New trespass laws and Gloucester farmers

A recent amendment to the criminal code means Gloucester farmers have some protection against destructive trespassers on their agricultural land, according to NSW Farmers Gloucester branch chair, Pam Howard.

Pam said the new farm trespass laws provides some comfort to farming families that the government is taking action on criminal activities that cause significant stress to farm families, their employees and animals.

On September 12, the Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill was passed through both Houses of Parliament introducing two new offences in relation to agricultural land into the Criminal Code Act 1995. One is inciting trespass offence and the other is inciting property damage or theft both relating to use of carriage service.

For Ms Howard, it's about farmers being able to feel safe on their property and to conduct their lawful business without interference.

"Just like suburban homes and businesses, they should not have to contend with trespass activity, harassment and intimidation, theft or damage to their property," Ms Howard explained.

The bill was a pre-election promise by the Morrison Government in response to the animal rights charity organisation, Aussie Farms' January 2019 launch of an online interactive map of what it called 'factory farms, slaughterhouses and other animal exploitation facilities across Australia'. The map drew on existing material but also allowed anyone to create an account to submit information, photos, videos, documents and campaign materials. Details for locations featured on the map could include business names, addresses, GPS coordinates and aerial photographs. According to the bill's digest, the map has been associated with an increase in animal rights activism which has included trespass and property offences.

In response, the bill looked to include the use if a carriage service, such as the internet, to incite trespass or property offences on agricultural land which, if carried out by another, could cause detriment to a primary production business on that land as part of the criminal act.

Federal member for Lyne, David Gillespie said the government is serious about deterring those who want to disrupt and intimidate farmers, fishers and foresters on their properties.

"The Australian community have had enough of the behaviour of militant animal activists who have invaded farms across the country trespassing, threatening and harassing farming families, including here in our region," Dr Gillespie said.

"This bill makes it a criminal offence to publish material, via a carriage service like the internet, if you intend to incite trespass, property damage or theft on agricultural land. Animal activists who use the personal information of family farmers to incite trespass risk imprisonment of up to five years."

They should not have to contend with trespass activity, harassment and intimidation, theft or damage to their property.

Pam Howard

Included in the amendment is a clearer definition was what constitutes as a primary production business, along with a broad range of specific agricultural activities. It also notes that exceptions apply to public interest journalism and whistleblowers for both offences.

At a State level, Minister for Agriculture Adam Marshall has introduced Right to Farm Bill 2019 which is currently in front of the Legislative Assembly. The bill amends the Inclosed Lands Protection Act 1901 and introduces a new Act, the Right to Farm Act 2019, known as nuisance shield legislation.

"Not only does this bill introduce the toughest suite of trespass laws in Australia, it is also the first time that a farmer's right to farm will be embedded in our laws, protecting farmers from vexatious and often simply ridiculous nuisance claims," Mr Marshall said.

The bill is looking to introduce new offences to address common trespass activities; increase the penalty for aggravated trespass from a maximum of $5,500 to $13,200, including a new 12-month imprisonment (or three years if committed in company); and increase the penalty for the aggravating trespass causing a serious safety risk by introducing a three year maximum imprisonment term.