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Farm invasion laws: Where is each State up to?

Colin Bettles, 16/09/2019

More than 100 anti-meat activists invaded a Millmerran feedlot in March.

POLITICAL backlash has ignited nation-wide moves to crackdown on the recent escalation of illegal animal rights activism targeting livestock farmers, with tough new laws introduced in various States to impose stiffer penalties on offenders.

These fresh moves add weight to the Federal Parliament passing a new Bill last week, pushed by the Liberal and Nationals Government, to strengthen farmer protections and help safeguard other facilities such as meat-works.

Two new offences will be introduced to the Criminal Code regarding the incitement of trespass or property offences on agricultural land, using a carriage service (primarily the internet).

It will see vigorous penalties imposed; including up to five-years’ imprisonment for the use of a carriage service to incite a person to damage, destroy or steal property on agricultural land.

Farm groups welcomed the Federal Government’s new rules after expressing repeated concerns about the inability of existing laws to act as a serious deterrent and protect farmers from major threats such as biosecurity breaches and livestock deaths due to repeat or mass farm invasions by animal rights activists armed with iPhones.

NFF CEO, Tony Mahar

National Farmers Federation CEO Tony Mahar told the recent Senate Committee inquiry into the Federal Government’s new Bill that the “recent surge” in farm trespass incidents highlighted the fact that existing laws – and their interpretation by the courts – were insufficient to discourage unlawful activity by animal activists.

“The NFF is concerned that the penalties imposed by the courts for farm trespass offences and animal theft are often well below the maximum available, do not reflect the seriousness of the crimes and are totally inadequate in providing a deterrent to would-be and repeat offenders,” he said.

Mr Mahar said changes in State and Federal laws provided some recognition of the far-reaching impacts of farm invasions, which can adversely affect animal health and welfare – particularly in intensive production systems – biosecurity, food safety, the personal safety and mental health and wellbeing of farmers, farming families and workers.

He said the financial impacts, including due to livestock theft, property damage and disruption to business operations, were also “significant”.

“In addition to the deterrent factor, we hope the legislation will create increased awareness amongst law enforcement agencies and the court system of the growing and serious impact of these incidents on farmers and supply chain businesses,” he said.

The Committee report said “Unfortunately, coordinated incidents of trespass appear to be on the rise, despite the existence of laws that criminalise trespass and property damage”.

It said existing Commonwealth and State and Territory laws can already be used to prosecute incitement to commit crimes on agricultural land, but “there is inconsistency in the application of these laws and the penalties associated with the offences”.

“The Committee therefore considers that the Bill is a proportionate response to the apparent rise in activist trespass on agricultural land,” the report said.

“The Bill complements efforts underway in some States and Territories to strengthen existing trespass laws, including by introducing tougher penalties.”

In response to the recent rise in what’s been commonly called “vegan terrorism”, the South Australian, New South Wales and Queensland Governments have ramped-up their legislative and enforcement activities, to protect farmers from activist harassment, while others are considering such moves or continue relying on existing laws.

New South Wales

An election commitment from the NSW Liberal and National Government to address activist attacks on farming families by “virtue signalling thugs” has seen the introduction of tougher penalties for those who enter farm properties illegally.

NSW Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall announced in July this year his Government was moving ahead with a “major shakeup” of the State’s Biosecuity Act.

Starting on August 1, a new offence was created where those trespassing on farms and creating biosecurity risks will face an immediate on-the-spot fine of $1000 and further fines of up to $220,000 per person and $440,000 for corporations.

“Vigilantes who are entering our farmers’ property illegally are nothing short of domestic terrorists – our farmers have had a gutful,” NSW Premier John Barillaro said.

“They (farmers) don’t deserve, nor have time, to be dealing with illegal trespass and vile harassment from a bunch of virtue-signalling thugs.”

Mr Marshall said the government was determined to clamp down on illegal farm invasions and was working on additional changes with further penalties, including gaol time, for those committing criminal acts associated with farm trespass.

“Today’s announcement complements the work the Commonwealth Government is doing in targeting the online incitement of farm trespass,” he said in July.

South Australia

In South Australia, consultation is currently underway on a draft Bill released by Attorney-General Vickie Chapman, proposing new measures to deal with aggravated farm trespassing.

