The Coalition Government has announced it will bring the Aussie Farms website under the Privacy Act, exposing it to potential penalties of more than $400,000 if it breaches the Act.
The crackdown comes as Queensland Police confirm that two alleged ringleaders who organised an invasion of a Millmerran feedlot by about 100 or more activists last month (pictured right) have been charged.
Major and Organised Crime Squad (Rural) allege a 29-year-old woman and 26-year-old man, both of Margate were the principal organisers of the trespass incident and were charged today with unlawfully entering farming land.
They have been bailed to appear in the Toowoomba Magistrates Court on May 9.
Investigations remain ongoing with further arrests anticipated, the QPS said.
Attorney-General, Christian Porter, said the activities of Aussie Farms Incorporated created an unacceptable risk to hardworking farming communities and producers.
“The company publishes information about Australian farmers and agricultural producers including their names and addresses, exposing them to potential trespass, biosecurity hazards, and reputational damage,” Mr Porter said.
“Listing this activist group as an organisation under the Privacy Act, now means that the company will have to abide by the provisions of the Act.”
Minister for Agriculture, David Littleproud, said he had repeatedly asked Aussie Farms to take the website down before someone was hurt or worse, but the group behind the website flat refused.
“The farming families who grow our food deserve to be able to do so without fear of invasion on their property and harm to their children,” Minister Littleproud said.
“The Aussie Farms website is intended to be an attack map for activists and it is already working as one. The fact Aussie Farms refused to take the website down when invasions began happening on farms displayed on their map shows they intend for it to be used as an attack map for activists.
“Aussie Farms will now be required to comply with the Privacy Act, which includes laws against the misuse of personal information. I note the maximum penalty for an offence under the Privacy Act is $420,000.”
Social media posts suggest the Aussie Farms group is rallying supporters to engage in protest events at several locations around Australia this coming Monday, April 8, to coincide with the 12 month anniversary of the release of the vegan documentary Dominion.
Minister Littleproud also called on state governments to beef up trespass laws to provide real penalties for trespass, and to make publicly state that they expect the police will uphold these laws.
Mr Littleproud said the Australian Information and Privacy Commissioner previously found that Aussie Farms Incorporated was exempt from the Privacy Act because its annual turnover was less than $3 million.
However, as Aussie Farms Incorporated is prescribed as an ‘organisation’ under the Privacy Act, Mr Littleproud said it is required to act in accordance with the Privacy Act, regardless of its annual turnover
Prescribing Aussie Farms Incorporated allowed the Information and Privacy Commissioner to investigate, either in response to a complaint or on her own initiative, if Aussie Farms Incorporated breaches the Privacy Act. The prescription comes into force as of tomorrow, Saturday April 6.
The Australian Meat Industry Council chief executive Patrick Hutchinson said AMIC welcomed the announcement that the ‘shameful’ Aussie Farms website would be brought under the Privacy Act.
“Aussie Farms could now face penalties up to and over $400,000 for breaches of the Act. This is an important step in protecting the rights of our members and all in our supply chain. Activist encroachment onto our members’ sites hurts hundreds and in some cases thousands of employees and their families who are working to ensure a safe and consistent food supply for Australia and the rest of the world,” Mr Hutchinson said.
Meanwhile, Meat & Livestock Australia, in partnership with the red meat industry and National Farmers Federation, is continuing to provide information and advice to red meat producers in the face of increasingly confrontational activity by animal rights activists.
This includes background information about the Aussie Farms website which lists details of thousands of Australian farms, what actions producers should consider taking now and what to do if they encounter trespassers on their property.
NFF and the red meat industry is deeply concerned that personal details of individual properties are featured on the site – given that many of these farms are also family homes. Trespassing on farms or entry without prior permission presents a substantial biosecurity risk that could be detrimental to the health and well-being of livestock. It also presents a safety risk for farming families and their employees.
Is your property on the farm map?
Check the map by visiting aussiefarms.org.au.
Request removal. Contact Aussie Farms to remove your details from the site.
File a complaint with the Office of the Information Commissioner.
Importantly, if you find images or other media linked to your property that may be the result of trespassing by activists, you should promptly refer the page to the police, via Crime Stoppers.
More information is available via the NFF here.
If you do encounter a trespasser on your property, the following steps are recommended:
Unauthorised entry onto your property is a potential risk to your biosecurity, to animal health and welfare and to the safety of your employees and family. Members of the public have no right to enter private property or carry out property inspections without prior permission.
Be vigilant, keep an eye out for unusual activity and take note of unauthorised vehicles on or near your property. Speak to your neighbours and ask them to be alert. If you or your staff encounter trespassers on your property, you should stay calm and act in a rational manner.
Sources: Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, MLA, NFF, AMIC, AgForce