Big fines, jail for farm trespass as Bill passes parliament

The right to farm has been protected by law in NSW that will be enacted at the start of 2020.
The right to farm has been protected by law in NSW that will be enacted at the start of 2020.

Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall has hailed the passage of the Right to Farm Bill through NSW Parliament as an historic day for agriculture that will stop trespassing and threats to biosecurity.

Mr Marshall said it was a "smokescreen" from NSW Labor that the bill could be overturned in the High Court and he had advice from the Crown Solicitor that the legislation could not be overridden.

He said police chiefs had been briefed on the new trespass laws and that the Rural Crime Squad would be bolstered to administer the new laws under the Inclosed Lands Protection Act.

Only four amendments were needed to see the Bill's passage through NSW Parliament this week, that the Government agreed to, including allowing access for union members to sites if needed. The changes to definitions only "strengthened" the bill, he said.

He said the Bill would put vegan protesters and militants who wanted to stop agriculture on notice that as either individuals or groups they would face the full weight of the law, including up to three years' jail, if they illegally entered farms, let stock out or even tampered with cattle grids.

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It would also give relief for farmers who had illegal hunters on their properties, who would face the same prosecutions as vegan protesters. Farmers would also be protected from nuisance injunctions from neighbours.

"I have been out there and the fear is real. These laws will give farmers confidence they can get on with their production without interference," Mr Marshall told The Land.

The laws were necessary as some anti-farm groups were becoming "more militant". "The fear of farmers about this is absolutely real. They' have had enough."

Under the Bill, penalties for aggravated farm trespass will increase from fines of up to $5,500, to three years jail time and up to $22,000 in fines.

"Farmers are under siege across our State - they are battling drought and fires right now. They do not have the time and do not deserve to also be faced with a battle against illegal trespassers driven by lunatic ideology," Mr Marshall said.

"Farmers have waited for years for legislated protections - and I am proud to be the Minister for Agriculture that has worked with our stakeholders, including NSW Farmers and the cross-bench, to finally deliver the protections they deserve.

"Labor again refused to vote for the Bill at the final step and voted against it in the Lower and Upper House. Their refusal to support the Bill is an act of treachery against country NSW and for that they stand rightly condemned."

Labor wanted to introduce its own Bill as it said the NSW Coalition's legislation would not stand up to legal scrutiny.

Shadow primary industries minister Jenny Aitchison said Labor's Bill would have guaranteed "family-owned farms in regional NSW are protected from trespassers, enforced by strict penalties".

"Labor's Bill seeks to apply the State's safe access zones mechanism - laws that were specifically drafted to apply to protests outside abortion clinics, as a model to protect farmers from protestors.

"Unlike the Nationals' Bill which is vulnerable to High Court challenges, potentially leaving farmers high and dry with no protection, the mechanism Labor is proposing has been tried and tested and, importantly, its validity has been confirmed by the High Court.

"Labor supports the right of all farmers to live and work on their land safely and peacefully." She said Labor's bill would actually have protected family-owned farms."

Mr Marshall said the nuisance provisions of the Bill were modelled on similar laws that had been working successfully in Tasmania for several decades.

The Right to Farm Bill will increase penalties and introduce new offences in the Inclosed Lands Protection Act 1901 (ILPA) including:

  • Increasing the penalty for aggravated trespass from a maximum of $5,500 to $13,200, including a new 12 month imprisonment (or 3 years if committed in company);
  • Increase the penalty for the aggravating trespass which causes a serious safety risk by introducing a 3 year maximum imprisonment term;
  • Introduce new offences to better address common trespass activities including: an aggravating offence for damaging property in the process of the unlawful entry and wilfully or negligently releasing stock in the process of the unlawful entry; and an offence for inciting, directing, counselling, inducing or procuring the commission of the offence of aggravated unlawful entry on inclosed lands by another person ($11,000 and/or 12 month imprisonment);
  • Introduce standalone legislation that provides a defence for agricultural producers against common law nuisance claims and immediate injunction orders.

The new Bill will be sent for signing off by the Governor and enacted early next year.

The Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party said it had been campaigning for right to farm legislation for a decade.

In a release it said: "After a decade of campaigning, Robert Borsak, Leader of the Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party has succeeded in having a Right to Farm Bill legislated through Parliament, which protects farmers and any agricultural activity or business from vegan terrorism.

"The SFF have fought long and hard to see this piece of legislation.

"The developing threat of vegan terrorism cannot be underestimated. They are well financed and well organised including overseas and Australian vegan and animal rights charities that have no stake in Australian agricultural industries.

"It has been of the utmost importance to the SFF to have protections in place for farming practices," said Mr Borsak.