Thursday, 1 August 2019
Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill 2019; Second Reading
Over the last few years, some whistleblowers have been prepared to stand up and say: 'We are going to show you what is going on when it comes to the animals that you end up eating. We're going to show you that so that you can make your own choice about whether that's the kind of standard that you want. We're going to show you that in the hope that it might lead the government to start improving conditions for animals in this country.' So what does the government do? The government doesn't say, 'Oh, well, let's improve conditions.' The government says: 'We've got no interest in improving conditions. We are just going to shoot the messenger. We are now going to introduce, in fast-tracked legislation, new crimes that will make it harder for people to bring to the attention of the public what is going on behind the food that they eat on their table.'
None of us supports acts that are going to harm people. We are talking instead here about striking the balance to ensure that whistleblowing can continue. Over the years, if it weren't for whistleblowers drawing attention to how animals are treated in this country, we would not have had the national debate about whether we still want to have live sheep exports, for example. In that respect, I pay tribute to people like Lyn White and Animals Australia who have done that work. Might the kind of thing that they have done, which has led a national debate when we find out how animals are being treated in our country, now become a criminal offence under this legislation? It is a very good question. I want to say that we should be thanking those people who have brought to our attention some of the appalling conditions for animals in this country, because that sparks us, as legislators, to hopefully do the right thing, change the law and improve conditions. I want to acknowledge the work of some of the people in Melbourne that I've had the privilege of dealing with over a number of years—people like Bruce Poon, Miranda Smith and Lawrence Pope. They've been working hard to draw attention to the position of animals in this country. All of this could be avoided if the government just did what people are asking, and that is to improve the way that animals are treated in this country. People wouldn't have a need to protest if animals were treated better.
The government says this is about protecting farmers and giving farmers more rights. Well, if that were what the government was really concerned about then the government would be supporting the bill that we've got in the Senate, which Senator Larissa Waters has brought in, to say that farmers should have the right to lock the gate and say they don't want coal seam gas or coalmining on their land. If this government was really that concerned about farmers' sovereignty over their land, and that was something that was driving its agenda, you'd imagine it would be backing that bill. But, no, it's not doing that. It's instead siding with its big miners and its big resource mates.
This government doesn't actually care about farmers. This is a government bereft of an agenda. So what does it do? It finds a group of people that it thinks can get it a cheap headline and says, 'We are going to come and beat you up,' and passes new laws to criminalise activity that previously wasn't criminal. If the government really cared about farmers, it would be taking action on climate change. Otherwise the record drought that we are seeing is not only going to become the new normal; it might in fact become the new good, if climate change goes the way that the scientists are telling us. The government is in fact going out of its way to make sure farmers have more droughts and more floods in this country. That's what the government is doing to farmers. I say to it: don't come in here and tell us that you're suddenly motivated by concerns about protecting farmers, because we just don't believe you.
When you look at the detail of this bill, what you will find is that this is a very broad bill that doesn't just apply with respect to agricultural land. The government dresses it up as something saying: 'Aren't those activists terrible? We've got to have legislation to protect them.' When you come in here seeking a cheap headline, like the government is doing, you've always got to be worried and look at the detail of the bill. But when you look at the detail of the bill, you will find that this isn't just about agricultural land per se. If people go and take action against coalmines that happen to sit on something that's designated as agricultural land, that's potentially caught by this. If you put up a Facebook post saying, 'Come to a protest against a coalmine,' because you want to engage in civil disobedience, then, depending on where that's located, you could be falling foul of this as well. It's not just about animal welfare either. It's much, much broader than the government is leading us to believe. That, again, should come as no surprise, because this government's approach is to criminalise dissent.
I think journalists need to be paying particular attention to this bill because we recently saw a journalist, who was doing no more than reporting a protest of civil disobedience, get arrested in Queensland. Under this bill, journalists are going to face increased penalties for doing something similar. This is not about protecting farmers, as the government wants you to believe, because there are already laws around trespass; there are already laws that deal with this. This is about the government, bereft of an agenda, doing the thing that conservative governments do during election campaigns: decide to pick a bunch of people, whack them with a big stick and then start taking away rights and liberties. To the freedom brigade that keeps coming in here time after time saying they'll swear not on the Bible but on Milton Friedman, and saying that individual rights are supreme: you are the first ones to take them away, time after time. If you think it'll win you some votes, you'll kick some people and take away rights.
I want to pay tribute to the vegans, the vegetarians and the people who were saying, 'We need to have a discussion in this country about how we treat animals,' because more and more people are paying attention. More and more people are understanding that what is behind what goes on your plate is something that we need to know and need to be able to make an informed decision about. We only find out about what goes on behind the food that we eat when people have the courage to blow the whistle and tell us. Yes, no-one argues that people should have an unlimited right to trespass—of course not. But that is already a crime. What we've got to do in this place is work out what is the role of proper political protest and nonviolent protest, and can we protect that—especially when it becomes a question of giving a voice to the voiceless. We have an additional responsibility in this place not only to represent people but also for our broader biosphere. We have a responsibility, because they don't have a voice here. It's up to us to decide to give them a voice. We do that regularly.
We are finally debating—we have been in previous parliaments, at least—propositions to increase the standards of welfare for animals. That's the kind of thing that many, many people in this country want. People want to have a debate about whether it's right to have live sheep exports. People want to have a debate about whether it's right that in this country you can have 10,000 hens crammed together in one hectare and call that free range. People want to know what is going on, have the discussion about it and then be able to legislate. But the more that you say, 'We're going to shut down access to information so that we can't have that debate,' the crueller we become.
The government has not got the balance right with this. The government's concerned about trespass. Well, there are existing laws about that. You can deal with that under existing laws. Is this going to criminalise journalism? Is this going to criminalise someone sharing a Facebook post about a protest that they just happened to have seen without even knowing what land it's on—they just see it on Facebook and share it? Is this going to mean additional penalties for people who are doing nothing more than engaging in peaceful civil disobedience, not harming anyone and not getting in anyone's way? On the face of it, the answer to all three is yes. The government is trying to rush this bill through because it doesn't care about removing people's rights and liberties. All it wants is to deliver on the cheap headline that it tried to get during the election by kicking a group of people that is trying to draw attention to a very real and pressing social problem in this country.
I thank all members for their contributions on the second reading debate of the Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill 2019. The bill is obviously a firm but, we think, necessary response to recent incidents targeting Australian farmers and their families and businesses. Those incidents were enabled and encouraged by the sharing of information online. Obviously the agricultural sector is a critical part of our community and our economy, and people deserve to feel safe in their homes and at work. The bill implements measures to safeguard farmers and primary production businesses from those who would incite trespass and other property offences on their land. I thank all the members opposite for their contributions. Evidently, the matter is going to a committee. I look forward to their reporting on the bill. I commend the bill to the house.
A division having been called and the bells having been rung—
As there are fewer than five members on the side of the noes in this division I declare the question resolved in the affirmative in accordance with standing order 127. The names of those members who are in the minority will be recorded in the Votes and Proceedings.
Question agreed to, Mr Bandt and Mr Wilkie voting no.
Bill read a second time.