As the battle between animal activists and New South Wales farmers rages, it seems the state government has chosen sides. And it has sided with the farmers. On August 1, 2019, tougher laws took effect targeting people entering farms without permission to raise public awareness about alleged animal cruelty. These sanctions hit illegal trespassers with hefty fines, and possibly jail time. If you are an animal rights activist who has been charged with trespass under the enhanced laws, we are here to help. In the meantime, here’s what you need to know about the new laws.
Changes to the Biosecurity Act
The enhancements to the Biosecurity Act subject illegal trespassers on NSW farms to immediate fines amounting to $1,000. But that’s just the beginning. According to published reports, the maximum potential fine is a staggering $440,000. More specifically, news reports indicate that the top fine for an individual trespasser is a mind-blowing $220,000 and the maximum possible fines for groups exceed $400,000.
The NSW government adopted these measures at the federal government’s behest, following numerous incidents at farms and abattoirs. In one case trespassers reportedly gained access to a NSW farm 10 times in 2014. Footage from the cameras they hid on the premises was then shared online, leading to alleged harassment of the farmer.
With the enhancements to the Biosecurity Act in place, however, the NSW government boasts that it now has some of the harshest laws on the books to combat trespassing on farms.
And while farmers welcome the changes, Aussie Farms, a group that publishes farm locations online, is furious. First of all, it says that activists don’t pose any threat to biosecurity. Secondly, it contends that the government is imposing harsh sanctions to prevent further public awareness of what it calls “systemic animal cruelty”.
Brace for tougher federal sanctions, too
Aussie Farms has already paid a steep price for its commitment to animal rights. Its publication of an interactive map listing the locations of rural properties across the country earlier this year allegedly prompted a series of “farm invasions”. The federal government then listed the organisation under the Privacy Act (which carries fines up to $2 million). It also promised to implement stronger laws.
Now the federal government wants to crack down on any individual or group that uses the Internet or a phone to instigate trespassing and other acts targeting farmers.
On one hand, this is nothing new. Using the Internet or a phone – which are classified as “carriage service” – to promote any criminal activity is prohibited under federal telecommunications law.
But then again, proponents say, it is important to introduce specific rules to address the ongoing conflicts between animal activists and the farming/livestock industries. So, as proposed, the maximum punishment upon conviction for the use of a carriage device to incite trespass would be one year in jail. The maximum punishment upon conviction for use of a carriage device to incite theft or property damage would be up to five years.
The government maintains the measures are necessary not only to protect farmers from criminal activity, but also to ensure that they don’t incur any undue financial burdens.
The provisions of the Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill 2019 have been referred to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee for inquiry and report. The committee is expected to issue is findings by September 6, 2019.
In the meantime…
Meanwhile, the federal government says, it can only do so much. First of all, even though it can make laws to prevent inciting crime it is much more difficult to prevent any organisation or individual from sharing relevant information.
Secondly, because trespass is prohibited under state law, it is up to the individual states and territories to create even stronger measures to help combat trespass on agricultural properties. In light of this, the Queensland government is reportedly following the NSW government’s lead by drafting stronger penalties for farm trespass under its Criminal Code Act.
And then there’s the matter of enforcement. For effective enforcement, experts say, the state/territorial police will need more education, equipment and manpower. In other words, only time will tell how effective these new laws will actually be.
We are here to fight for you
Here at Bosscher Lawyers, we believe that activists have the right to shed light on animal cruelty occurring in the Australian agriculture and livestock industries. While we do not condone violence, threats of violence or any other illegal activity, we do believe in fighting for those who have been wrongly charged and/or convicted. If you are an animal rights activist and you were charged with trespass or any other crime while on an agricultural property, contact us on 1300 729 316 to learn more about how we can help.