'Ag-gag' laws in train

19 Jun, 2014 04:00 AM
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Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce.
We can’t have vigilante groups deciding that they’re the enforcers of law
Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce.

CONTROVERSIAL new laws targeting illegal trespass on livestock operations by extreme animal rights activists remain under the microscope in Canberra.

At the NSW Nationals’ annual conference in Queanbeyan last weekend, Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce was asked what his government was doing to develop laws to protect farmers against trespassing animal activists.

“Will you help farmers stand up to these vigilantes?” was the question asked of the Minister.

Minister Joyce pledged to do everything in his power to advance current moves by State agriculture ministers and coordinate new laws to ensure illegal trespass activity was outlawed.

He said activists were “basically invading peoples’ properties” to install cameras in livestock operations such as piggeries and dairies, obtaining video footage via illegal trespass and publishing it on the internet.

Minister Joyce said the activists were not only associated with committing a crime but they also had “the hide” to request public donations to aid their cause and claim those payments as a tax deductable gift.

However, the Minister’s comments sparked a strong response from NSW Greens' Senator and animal welfare spokesperson Lee Rhiannon, who accused the Nationals deputy leader of using biosecurity as a cover to introduce “ag-gag” laws as a way of preventing scrutiny of animal cruelty.

She said instead of working with farming communities to improve animal welfare, Minister Joyce was trying to “hoodwink” the Australian people by citing biosecurity as a reason to introduce laws protecting perpetrators of animal cruelty.

Senator Rhiannon said Minister Joyce wanted to punish people who exposed animal cruelty with harsher penalties than what covered those who “commit the violence”.

She said undercover investigators played an important role in the debate as their exposure of animal cruelty helped highlight the need for improved farming practices.

Senator Rhiannon said the Greens would also oppose any changes to legislation which protected people or companies that “could administer animal cruelty”.

But speaking to national media in Canberra on Monday, Minister Joyce returned fire saying he believed Senator Rhiannon was endorsing the roles of “vigilante groups”.

He said the vigilantes caused “immense problems” for animal husbandry and farm management practices while making property owners feel their rights had been “intruded” upon.

“If you have strangers in a shed then of course you’re going to stir up animals,” he said.

“If someone breaks into your house in the middle of the night you’d be rather stirred up too.”

Minister Joyce said he was working very closely with the States to ensure people who break into private property and place cameras in pig sheds or dairies are charged with break and enter.

“We can’t have vigilante groups deciding that they’re the enforcers of law,” he said.

“If people believe a crime has been committed, then that is a role for the police not a role for vigilante groups.”

Minister Joyce said there was a vast difference between genuine whistleblowers who informed the police of a real crime and the type of trespass activity targeted by the so call “ag-gag laws”.

Mr Joyce said he had no problems with whistleblowers, “whatsoever”.

“But the fact that you would break into someone’s shed or break into their farm or put a drone over their farm or basically break into someone’s house without the proper authority of a court, just take it upon yourself, there’s a word for that, it’s called vigilantes,” he said.

“They will always tell you that their intentions are proper but they’ve broken the law.

“If we say we’ll allow them to break into pig sheds, we’ll allow them to break into dairies, we’ll allow them to break into poultry farms, we’ll allow them to go onto other peoples’ private property, well what’s to stop someone saying ‘I also want them to break into peoples’ houses on the street to protect people against domestic violence’.

“Now domestic violence is a crime but it’s a crime that’s enforced by the police, not by vigilantes.”

Minister Joyce said he wanted to invoke tougher laws to protect farmers’ property rights “because this message has come back to us loud and clear” that they feel their rights have been violated.

Australian Pork Limited (APL) recently revealed it had applied to the Australian Farmers’ Fighting Fund (AFFF) to back a legal test case that can establish legal precedents to give farmers stronger protections against illegal trespass by extreme animal rights activists and how the video footage is then used.

APL chief executive Andrew Spencer said the AFFF application would look at a legal test case “where we can really ask some major questions of the law”.

“We want laws changed or precedents set in the courts around more appropriate protection for farmers,” he said.

“As it presently stands through precedent, we believe there is a significant lack of protection for Australia’s farmers from activities like farm raids.”

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Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
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READER COMMENTS

Vegman
19/06/2014 7:11:19 AM

Protection for farmers? How about protection for the hapless animals from cruel farming practices? The public is not that gullible to believe cruel practices are uncommon in pig and poultry farming for example, or are they? I guess they are because they're too busy chomping down on the meals these animals become and don't want to think about how the history of their meal..
genazzano
19/06/2014 9:55:09 AM

Vegman - have you ever stepped foot on to a farm ?
Inverell
19/06/2014 10:29:36 AM

The Greens are no friend of the farmer. They are defending the right to break and enter and align themselves with criminals. You can only wonder about the type of people in the Greens party that would defend the rights of people to break and enter and trespass on private property. There is no cruelty going on in AU. Most of the footage they release has been doctored. They just want to shut down all animal production and so do the Greens. Keep up the good work Barnaby. If the laws don't protect property owners, they will do it themselves and we don't want that.
Simon
19/06/2014 10:36:33 AM

Vegman, you are an example of the disconnected and ill-informed urban populace. You probably didn't concentrate much in biology class at school. The formula is: Discomfort, stress, trauma = lower production = lower income to the producer. There is no advantage in cruelty. Humanising of animals and the demonising of those who care for them is the core tactic of the animal rights extremist ideologists. Their ideology and actions are extreme and outside the bounds of acceptable behaviour in Australian society.
Overit
19/06/2014 10:44:03 AM

Don't you just love clowns who think they can impose their world view on the rest of us! Have any of you soy late sipping vegans ever looked at how animals treat each other in the animal kingdom? They can be brutal! We are all part of the food chain and humans just happen to be at the top of it and have been since time began! I think animals raised for food production have a pretty cruisey life until they are consumed as food....after all that is what they were put on earth for you know whether you like it or not!
Cam
19/06/2014 11:17:37 AM

@Vegman...you have an issue with someone's operation and want it checked out, that's fine, but do it the right way, not breaking into people's properties in the dead of night. It's still illegal in this country you know.
Mal Content
19/06/2014 3:58:01 PM

Can anyone think of a cause taken up by the Greens that wasn't at the expense and detriment of someone else's property, some one else's lifestyle or some one else's capacity to earn and survive and perhaps even prosper? Classically a group of unsuccessful, unproductive, non-contributing theorists with no aim except to tear down the civilisation that has taken eons to evolve. Would that they should regress to the cave dwelling moss eating existence that they seem to crave for the rest of us... oh yeah, and leave their unfortunate carnivorous pets to eat naturally.
wtf
19/06/2014 4:31:27 PM

Are U familiar with csg mal content?
Fiona
19/06/2014 4:35:27 PM

I think it is important to note the HUGE bio-security risk that trespassers pose, this is particularly true for the pork industry. If any disease is introduced it has the potential to causes significant health and welfare ramifications. There needs to be legislation that allows farmers to protect the welfare of their animals through controlling people movement (which is one of the largest bio-security risks).
cmt
19/06/2014 4:48:31 PM

Well said Mal Content. Who do these fringe dwellers think they are taking it upon themselves to police the community. Bet they wouldn't let anybody spy on them in their homes. Who knows what criminal activity they get up too behind closed doors?
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