Wednesday, 11 September 2019
Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill 2019; Second Reading
I just inform the Senate that I plan to speak quite briefly on this bill, the Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill 2019. Unlike, it seems, many of those opposite and on the crossbench, I am keen to see this bill get to a vote as soon as possible. Obviously it now looks unlikely that it's going to be this evening, but I'm certainly not going to be the one to hold it up, even though I would like to make a contribution. So I will keep it fairly brief.
In listening to the contributions of others in this place, there is one thing that stands out for me. When we hear words thrown around like this being about 'quashing dissent', 'cracking down on legitimate protest' and 'cracking down on civil disobedience' and that it's 'instilling fear in the hearts of animal activists everywhere', I think the people of Australia, particularly those of rural and regional Australia and those who work in agricultural industries, would just have to laugh at those sorts of comments. There is fear in the community. It is fear of the interference of radical animal activists in people's lives and people's businesses. Unlike, I suspect, the vast majority of those opposite and on the crossbench, I have actually spoken to farmers who have been directly affected by the matter that this legislation seeks to address. I've spoken to farmers whose farms have been listed on the Aussie Farms website in particular but also on other websites. This bill seeks to create an offence of inciting another person to trespass on agricultural land through the use of a carriage service—in this case, most obviously, the internet—to distribute material, and it seeks to create a second, more serious offence of incitement to cause property damage on agricultural land.
As I say, I have spoken to farmers who have been affected by these kinds of websites, who have been listed, and they are genuinely worried. They are worried about the impact on their lives, on their families and on their businesses. They often live in relatively remote areas, and they often live in very, very small communities—often just one family on a farm by themselves. In this day and age, unfortunately, we have an ageing population in our rural and regional areas. That means that it could be a relatively elderly husband and wife on a property a long way from anywhere—a long way from any support services, a long way from the police—and they are genuinely worried about what these radical animal activists will do.
We've seen the impacts. Those opposite and those on the crossbench said, 'Oh, well, this is covered by state trespass laws,' but the sheer and manifest inadequacy of those state trespass laws is demonstrated nowhere more clearly than in the case of the Gippy Goat Cafe. The penalties that were imposed on those who were found guilty—yes, they were found guilty!—were a fine of $1 each for breaching biosecurity and $250, which they were given six months to pay, to compensate for the theft of around $2,000 worth of livestock. At an inquiry into that, the owners of that now-closed cafe talked about what happened at the hearing into that particular case. Mr Gommans stated:
At the sentencing, the magistrate said [to the activists] 'no one likes animal cruelty, keep doing what you are doing but don't get caught,' …
This was Mr Gommans evidence to an inquiry into this matter. That to me is an absolutely sickening approach to take, and the penalties that were applied there were absolutely, manifestly inadequate.
People do care about this issue. They do care about protecting people who work in agricultural enterprises, who work in farms and who work in related industries. In fact, a petition of more than 6½ thousand signatures from that region was presented to the Victorian parliament calling for these types of radical animal activist groups to be stripped of their charitable status and for the strengthening of farm trespass laws in the state of Victoria.
I absolutely agree that farm trespass laws need to be strengthened right around Australia, not just to protect people and businesses but because biosecurity is actually extraordinarily serious. To not take it with a huge degree of seriousness is to let down our entire agricultural community. Just recently, I think this was reported this week, a Tasmanian farmer has actually been jailed for 11 months for illegally importing garlic. That shows how seriously we do actually take this in our laws, in some cases. But a $1 fine for breaching biosecurity! My goodness me, that just shows how out of touch some parts of our judiciary and our community are about the seriousness of this.
Biosecurity threats to our nation, and our agricultural producers in particular, are extraordinarily real and are something that farmers over the last 20 years have become increasingly concerned about and proactive about presenting. There are many farms now where you need to do wash downs on vehicles and you need to clean yourself, your boots and your own equipment; they'll check every vehicle that comes onto a particular property. They do not do this for fun or to try to keep the cameras away from their businesses; they do it to protect their livelihoods and to protect the livelihoods of every other Australian farmer.
Stopping people from inciting others to trespass on agricultural land, to disrupt agricultural businesses or to threaten the livelihoods of Australian farmers and related farm businesses is absolutely essential. That's why this bill is very important and essential, and I commend it to the Senate.
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?
I rise to speak on the Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill 2019. I support very strongly the need to introduce offences for the vegan terrorists who are causing trouble, raising hell and preventing primary producers from earning an honest living and supplying food to the wider community. These people are not legitimate activists. They are not serving the betterment of the community. They are not doing good. They are terrorists in the very true meaning of the word. Their actions have nothing to do with their so-called concerns for animal welfare. They are about pushing their own agenda and trying to restrict the freedom of others to live how they choose.
I commend the government for putting forward this bill. It provides a solution to a problem that has been let go for far long. It has been given too much fake legitimacy and has been encouraged up until now to keep going—and to even ramp up the violent acts and the trespassing, due to the soft and gutless actions of the judges. In perhaps the most well-known of recent cases, the Gippy Goat Cafe in Victoria eventually had to close, with the loss of local jobs, after four months of constant harassment, vile statements and threats. How can these vegan terrorists in any way think that their personal obsession to not eat meat gives them some sort of right to push their beliefs on other people in a violent, disruptive and criminal way? Meat eaters are a part of Australian society—even I love a good steak—and it's going to stay that way. That's just the way it is, so get used to it. Meat eaters are not pushing their beliefs and practices onto vegans and vegetarians, and we don't accept being told what we can and can't eat either.
