Tough new penalties for would-be farm invaders

Individuals who encourage trespass, property damage or theft on farm land could soon face up to five years jail.

Protecting farmers from radical extremists was one of the first orders of business for the newly-elected Government with the start of the 46th Federal Parliament in Canberra this week.

Attorney General Christian Porter introduced the Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill to the House of Representatives on Thursday, following through on a Coalition election promise.

The new criminal offence comes with penalties of up to five years imprisonment, and follows an earlier move by the Government to prescribe activist group Aussie Farms under the Privacy Act – exposing it to potential penalties of up to $2.1 million if found to be in breach of the Act.

In January, radical extremist group Aussie Farms posted the addresses of more than 3000 farm and supply business on an online map for the alleged purpose of encouraging people to trespass on farms, disrupt operations and steal animals.

The National Farmers’ Federation and its members have been advocating for tougher penalties for acts that incite the harassment and intimidation of law abiding farmers.

“This new law will provide a strong deterrent to those who coordinate these attacks on farmers, by making it a criminal offence to incite trespass, property damage or theft on agricultural land,” NFF President Fiona Simson said.

“It also sends a strong message to those extremists who are actively rallying volunteers to go on to farms and harass and intimidate, that their antics will not be tolerated.”

NFF President Fiona Simson

NFF President Fiona Simson, says the prospect of up to five years behind bars should act as a deterrent to would-be farm invaders.

“The NFF of course respects the right of an individual to engage in protest in a respectful and lawful way.

“What we don’t support is hard-line groups like Aussie Farms promoting extreme views that misrepresent farmers and actions that amount to invasions of businesses and family homes.

“These actions risk the well-being of those farmers, their families and workers, and the animals in their care,” Ms Simson says.

“Our industry takes the community’s expectations very seriously and where we don’t meet them, we commit to doing better.

“We welcome visitors, arranged through the appropriate channels, and are more than happy to engage with those who take an interest in farming – but trespassing on private property is not the right approach.”

Ms Simson said she hoped Labor would support farmers and back the legislation.

“Like many issues in farming, this is too important for partisan debate.

“We fully acknowledge that this Bill is not a silver bullet. It is however an important measure that will deter criminal behaviour and give some comfort to primary producers.”

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