Farm invasion bill passes Federal Parliament
Colin Bettles, BEEF Central (Australia)
September 13, 2019
NEW laws that will strengthen farmer protections against escalating animal rights activism and harassment have passed the Federal Parliament, introducing tougher penalties for convictions.
The Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill will amend the Criminal Code to introduce two new offences relating to the incitement of trespass or property offences on agricultural land, using a carriage service (primarily the internet).
The offences carry penalties of up to 12-months or five-years’ imprisonment, if found guilty.
Attorney-General Christian Porter has described the Coalition Government’s new laws as the next step in protecting farmers from groups and individuals who disseminate personal information to encourage others to trespass and/or damage property on agricultural land.
The Bill passed the Senate with support from Labor and the crossbench, after amendments from the Coalition Government were added which largely reflected the Opposition’s concerns about press freedom and whistle-blower protections.
It then returned to the Lower House where it also passed, late yesterday and will now be presented for Royal Assent through the regular process, Mr Porter and Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie said.
Mr Porter and Senator McKenzie said the Bill’s successful passage was “an important safety measure for Australia’s dedicated farmers, most of whom are small businesses”.
Senator McKenzie said the new offences introduced in the Bill were not directed at people who “simply wish to engage in public discussion or debate about agricultural practices or legislation”.
“Rather, the Bill targets the conduct of those who go well beyond that, those who have an intention to incite others to commit unlawful trespass or other offences in the homes and on the lands of our farmers,” she said.
Senator McKenzie said the Bill had benefitted from scrutiny by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, the Senate Scrutiny of Bills Committee and the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee and the Government’s amendments responded to concerns raised by media stakeholders.
“These concerns were that journalists would be unintentionally impacted by the provisions within the Bill,” she said.
“The amendments, as introduced by the Government, will remove any doubt that journalists are excluded from these offences and provide that the evidential burden resides with the prosecution.”
Senator McKenzie said further amendments to the Bill had expanded the definition of ‘primary production business’ to cover facilities that process wood and wood fibre, addressing concerns raised by industry stakeholders.
But she said the new offences will not apply to news reports from journalists in their professional capacity and in the public interest.
They also won’t apply to those who utilise lawful channels to raise concerns about animal cruelty and other criminal activity where it exists in the agricultural industry, she said.
“We don’t want to see negative animal welfare outcomes at all,” she said.
“Anyone who says we do is bald-faced lying – lying to the Snate and lying to the Australian people.”
Senator McKenzie said “legitimate animal welfare concerns” must be reported to the “appropriate authority” to deal with.
“But that does not mean you have a right to incite violence and harassment on other Australians, their businesses and the animals that they actually care for,” she said.
“This Bill will make sure that those who seek to incite Australians to go on-farm to harass, intimidate and trespass will be subject to up to five years in jail.
“The Greens are calling anyone who supports this Bill – which is most of the Senate, bar the Greens – ‘fascists’, when the Greens political party, and those who support it and Animals Australia and Aussie Farms and all those who engage in this militant action, think it’s okay to disregard the law, harass and intimidate people and kill stock.
“That is actually the definition of fascism.”
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