Flippant comments about battery hens made by Act MP Hilary Calvert got the animal and political world talking over the last few days. Ms Calvert made her comments on TVNZ’s Back Benchers and outraged animal welfare advocates and her colleagues in one fowl swoop, (pun intended). SAFE’s representative and Board member, Debra Ashton, asked the panel of politicians if their party would ban battery hen cages within ten years, Calvert replied:
“No… and I don’t care if they display the characteristics of chopping their heads off and running around the garden without their heads either. We care about people ahead of silly little chickens.”
She further aggravated the situation by randomly calling out “pigs is good” several times and then making the inaccurate statements that free range chickens require antibiotics and that hens were better off inside sheds.
Watching the show live on television, I could not help but be outraged and amused at the same time.
Of course Calvert’s comments were offensive and ignorant but it was her demeanor I found Hilaryous, (pun intended). She was shrill, wide-eyed and oh so out of her depth. The contrast of her amateur performance next to a very slick Labour’s David Cunliffe could not have been greater. Not that I thought much of his comments either, slick is one thing, saying something meaningful is another.
The National MP present was so bland that I can’t even remember his name. The National MPs comments were as meaningless as Labour’s and it is sad that our main parties just can’t get their act together on animal welfare issues.
The only shining light was Green MP Sue Kedgley who once again showed that being compassionate and a politician can go together.
Calvert’s outrageous behaviour upset many who care about animals but I’d rather see an MP express honest views, no matter how unpalatable they are, than have to listen to the meaningless spin so often used by other politicians. At least now we know who definitely not to vote for!
The fall out for Calvert was immediate, dozens of letters and emails were sent to her and fellow Act MPs and it was soon clear that she was out on her own. Colleagues Hon John Banks and Hon Rodney Hide quickly distanced themselves from her and Calvert had no other option to apologise for her insensitive remarks. Given that her earlier comments seem to have come from a raw honest place, it is hard to believe the sincerity of the apology especially as she is still clear about not wanting to ban battery hen cages.
Calvert now suggests that the best way to stop this cruel practice (glad that she now recognises this) is by getting people to stop buying battery eggs. This is a cop out however. Battery cages are in breach of the Animal Welfare Act and therefore should be banned. Given Calvert is a lawyer she surely must recognise this. Get your Act together (pun intended) Hilary and support a swift phase out of battery hen cages. Now that would be a real apology!
Click here to watch Back Benchers (skip to chapter 2)
SAFE director Hans Kriek has spent the past 25 years campaigning against battery hen farming and is considered to be New Zealand’s most outspoken and respected advocate for animals.