State and federal politicians and industry leaders are agitating to increase privacy protections for farmers ahead of a meeting of state and federal agriculture ministers in Adelaide on Friday.
Rights of farmers became an urgent issue in January when animal activist group Aussie Farms released a map detailing the locations of farms, feedlots and processing facilities across Australia.
Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, who convenes the Agricultural Ministerial Council, has added the issue as an urgent agenda.
NSW Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair said he would raise the issue at the meeting tomorrow, particularly in relation to biosecurity.
Queensland Agriculture Minister Mark Furner said he had written to federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud to put Aussie Farms on the agenda.
National Farmers’ Federation chief executive Tony Mahar supports a review of privacy laws and creation of stronger legal protections for farmers.
This publication is campaigning to create new laws giving individuals rights to sue for privacy breaches creates more options to prosecute against trespass.
Under those changes, which fall under federal jurisdiction, farmers could take court action if images obtained under trespass were publicised.
Current laws require police to gather sufficient evidence of a break-in, and legal experts say trespassers can wear a balaclava to hide their identity, making it difficult to lay charges.
Our campaign, #protectourfarms, is also calling for Aussie Farms to be stripped of its charity status and for tougher farm trespass laws.
Last week Mr Blair wrote to NSW Attorney General, Police Minister and the Better Regulation Minister requesting urgent assistance in investigating all legal matters in relation to Aussie Farms and said he would pursue it with his interstate colleagues as well.
“I’ll raise Aussie Farms during the biosecurity component of discussions tomorrow,” Mr Blair said.
“My greatest fear is that an activist has chickens at home, for example, breaks into a poultry farm carries a biosecurity hazard with them and sends the entire industry into a tailspin.”
Mr Mahar said NFF would strongly support amendments to the federal privacy act to make it fit for purpose for the times we live in.
“The recent stunt by Aussie Farms highlighted the inadequacy of the laws for modern communications,” he said.
“For example the principle that small businesses of less than $3 million in turnover are exempt from privacy regulations does not prevent the exploitation of an individual’s private details.
“As demonstrated by Aussie Farms, a small organisation & we’d argue even an individual, can cause significant harm when information is used for malicious purposes.”
Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals Leader Michael McCormack said there should be harsher penalties to shield farmers from animal activist activities.
“Why should they have their farming practices stopped by a few latte-sipping greenies who quite frankly have probably never gone over the Great Dividing Range to see just how well these farmers are treating their animals,” Mr McCormack said.
“If you rustled cattle you once used to hang by the nearest tree. I’m not calling for people to be hung by the nearest tree but there should be tougher penalties.”
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.
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