The proposal was released for public feedback earlier this month, with an October 4 deadline:

https://yoursay.sa.gov.au/decisions/yoursay-engagements-new-farm-trespassing-laws/new-proposed-changes-to-the-farm-trespassing-laws

It aims to create a new offence where aggravated on-farm trespassing; interferes with the conduct of the farming activities; gives rise to a serious risk to the safety of the person or any other person on the land; or introduces or increases a risk of biosecurity or food contamination.

The maximum penalty for such an offence would be $10,000 or 12-months imprisonment, along with compensation to the farmer.

The Bill also seeks to increase penalties for existing provisions for trespass offences including; doubling the fine ($25000 to $5,000) where trespassing occurs on a farm; doubling the fine ($750 to $1500) for interfering with a farm gate; and increasing the fine from $750 to $2500 for disturbing farm animals, or a prison term of six months.

Ms Chapman said “vigilante activists” who trespass onto a farm to promote their cause are “unquestionably breaking the law and must be held accountable for it”.

“These changes strike the right balance between people’s right to protest and free speech and the need to ensure adequate legal protections for this important part of our economy,” she said of the proposed laws.

Primary Industries and Regional Development Minister Tim Whetstone said farmers in South Australia deserved “adequate protection” from activists and protestors.

“The proposed new aggravated trespass offence and stronger penalties will send a message to protestors or activists that in South Australia, if you break the law and put our farmers and supply chains at risk, you will be penalised,” he said.

Queensland

In Queensland, the State Labor Government has announced police and Agriculture Department biosecurity officers will have the power to issue on the spot fines of $652.17, for biosecurity breaches due to “farm invasions”.

In addition, the Department will form a joint Taskforce with the Queensland Police Service intelligence unit to focus specifically on animal activism:

http://statements.qld.gov.au/Statement/2019/5/10/farm-invaders-to-pay-heavy-price-for-breaching-biosecurity

Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries Minister Mark Furner said authorities had recently seen an escalation in the tactics of “militant activists who appear to assume their beliefs somehow place them outside the rule of law”.

The Queensland LNP Opposition has raised a proposed Bill in response through Burdekin MP Dale Last that’s been referred to the Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee for consideration, with a report due to be handed down by November 1, 2019

https://www.parliament.qld.gov.au/work-of-committees/committees/LACSC/inquiries/current-inquiries/Trespass2019

The LNP’s Criminal Code (Trespass Offences) Amendment Bill 2019 proposes to protect businesses from unlawful trespass activities by introducing three new criminal offences into Queensland’s Criminal Code – aggravated trespass, serious criminal trespass, and organised trespass.

Mr Last said during a speech to the Queensland Parliament in May, when the proposed laws were introduced, that the Palaszczuk Labor government had “failed to read the pulse of the community and industry when it comes to action against those who choose to unlawfully terrorise our farmers”.

He said the only additional laws or deterrent the Labor government was able to “scrounge together” was an on-the-spot, ‘slap on the wrist’ fine of $652.75, which was “laughable and will do nothing to deter these militant minorities”.

“Make no mistake: these militant acts will continue as long as there remains no threat of any real punishment,” he said.

Mr Last said the new aggravated trespass offence would be utilised when a person unlawfully enters or is in premises, private land or transport infrastructure with intent to cause economic loss to another person or the state, which would attract a maximum of three years imprisonment or a maximum fine of 100 penalty units ($13,055).

He said aggravated trespass could be used to charge those individuals where there was a deliberate intention to cause economic and financial losses due to that trespass, with a proposed maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment or a maximum fine of 3,000 penalty units ($391,650).

The Bill’s final proposed amendment is an organised trespass offence which targets those people who participate in the organisation of trespass by counselling, procuring or arranging for another person to commit an aggravated or serious trespass offence, he said.

“If a director, member or volunteer of an organisation has been found to have organised a deliberate and premeditated campaign against a project or business that involves individuals from that organisation being found guilty of committing offences of aggravated trespass or serious criminal trespass, that organisation can be liable for a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment or a $391,650 fine,” he said.

“We know militant extremist groups are well organised and financed, and recent actions by extreme groups across the country confirm the need to hold these organisations to account.

“That is why we need an offence that ropes in and holds to account those within their organisational structures involved in encouraging and organising unlawful trespass.”

Western Australia

Shadow Western Australian Agriculture Minister Jim Chown said there’d been talk of introducing new laws or strengthening existing ones to deal with the recent increase in animal rights activism and its impact on farmers, but the WA Labor Government had yet to propose anything, to scrutinise.