Australia is still a free country. We are relatively free to mostly live how we want and eat what we want, and so-called activism or any other pressure to try to push alternative views on others is not welcome. To show how far these terrorists will stoop to achieve their dark agenda, I note that the owners of the Gippy Goat Cafe had been personally subjected to an appalling stream of threats of extreme violence and threats against their families, their staff and even family members of their staff—how cowardly and disgusting! The staff were subjected to daily threats and harassment by phone, and the business could not in good conscience ask them to continue working under such conditions. As a consequence, the owners felt they had no choice but to close the business, and approximately eight jobs were lost. It beggars belief that anyone in Australian society could think that these harassing and violent acts are somehow legitimate and acceptable and that tragic outcomes like this are somehow acceptable.
These idiots need their heads read, and the public need to feel safe in the knowledge that they have some level of protection and that their food supplies are safe. One of these morons was charged with stealing a goat during one of their raids. She was later fined just $1 by the presiding magistrate for a related offence. In another raid on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, another idiot was fined $200 for breaking into a piggery. Another participant in the raid, which involved 100 people, was subsequently fined just $150 with no conviction recorded. The piggery went into lockdown, with 30 of the vegan terrorists wreaking havoc inside while the remaining 70 remained gathered outside. But, with fines so low, there was no deterrent to these sorts of disruptive crimes, so it's no wonder that these raids just kept going and even ratcheted up, with an ever-increasing negative impact on the community. Commentator Jan Davis in the Hobart Mercury made this point:
If this level of behaviour was in the city, we would be seeing more urgency. Action is needed to ensure farmers receive the protections anyone should have the right to expect in a civil society. Farmers are rightly alarmed that their homes can be invaded in the dead of night, streamed live on the internet, only for offenders to walk away with nothing more than a slap on the wrist.
While I have great respect for some in the judiciary, the judges who issue such lenient sentences quite simply have been gutless. They are gutless in that they are in a position to protect the community and legitimate business people through their position, but they haven't stepped up to the plate. They are possibly allowing their personal views to influence the outcome of these matters. By being so lenient, they are only encouraging the terrorists to go out and commit these crimes with no regard to the impact they are having on lives, on the health of farming families, on profitability and even on the welfare of the animals they supposedly want to protect—because animals are dying because of these actions, which I will expand on later.
We are in a position in parliament now to pass this bill and create a new law, because judges were not bringing down heavy fines to deter these ongoing crimes. This bill is a welcome and much-needed move to provide the protection that is deserved by these farmers, business people, families and residents.
I was reminded today of a case some years ago in Queensland where these terrorists stormed a chicken farm and promptly dropped the protective shutters on one huge chicken shed. The resulting sudden loud noise caused the deaths of many hundreds of chickens—who, as we know, are incredibly susceptible to extreme changes in their environment, including things like loud noise caused by thunder and the like. In a case in Spain just in the last week, a similar terrorist reportedly attempted to rescue some rabbits. She rescued 16 rabbits, but her actions resulted in the deaths of some 90 baby rabbits. What ironic and absurd outcomes! They demonstrate the bizarre, mindless and foolish motivations of these people. And all the while they think they are doing good!
As my One Nation colleague Senator Roberts mentioned earlier, these trespassers also risk compromising the health and safety of our food and damaging the integrity of biosecurity on our farms. He noted that not one industry was safe: abattoirs, fish farms, cattle farms, sheep farms, chicken farms or even produce and fruit farms.
Thankfully, we have this bill to help address the issue. We already have laws in place that prevent trespassing, but this bill helps further in that it creates an offence of using a carriage service—the internet, emails, the web and phone services—to encourage and push others to trespass on private property and to cause damage to the operations of a primary producer. The bill doesn't prevent legitimate protest generally in Australia, as the freedom to conduct sensible and mature actions against important matters remains. This bill also doesn't prevent bona fide journalists from covering any such protests. It also protects whistleblowers in cases where the release of information aids in exposing a genuine crime, such as animal cruelty—which is something that all of us should oppose, as I do.
In this bill, it's about time that such a sensible protective measure was introduced. Our farmers work hard, long hours. They are almost always up before sunrise and are still working away when night falls. They make many sacrifices. They often work in solitary conditions. They work physically hard for the benefit of the consumers they deliver food to. And they don't need unpredictable and dangerous terrorists turning up unannounced, with misdirected motivations, causing disruption, damage and, potentially, personal harm. It makes me wonder if these so-called activists ever give any thought to how it feels to have their own homes suddenly raided by violent and noisy strangers. I'm sure they'd be the first ones to cry foul and complain to the authorities if that were to happen.
One Nation delegates recently visited a pre-export feedlot that has also been a victim of these so-called activists. Among the disruptive actions these activists took were the cutting of brake lines on tractors and farming equipment, which potentially put the lives of workers in danger, and the cutting of power cables, which also had the impact of stopping water pumps that delivered water to the livestock. These actions are hypocritical. They prove that the activists have no real idea of what they are doing and that their so-called care for animals is actually having the opposite effect in many cases and raising the anger of the general public. Farming—