A senior bureaucrat has been suspended from her role at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade amid revelations she is the co-owner of a group of websites that fund animal activists and encourage farm invasions and livestock theft.
Dr Julie Delforce, a senior sector specialist with the department's agricultural productivity and food security division, has been stood down pending an external investigation after The Weekly Times revealed her links to five websites that contain more than 1300 photos and 65 videos from at least 42 invasions on Australian farms and abattoirs.
The websites — Aussie Abattoirs, Aussie Chickens, Aussie Ducks, Aussie Eggs, and Aussie Turkeys — ask the public to donate money to cover "legal fees" and "finance investigations" which they describe as "undercover" and "covert".
Her role at the department included strengthening the quality of agricultural development initiatives across the Australian aid program.
A month-long internal investigation had earlier found there was no reason Dr Delforce should not keep her job at the department, after an initial report by the The Weekly Times in September revealed her links to the infamous animal activist group Aussie Farms.
Dr Delforce's son, Chris, is the executive director of the controversial animal activist group which earlier this year launched an interactive satellite map with the details and addresses of almost 6000 farmers.
Formed in 2014, Aussie Farms is dedicated to ending commercialised "animal abuse" and "exploitation" in Australian animal agriculture facilities by exposing slaughtering practices.
The Aussie Farms website promotes a number of related websites, five of which The Weekly Times reported are registered to RJ Delforce Investments, owned by Dr Delforce and her husband Robert.
The group's long-running practise of farm trespass and livestock theft led the Morrison government to introduce tougher sanctions for animal activists, including jail time, and cracking down on websites inciting trespass, theft and damage on farms.
Some of the sites have promoted invasions undertaken by multiple animal activist groups and encouraged sharing of farm details and locations, including some farmers places and dates of birth as well as their home towns.
The websites encourage tax-deductible donations to fund Aussie Farms, because of the group's registered charity status.
Several Coalition MPs have previously demanded the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission strip the group of its status.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham slammed the department's failings of its initial investigation and delivered a scathing assessment of the process in a statement to The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.
"The decision by the department to stand the employee aside while a thorough external investigation is completed is both necessary and appropriate," Senator Birmingham said.
"I am disappointed that initial investigations by the Department failed to uncover all relevant information about this staff member, their business associations and conflicts of interest.
"I have also asked that the failures in this process are reviewed to ensure any future procedures are thorough and effective."
A spokesman for DFAT conceded it was "unacceptable" the information was not revealed during the course of its initial departmental investigation.
"The department is now commissioning an external investigation of the matter," the statement said.
"This investigation will be comprehensive and include a full examination of Dr Delforce's business interests, including any links to animal activist websites."
© The Sydney Morning Herald
By Rob Harris
November 13, 2019 — 4.02pm