In March this year, on the Darling Downs, a goat-farming family had a knock on the door from the local police
. They were told that a group of militant vegan animal activists was heading their way and likely to attempt to enter their property. Marcus Jensen, his wife, Shannon, and their toddler son were going about their business of raising goats for dairy—something their family has done ethically for 30 years and counting without incident. The National Farmers Federation puts the figure of family farms in the agricultural industry at 90 per cent. Farms are not just businesses; for that 90 per cent, they are also the family home. You can imagine how frightened the Jensens were to find that their property had been published on the Aussie Farms website, a site with one purpose only: to show extreme vegan activists where to go to invade, to intimidate, to steal livestock and to disrupt. Of course, those aren't the words they'd use; they'd say 'protest'.
I'm a big believer in free speech, so I feel really strongly about the importance of the right to protest. But there is a world of difference between peaceful protest that does no harm and invading private properties en masse with masks covering faces, in camouflage gear and carrying black bags with plans to steal, to record and to scare. By all means, protest loudly and peacefully in a public place where you cause no harm to others. But to scare children in their own homes, create biosecurity risks and harm animals and yet call it simple protest is nothing more than a lie.
Last month the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, which I chair, held hearings on the Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill 2019, and we had the pleasure of meeting Mr Chris Delforce who runs the Aussie Farms Map website. He makes no apologies for the invasion of privacy. While he publishes a small, fine-print disclaimer on his website that says he doesn't condone illegal behaviour, when you speak to him, as we in the committee did, he was so much more candid. He said:
I think trespass is an unfortunate necessity.
Mr Delforce went on to admit that trespass is a crime under state laws already, but he made it clear he didn't intend to comply with the law. One law for him and the activists like him, and another for the rest of the Australian community, it seems. In January this year, The Land newspaper asked Mr Delforce if he would remove people from the map who asked to be removed. Mr Delforce said: 'That is not a request I will respect'. It shouldn't be necessary to beg for your personal privacy and safety, especially at home. It is because of Mr Delforce and people like him that we now need a law to criminalise the use of a carriage service to incite trespass or to incite property damage and theft.
Even if you did put aside the safety and personal security aspects of 150 people barging into a farm while you stand there facing them alone or just with your children, what about the biosecurity risks these activists present to farms? Biosecurity Queensland identifies 99 notifiable diseases which can potentially single-handedly destroy a farm business and bring an entire industry to a standstill. These includes diseases which over the last 10 years-plus have had a huge impact on industries in Queensland and throughout Australia: Australian bat lyssavirus, avian influenza, bovine virus diarrhoea, classical swine fever, duck plague, tick-borne encephalitis, equine flu, Hendra virus, Newcastle disease, salmonella—I could keep going. The risks are real.
I mention this because another image that really stuck with me from the Aussie Farms website was of a young woman, not wearing coveralls, not wearing any protective gear of any kind, holding a chicken she was about to steal. There are rigorous biosecurity measures in place on Australian farms that are vital to their commercial survival but are also vital to the reputation of Australian agricultural industries. It's part of the reason Australian produce is the envy of the world. So, when these militant, vegan activists enter, not wearing proper gear and purporting to impose their own, different, ways of measuring and protecting against risk, they not only jeopardise that reputation but the reality is they also present the real risk of these diseases being introduced. And they do it to steal. They steal animals that don't belong to them and they call it 'liberation'.
Another image on the website is of a calf in the back of a sedan being 'liberated'. It's stolen. Arguably, that's animal abuse, because I'm pretty sure that the measures that are normally in place for the safe transport of livestock weren't being applied in that case. In fact, it's quite often that the welfare of animals is jeopardised by the very activists who claim to enter in the name of the animals' welfare and safety. We heard from a pig farmer named Ean in the course of the committee's hearings. His farm was invaded by militant animal-activists. In doing so, the activists caused great disruption and distress to his pregnant sows. And he experienced, as a consequence of the activists' invasion, the death of many piglets who, in their distress, panicked and ended up in troughs of water and drowned. He didn't know about it until the morning because, in that circumstance, he hadn't been woken by their covert entry. They had snuck in without him realising until the morning. Animals died because of the actions of these militant activists—not exactly what I'd call an act of compassion.
Quite clearly, there is great potential for carriage services to be used by activists to incite others to commit acts like these. Australian farmers, most of whom operate relatively small businesses, shouldn't be subject to the illegal invasion of their property and their privacy through the misuse of services like the internet. So we need action to stop this lawless activism from occurring in a way that is harming the activities of Australian farmers. We need to let them continue their good work of feeding our nation and feeding the world, and we need to allow their families to feel safe in their homes.
The Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill will amend the Criminal Code to include two new offences which criminalise the use of a carriage service to incite trespass on agricultural land. The first offence would apply where a person uses a carriage service to transmit, make available, publish or otherwise distribute material with the intent to incite another person to trespass on agricultural land. The person would need to be reckless as to whether that other person's trespass or related conduct could cause detriment to the primary production business being carried out on that land, and a person found guilty of that offence could face up to 12 months imprisonment. The second offence would apply where a person uses a carriage service to transmit, make available, publish or otherwise distribute material with the intent to incite another person to unlawfully damage or destroy property or commit theft on agricultural land. A person guilty of that offence could face up to five years imprisonment, reflecting the more serious nature of that conduct.
These amendments would cover dairy and meat farmers and other primary producers across the supply chain, such as abattoirs, meat exporters, feedlots and saleyards. Most importantly, these laws will protect farming families. They build upon the work done by the government already to protect Australian farmers from these activists. We've prescribed already Aussie Farms, the activist website inciting all of this mess, as being required to observe all of the requirements of the Privacy Act and we've encouraged the privacy commissioner to pay attention to the Aussie Farms website. Additionally, the government has written to state counterparts encouraging them to examine and, where appropriate, prosecute the trespass offences that are already on the books of our states and territories.
The Morrison government will always stand shoulder to shoulder with Australian farmers who sacrifice so much and give so much to this nation. These militant activists are not above the law, despite their misapprehensions. We will do everything in our power to deter militant animal activists from infringing the rights of farmers, from risking the safety of farmers and their families, from risking the welfare of their livestock, from causing biosecurity risks with the potential to damage entire agricultural industries and from breaking laws, including laws against trespass, harassment and theft of property. I commend this bill to the Senate.