Senate debates

Wednesday, 11 September 2019


Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill 2019; Second Reading

6:59 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill 2019, which is actually a bill to jail someone for sending a text message or making a Facebook post, yet the government is trying to trump it up and say that it is a bill to protect farmers. Well, what an absolute crock! There are already state laws that cover trespass on private land. It's very interesting that the Liberal government frequently wash their hands of issues, saying, 'Oh, these are state matters; we don't want to get involved.' There is no logic in their reason for getting involved in this instance.

But what I want to particularly take issue with is the notion that this government wants to stand up for farmers. As if! Look at the scoreboard. When I was elected to this place in 2010, the first bill I introduced was a bill to give farmers, traditional owners and other landholders the right to say no to access to their land by coal and coal seam gas companies. Farmers don't have the right to say no to access by coal and coal seam gas companies. There's one very limited tenure in Western Australia where they do, but in the rest of the nation they don't. We thought that was actually a very fair approach—that if our land managers, food producers and fibre producers actually want to continue to feed us and to continue to export those goods to the world then they should have the right to continue to do so, rather than have their land turned into an open-cut coalmine or pockmarked with wells for coal seam gas, which will poison their water and lower the water table. So, again, we thought it was actually a very sensible solution—a very sensible suggestion to allow farmers to say no to coal and coal seam gas. If they want to keep farming, if they want their kids to be able to do so on that plot of land, why would this parliament stand in the way? Well, isn't it interesting that these very same so-called champions of farmers' rights voted against that bill every single time? It is sheer hypocrisy.

I keep reintroducing that bill, and I'll keep doing so. I live in hope that one day we will get enough support to actually allow farmers the right to protect their land from incompatible land uses, whether that be coalmining, whether it be coal seam gas extraction or, frankly, whether it be urban development. Food security and our good-quality agricultural land is such a precious resource. Less than two per cent of Queensland is good-quality agricultural land. It should be protected. Yet this government, who have the ability to deliver that protection, have chosen not only to do nothing but to actively vote against it. And they have the audacity to come in here and say that this bill is about protecting farmers. This bill is on a matter that's already regulated by state laws; it doesn't require federal intervention. They try to trump this up. Well, it's an absolute crock, and I think people will see straight through it.

If they really wanted to protect farmers, not only would they give them that right to say no to coal and coal seam gas extraction but they'd have a drought policy and they'd have a climate policy. There are many fantastic farming groups who are crying out for climate action from this government. In fact, there's a group called Farmers For Climate Action, who I've met with on occasion. There are many farming sustainability groups who can see what climate change is doing to their own economic productivity and to the capacity of their land to continue to produce food and fibre. They are begging this government for a climate policy. And what's this government giving them? A law to criminalise people sending text messages. What an absolute joke—no climate policy, no decent drought policy, no protection for farmers to protect their land from coal and coal seam gas extraction. But we're supposed to believe that this bill is meant to do something for farmers.

Again, if this government actually wanted to do something for farmers, where are they on unfair contracts that the supermarket duopoly continue to force onto small and medium enterprises, ripping them off, underpaying them and undervaluing them? This is meant to be your core business, and you're absolutely nowhere on it. Instead, you've trumped up a fake threat that you can now overlegislate for, because your real intent is to criminalise protest. You just cannot hack the criticism, so you're going to criminalise it.

Sadly, this is not an isolated case. I'm from the state of Queensland, where the state Labor administration have just said that they want to criminalise climate change protesters. They're going to bring in tough new laws to crack down on people who are begging for a livable planet for us all to share. Way to shoot the messenger, folks! Why don't you actually engage on the substance of the issues that members of our community—your constituents, people who vote—are trying to bring to your attention?

You are so blinded by the donations from the coal and gas industry, so blinded by the dirty money, that you will not even engage on the substance of what people are begging you to engage on.

We stand with those climate protesters, and we stand for strong animal welfare laws. If you want people to stop having to investigate whether animal welfare laws are being breached then why don't you actually have an independent body to enforce those said standards? The standards are too weak, but they are not even enforced. If you really want to address this issue then why don't you actually have an independent body that is funded and charged with doing just that?

I thought it was very interesting—and my colleague Senator Faruqi, who is an absolute champion on this issue, mentioned this in her contribution—that recently this very government prepared a survey called, I think, 'Australia's Shifting Mindset'. It showed that 10 per cent of Australians think that our animal welfare standards are adequate. So 90 per cent of Australians think that our animal welfare standards are not adequate. And so, rather than address that issue, where clearly an overwhelming majority of Australians agree that we should be treating these creatures with decency and with a level of respect for the sentience that they possess, the government just want to shut down debate and criminalise protests and they are happy for all of that maltreatment to continue in fowl stalls and feedlots and for battery hens. Then they have the audacity to want to shut down the people who want to expose breaches of those standards. Have some self-respect. If you have these standards, at least enforce them, rather than criminalising people that just want to see those standards upheld and ideally want to see those standards strengthened.

I'm afraid that we think this bill is an absolute waste of time. It's a complete joke. They are a government in search of an agenda, and they just love kicking the little guy. The latest 'little guys' are people who are actually concerned about the welfare and wellbeing of other creatures. They are heroes. They are standing up for the voiceless, and the government have the audacity to criminalise them. Rather than addressing the issue, rather than obviating the need for them to check on whether those standards are being enforced by having a body charged with investigating and enforcing them, they would rather crack down on them. The government just continue to find new ways of embarrassing themselves.

I want to make a few additional points. These laws would impose higher penalties on those who seek to expose animal welfare offences than on those who are committing those offences. So this government thinks it's worse to expose a breach of animal welfare law than it is to actually be committing those breaches. What kind of value system is that? That is absolutely topsy-turvy. How about when mining companies breach laws? Are they going to get jailed? Are they going to be criminalised for sending text messages? Oh, no! Look at the levels of some of the fines that have been received. The New Acland coalmine, which illegally drilled 27 sites, was fined a huge total of 3,152 bucks! Wow, I'm sure that really set them back! Adani, when it spewed coal-laden sludge into the reef, was fined—what was it?—$12,000. And of course those who protest and demand a safe climate will be targeted by our state governments. And those who are seeking to protect the wellbeing of animals will now be subject to offences that carry a penalty that is greater than the penalty for the people committing those offences in the first place.

I think this bill is an absolute farce. I was incredibly disappointed that the Labor opposition, who spoke quite passionately and strongly about this in their contributions, then said they were going to vote for it. I really don't understand the logic there. They prepared a fairly strong report in the committee stage. I know everything's on the table for review, but come on! Please reconsider your stance on this. I understand that there will be some amendments to come, and I'm very much looking forward to seeing those. I hope that that might salvage what seems to be a very perplexing position after the strong rhetoric that you've put on the record.

I want to conclude by saying: if you really want to protect farmers then why don't you vote for my bill to give them the right to say no to coal and coal seam gas next time you give me the pleasure of bringing it on? I know it doesn't happen much. We don't get private senator's time very often. But I would love your support next time I can bring that bill on. I think there will be some support from other quarters, too, and I would welcome that. But, if you really want to protect farmers, why don't you ban those unfair contracts where farmers are being ripped off by the supermarket duopoly—underpaid and undercut?

And why don't you actually take action on the drought? Why don't you acknowledge that it is being deepened and worsened by climate change, fuelled by your donors from the coal industry? Why don't you develop a climate policy while you're at it? Then and only then will you have any credibility in saying that you are standing up for farming communities. I might finish by saying that those farming communities also need decent health care, they need decent education and they wouldn't mind decent internet—how about you get onto that too?


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