State and federal politicians appear unwilling to take on the issue of extreme tactics from animal activists, with not one formally committing to a change in privacy laws that would make it easier for farmers to prosecute trespassers.
Agriculture ministers are due to meet this Friday and it’s hoped better privacy protections will be on the agenda.
The privacy issue is one of three outcomes being sought by a campaign launched by this publication after animal rights charity, Aussie Farms released a map detailing the locations of farms, feedlots and processing facilities across Australia.
Our campaign, #protectourfarms, is also calling for Aussie Farms to be stripped of its charity status and for tougher farm trespass laws.
Farm lobby groups say state trespass laws have proven inadequate and the federal government would need to develop new privacy laws if any trespass convictions were to have any hope of proceeding through the courts.
We sought a response from all state governments on whether they’d commit to pursing changes to privacy laws.
Western Australian Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan said her state had tough trespass laws, but acknowledged a new animal welfare inspection and compliance regime was required to discourage activists.
“We do need further reform of our animal welfare system, which is based on only taking action where this is ‘suspicion of cruelty’ - effectively encouraging animal activists to seek out such evidence,” she said.
Victorian Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes didn’t address our question on new privacy laws, but said “anyone found guilty of trespass already faces tough consequences which may include imprisonment”.
NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman said his government had created a new offence of aggravated trespass which carried a maximum penalty of $5500. But new privacy laws were a matter for the federal government, he said.
Tasmanian Primary Industries Minister Guy Barnett said trespassers were a threat to livelihoods and biosecurity. He committed to considering new federal protections for farmers.
Queensland Agriculture Minister Mark Furner said farmers didn’t deserve the “smears of so-called charity Aussie Farms”, but did not respond to the questions about privacy concerns.
The South Australian Primary Industries Minister had not responded to our inquiries at the time of publication.
Five successive reviews of privacy laws by the Australian Law Reform Commission all recommended more privacy protections, but both sides of politics had “wimped out” on the reform, according to University of NSW privacy law expert David Vaile.
None of the ministers responded directly when asked if federal government should create new laws to enable farmers to sue for significant breach of privacy.
Giving individuals rights to sue for privacy breaches creates more options to prosecute against trespass.
Under those changes, farmers could take court action if images obtained under trespass were publicised. Under current laws, police they need evidence of a break in and legal experts say trespassers can wear a balaclava to hide their identity, making it difficult to lay charges.