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Thursday, 4 July 2019
Page: 284


Mr PORTER (PearceAttorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Leader of the House) (10:28): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill 2019 will amend the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Criminal Code) to safeguard Australian farmers and primary production businesses from those who incite trespass or other property offences on agricultural land.

Recently and sadly, we have seen a number of incidents of trespass on agricultural properties and businesses.

Farmers are of course a vital part of the Australian community. They deserve to go about their business free from harassment and threats of harm.

This reprehensible conduct was enabled and encouraged by the sharing of personal information online, including personal details of farmers' names, addresses and workplaces.

The government is committed to protecting farmers from the actions of those who disseminate such information with the intention to encourage others to unlawfully trespass, or unlawfully damage property, on agricultural land.

This bill builds on action that government has already taken to protect farmers. Earlier this year, the government prescribed the Aussie Farms website as an organisation under the Privacy Act 1988 (Privacy Act), after it published information about Australian farmers including their names and addresses. This decisive action will expose Aussie Farms to potential penalties of up to $2.1 million if it is found to breach the Privacy Act.

This bill introduces new offences for individuals who use a carriage service, such as the internet, to incite another person to trespass, damage, destroy or steal property on agricultural land.

Incitement of trespass on agricultural land

Trespass onto private property is already criminalised by state and territory legislation, but new laws are needed to strengthen protections for farmers.

Trespass onto agricultural land has the potential to cause food contamination and breach biosecurity protocols. It can also lead to farmers and their families feeling unsafe on their own land.

The bill will address this by creating a new and specific offence for using a carriage service to transmit, make available, publish or otherwise distribute material with the intention to incite another person to trespass on agricultural land.

This offence would require that a person is reckless as to whether the other persons' trespass or related conduct could cause detriment to a primary production business being carried out on the land.

For the purposes of the new offences, 'agricultural land' means land in Australia that is used for a primary production business. For the purposes of this definition, it is immaterial whether the land is also used for residential purposes or for a business that is not a primary production business.

The law would cover dairy and meat farmers, but also other agricultural premises such as abattoirs, meat exporters, fish farms, livestock sale yards, and tree, fruit, vegetable and crop growers.

This offence would apply whether or not actual trespass or detriment results from the incitement. The intention of a person to incite trespass will be based on all the circumstances of a relevant case. For instance, the inclusion of a disclaimer on a website would not of course of itself be conclusive to this point.

A person who is found guilty of this offence could face up to 12 months imprisonment. This will send a very strong message that actions that threaten the safety of our farmers and food systems are simply not acceptable.

Incitement of damage, destruction or theft of property on agricultural land

The bill will also create an aggravated offence for those who use a carriage service to incite more serious forms of harm—property damage and destruction, or theft from agricultural land.

This offence, and the substantial penalty proposed, reflects the gravity of these more serious forms of conduct and the substantial loss of income that could follow.

This second offence will carry a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment. For example if an activist posts on social media intending that other people pull down fences on a farm, or steal livestock from a farm, that activist would be subject to the aggravated offence and its higher penalty.

Protections for whistleblowers and journalists

It is of course necessary and appropriate that journalists and those who lawfully disclose animal cruelty or mistreatment or other criminal activity where it might exist are protected under the bill.

For this reason, the bill contains appropriate exemptions for journalists and whistleblowers.

For journalists, the offences would not apply to material relating to a news or current affairs report, where made by a journalist in the public interest in their professional capacity. For example, the bill would provide an exemption for a journalist acting in their professional capacity who publishes a story that listed the locations of farms with 'questionable' farming practices, simply because activists use that information for future trespasses.

The exemption would not protect a journalist suggesting that activists should use the information to facilitate such a farm trespass.

For whistleblowers, the exemption would apply in any circumstances where a law of the Commonwealth, or of a state or territory provides that they would not be subject to any civil or criminal liability for the conduct.

Conclusion

The events of recent months demonstrate that the need for greater deterrents than those which are in the existing legislative framework, and that that framework is not adequately able to deter people from entering agricultural land illegally. Australian farmers have experienced criminal trespass, intimidation and disruption to their businesses and livelihoods.

This bill sends a strong message to anyone who intends to incite trespass on agricultural land or cause damage to property with or without the intention to cause damage to property.

The Morrison government is committed to keeping Australian farmers and their families safe.

This bill will introduce serious criminal penalties to ensure that our farmers and their families are adequately protected.

Debate adjourned.