In response to an increase in coordinated animal activist attacks on Queensland’s intensive animal farmers, the Queensland Parliament’s Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee is now considering a Bill introduced by the LNP that seeks to better protect businesses and individuals from trespass. The Criminal Code (Trespass Offences) Amendment Bill 2019 introduces three new offences with significantly increased penalties. While the recent introduction of $652 on-the-spot fines for people who put on-farm biosecurity at risk is a step in the right direction, a greater punishment is needed to deter activists from unjustifiably interrupting legitimate Queensland business activities – particularly repeat offenders.
The view that ‘one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws’ is one that many animal rights activists use to justify trespassing on farmers’ properties and willfully disrupting and creating unacceptable risks to their businesses. Considering the complex animal welfare framework in place and government law setting and enforcement, QFF challenges this view.
There are several issues with the enforcement of the current trespass law. Activists are only charged with a trespass offence when they are arrested by police, who in some case see no need to take that step. Those who are charged generally receive a small fine which is often paid by their supporters and they escape conviction. While farmers have the option to initiate lengthy and costly legal actions to try and recoup their losses, this has rarely proven to be worth the effort.
Farmers and the general community are concerned that the current trespass laws and resulting penalties do not reflect the crime itself or the potential damage caused. For example, following a protest in a farrowing house at a sunshine Coast piggery last year, one protester was charged with unlawfully entering farming land, fined $150 and given a warning by the Magistrate but not convicted. Another was fined $400 and also escaped conviction. As a result, many have expressed their dissatisfaction at the leniency of penalties imposed by the courts on these activists.
Other jurisdictions across Australia are also considering new laws to protect farmers from animal activists. The Victorian, South Australian and Western Australian governments have vowed to review their legal protections for farmers against trespassing protesters. The Australian Government recently introduced new offences for the incitement of trespass, while Tasmania already has laws in place to protect farms from invasion by protesters. Clearly, other jurisdictions have seen a need for greater intervention to combat rising activism and so the question now is does Queensland?
The actions we have seen from activists invade farmers’ privacy, threaten the welfare of their animals, pose unacceptable risks to their businesses and have implications for food security. The current trespass law does not meet the expectations of farmers and the community in punishing and preventing this behaviour and does not reflect the economic and social risks to farming businesses and their families. A law is the product of the social conditions at the time it is made, it is not static and should change to respond to the current social and political values of a community. It is incumbent upon the Parliament to ensure it delivers adequate protections and a suitable deterrent for would be and repeat offenders so farmers and society can operate without threat of disruptive, costly and damaging law-breaking behaviour.