Existing laws already cover acts such as trespass or damage to private property such as two years’ imprisonment and/or $24,000 fine under the State’s Criminal Code for the unlawful damage or destruction of private property.

Wilful damage or destruction of any property can carry a penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment of up to life if fire is used and/or fines of up to $36 000, depending on the seriousness of the offence.

But Mr Chown said he believed tougher penalties and better enforcement measures were needed to deal with “radical trespass” and organised activities, to protect farmers and other people who are “going about their lawful business”.

He said he also believed any legislative proposal should ensure anyone found guilty of such an offence must be made to pay the actual fine, rather than being able to be crowd-fund it and therefore escape individual responsibility.

Mr Chown said he spoke about the issue during a speech in the WA Upper House in February this year, in a motion raised by WA Nationals Agricultural Regional Member Colin de Grussa:

http://www.parliament.wa.gov.au/Hansard/hansard.nsf/0/F2FFC6BB7E793BA4482583AE002C80DE/$file/C40%20S1%2020190221%20All.pdf

Mr de Grussa’s motion called on the WA Government to; provide greater protection for the safety and welfare of farmers, families, workers and livestock against animal activists who illegally trespass on private land or interfere with lawful activities, by investigating harsher penalties, stronger regulations or other protections; provide extra resources for law enforcement agencies to tackle rural crime and increase community protection in rural areas; and strengthen regulation and enforcement around the use of drones for clandestine surveillance, trespass or other unlawful activity.

“I am concerned that, at some stage, unless something is done about this through legislation, or at the very least alerting the police in the farming communities of what could happen, someone will be seriously injured,” Mr Chown said.

“I am very happy to hear that the Premier made a statement and the Minister for Agriculture and Food backs that statement and understands the situation.

“But heaven forbid if at some stage in the future we were found wanting as a Parliament and a government when someone is seriously injured by activists who did not understand their responsibilities and were doing their cause no good at all.”

WA Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan said during debate on the motion, “I have been in constant dialogue, as has the Premier, with the Minister for Police on the trespass issue to ensure that we have an appropriate response” but enforcement was “the real challenge”.

“The Premier and I have made it very clear that we want to distinguish this latest round of vegan activism from veganism itself,” she said.

“This activism is counterproductive and there is a degree to which one might think that perhaps this comes out of some sort of smugness, complacency or self-indulgence that they are going to achieve anything positive by going into a restaurant or threatening a farmer on their property.

“It seems that this type of activism is not designed to achieve a positive outcome and, quite frankly, it is setting back the cause of animal welfare.

“I ask those people who are doing these things to think very hard and long about what they are actually trying to achieve

“The real challenge is putting in place enforcement.

“We can come in here and have a knee-jerk reaction and set the penalty at 10 years’ jail or a fine of $20 000 or $40 000, but the difficulty lies in our ability to enforce that.”

Victoria

In Victoria, the Crimes Act imposes a penalty of up to 10 years’ imprisonment for intentionally destroying property while under other laws trespass and breaching the peace which carries a $4131 fine or six months’ imprisonment.

An Agriculture Victoria spokesperson the Victorian Parliament is currently undertaking a Parliamentary Inquiry into the Impact of Animal Rights Activism on Victorian Agriculture which is due to hand down its findings in November.”

https://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/eic-lc/inquiry/965

Tasmania

In Tasmania, related offences are covered under existing laws such as entering or remaining on land, vehicle, structure, vessel, etc, without permission, which can carry fines of up to $8400 or 12-months’ imprisonment.

Northern Territory

The Northern Territory Department of Primary Industry and Resources said trespassing onto a farm or property was already covered by the Trespass Act 1987 that’s administered by the Department of the Attorney-General and Justice.

The NT Act applies to protesters going without right or permission onto private land, including pastoral leasehold.

Where the trespass involves entry of buildings or additional criminal behaviour, other more serious offences may apply under the Criminal Code.

The penalty for a trespass office of this nature is a $3100 fine or six months imprisonment.

ACT

Existing laws cover various related acts such as;

  • entering private land and causing a breach of the peace (Crimes Act) – $3200 fine and/or one years’ imprisonment;
  • damaging or destroying private property, with damage not exceeding $5000 (Crimes Act) – $80000 fine and/or two years’ imprisonment;
  • damaging private property (Criminal Code) – $80000 fine and/or two years’ imprisonment and;
  • urging the commission of an offence, whether or not the offence was committed (Criminal Code) – up to $160,000 fine and/or 10 years’ imprisonment.

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