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Thursday, 12 September 2019
Page: 3

Senator CICCONE (VictoriaDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (09:49): I just want to make some brief remarks today on the Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill 2019. Labor understands the important contribution that agriculture makes to our overall economy. The tireless efforts of our hardworking men and women of the land have always been and will always be a key part of our prosperity as a nation.

In my brief time in this place, I've had the pleasure of speaking with many farmers in my home state of Victoria about the challenges that they face in making a living off the land, whether it be labour issues or even the devastating effect that the drought is having. For some being a farmer in Australia isn't an easy life. As a parliament, we have an obligation to support them and not to allow others to incite violence. The aim of this bill, to protect Australian farmers from those who incite destructive farm invasions on their land, is certainly a worthy cause. Our farmers and their families shouldn't have to live in fear of someone showing up at the farm gate in the middle of the night. I think the contributions by Senator McMahon and others throughout this debate should certainly be taken note of by those who are opposing this bill. This kind of activism has no place in our proud farming nation.

But it is also clear that this bill does very little in actually addressing some of the destructive invasions on agricultural land. It's because laws against such invasions on land, agricultural or otherwise, already exist in other statutes, whether it be in state, territory or other Commonwealth legislation. As the Senate committee which considered this bill heard from the government's own departments, every state and territory of Australia already has provisions to deal with trespass. Even in my own state of Victoria, we have laws already on the books that criminalise incitement. But this bill essentially creates two new offences under Commonwealth law that relate to the carriage service—predominantly the internet—used to organise or encourage others to trespass on farming land.

Labor is firm in its support of our primary producers and believes that they have a right to operate their businesses in peace and without fear of extreme animal activists disrupting their operations. But we know, given the haste with which this bill has been put together, that it is riddled with oversights and some inconsistencies. The bill fails to incorporate certain farming activity and agricultural science facilities within its scope, because it relates only to private agricultural land. What consideration is there for those who make a living catching fish in public waters? What consideration is there for agricultural science facilities on public land? Put simply, there is none. There is undoubtedly a need for us in this place to send a strong message to those who think it is okay to illegally trespass on someone's land. My concern, however, is whether this bill, as put by the government, can actually achieve this outcome.

Evidence given to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee demonstrated that animal activists are undeterred by the provisions, with one stating, 'Ultimately I don't think it's going to change what we do.' These issues are the symptoms of a bill that has been put together very quickly.

I also would like to see further cooperation and consideration of amendments that we'll put later today. Representatives of the Attorney-General's Department admitted themselves that there was no exposure draft released by the government for public consultation or formal engagement with affected parties. Wideranging consultation with the community only serves to improve the laws that we make here, and I believe this ought to take place.

With Victoria home to over 60 per cent of our nation's dairy herd and a quarter of Australia's total agricultural output, I firmly support the worthy cause and aim of this bill, but we must do more to protect our farming community from those who seek to do harm. I foreshadow that I will move a second reading amendment circulating in my name, on sheet 8754, calling on the government to carefully monitor the operation of the new laws, and, if any unintended consequences arise, urgently introduce legislation and amendments in this place.