and fight for that, it doesn’t mean that you turn your back on the other two. If we’re campaigning for animal protection, we need to recognise that the animals need a good environment to live in, so we need to also be environmentalists. And if you’re advocating for human rights, you can adopt a plant-based lifestyle and be more environmentally friendly in your personal life.”
Emma also urges us to become more politically engaged by voting for candidates that reflect your values and to seek meetings with your local MPs to discuss issues that are important to you. “Don’t forget that they represent you, from the local council level to the state and federal level,” she says. “Hold them to account. And if they won’t listen, vote them out and encourage others to do the same. We may not have the money that a lot of the lobby groups in industry do, but we have a voice and we have a vote.” It’s time to use them.
Lead image courtesy of Emma Hurst