Farm trespass penalties 'completely inadequate'

Farm trespass penalties 'completely inadequate'

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Animal rights protesters at the Melbourne State Library in April 28, 2018. Photo David Crosling.

Animal rights protesters at the Melbourne State Library in April 28, 2018. Photo David Crosling.

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Industry welcomes lawmakers' response to animal activists, but urges judiciary to make punishment fit the crime.

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Tough penalties may be the most effective deterrent for animal activists breaking the law to protest against livestock industries.

Lawmakers are reacting to the spate of farm trespass which followed the publication of the Aussie Farms name-and-shame map detailing the location of agricultural sites.

State and federal governments are now considering new laws and bigger penalties for animal activists that commit biosecurity and trespass offences with the issue on the agenda of the next agriculture ministers' meeting in October.

National Farmers' Federation chief executive Tony Mahar said some of the penalties imposed by magistrates appeared "completely inadequate".

"There looks to be a systemic failure in the penalties handed out - they don't pass the pub test," Mr Mahar said.

"There needs to be a greater recognition from the judicial system that some of these activities are going over and above what is accepted from the community in terms of forcing views on other people. It's having significant emotional impacts on communities and even kids," he said.

Dairy Connect chief executive Shaughn Morgan said that previously "activists had not paid the penalty as required under the law".

"The current legislation being reviewed needs to ensure the prosecution system ensures penalties are applied and thus far, it hasn't been applied from our observation," Mr Morgan said.

"There's no point putting penalties in place if magistrates aren't going to enforce it.

"Farmers need to be able to do their job without fear of being invaded."

NSW Farmers said tougher penalties were needed, but the right to protest must be preserved.

"There is a problem. Thus far the punishment hasn't fitted the crime," he said.

"But I don't have a problem with vegans protesting. It just has to be respectful and in a legal context.

"We've been calling for new laws under the state biosecurity act, to properly reflect the potential impact of these incursions. While the chance of a biosecurity breach is relatively low, the consequences are incredibly large if an incursion does bring a disease.

"We protest as an organisation too, the right to protest is critical and we can't be hypocritical about it."

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Western Australian Farmers livestock president David Slade said recent tough penalties from the state judiciary had discouraged animal activists in his state.

"State government stepped up to the plate first of all - that stopped the demonstrations here when they had them over east," he said.

"It's a serious offence and the fines over there were ludicrous. The WA police did their job very well."

Vegan activists who live-streamed footage on Facebook from inside the former GD Pork piggery in Pinjarra were hit with a $10,000 fine by a magistrates court in March.

Leader of animal activist group Direct Action Everywhere WA James Warden pleaded guilty to trespass and received a $7000 fine, while his accomplice was fined $3000 for her role in the activity.

Also in March, a woman was controversially fined $1 in a Victorian magistrates court for her role in taking three goats from the Gippy Goat cafe in Yarragon.

Cafe owner John Gommans has since abandoned his business following what he called "constant harassment, vile statements and threats from the abusive vegan activists".

The Victorian and Western Australian parliaments are reviewing their trespass penalties with an eye to beefing up protections while the South Australian Attorney General Vickie Chapman said she would look at increased trespass penalties and compensation for farmers.

Meanwhile, the federal government has legislation before parliament to highlight the offence of using a carriage service, such as phones or internet, to incite trespass or theft and property damage.

The trespass charge carries a maximum one year jail term, and penalties up to five years for theft or property damage.

Australian Pork Limited, the peak body representing one of the most impacted agricultural industries, said proposed new laws could be a step forward.

"If the federal bill is passed by the Upper House, the code will make it very clear the activities of animal activists will clearly come under the remit for producers to prosecute their case through the courts," Ms Kerr said.

Queensland has changed biosecurity rule to allow police, or biosecurity officers to impose $600 on-the-spot fines. Meanwhile, parliament is considering a private members bill from the Opposition Liberal National Party which proposes fines up to $390,000 and new offences for organised, aggravated and serious criminal trespass carrying up to 10 year jail terms.

"I have been very much encouraged by the Queensland bill, the inquiry in Victoria and the discussions that are underway in South Australia, looking at opportunities to improve options for farmers or the public prosecutors to take legal action," said APL policy manager Deb Kerr.

"The Queensland bill provides some strong deterrents for trespassers and importantly allows high courts to hear a case under trial."

Queensland Farmers Federation chief executive Travis Tobin said farm trespass posed unique risks to farmers privacy and biosecurity and it was up to lawmakers to protect farmers and livestock industries

"Farms are usually businesses, workplaces and family homes. Not only do the increased number of coordinated activist attacks pose unacceptable risks to their businesses, threaten the welfare of their animals and have implications for food security but they also invade farmers' private property and privacy.

"While the constant threat of being the next target also hinders farmers' ability to produce the highest quality food, fibre and foliage as they must personally wear the economic and social costs of these actions," Mr Tobin said

"Due to the lengthy and costly court process, farmers have often been unable to recover the cost of trespass impacts on their businesses under the current legislation, so adjustments are needed to prevent these disruptive actions from occurring in the first place."

The story Farm trespass penalties 'completely inadequate' first appeared on Farm Online.

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